This piece originally ran in the August 10, 2017 edition of the Fightful Boxing Newsletter. For news, results, analysis, rankings, and retrospectives, check out the free Fightful Boxing Newsletter each Thursday morning.
With Wladimir Klitschko retiring, Anthony Joshua is now free to fulfill the WBA and IBF’s wishes and fight their respective mandatory challengers, Luis Ortiz and Kubrat Pulev.
What no one is really talking is the unbelievable mess the world heavyweight title scene.
So I have provided the following timetable recapping the last two-and-a-half years’ worth of news at the top of the heavyweight title scene.
January 2015: Deontay Wilder and Bermane Stiverne go the distance and Wilder captures the WBC heavyweight title, becoming the first American to capture a world heavyweight championship in eight years. Meanwhile in Europe, it has been roughly two months since Klitschko knocked out Pulev to retain the WBA, IBF and WBO titles. Right around the same time Wilder defeated Stiverne, Klitschko and Bryant Jennings were closing on a deal to meet in April of that year, which would wound up being Klitschko’s last victory.
February 2015: In the O2 Arena in London, Tyson Fury defeated Christian Hammer to retain the WBO International heavyweight championship. Fury, now the WBO’s mandatory challenger, calls out Klitschko, setting up a fight that would change the landscape of boxing’s heavyweight division for years to come.
Spring-Early Summer 2015: The three main players not counting Fury (Klitschko, Wilder and Joshua) are all in play during this time period, each racking up win after win after win, setting up the eventual Klitschko vs. Fury fight.
Late 2015: Fury has done the unthinkable and defeated Klitschko, ending his reign as champion. Fury now owns numerous world titles after Wilder and the WBC are together. The IBF would end up stripping the title off of Fury. On December 2015, the IBF stripped Fury of its title, as the contract for the fight against Klitschko included a rematch clause, precluding Fury from facing the IBF's mandatory challenger, Vyacheslav Glazkov. Fury had held the IBF belt for only 10 days.
Summer 2016: Fury and Klitschko are supposed to have a rematch, but numerous injuries have postponed the fight. As the summer ends Fury fails a drug test which would be the downfall of Fury's career as his titles would end up being stripped
December 2016: With the WBO title vacant, the governing body decided to have Joseph Parker and Andy Ruiz Jr. fight for the title. In front of his home fans of New Zealand, Parker defeated Ruiz to win his first world title. With Klitschko, Joshua and Wilder busy with their world title fights, Parker would then spend most of 2017 busy fighting his own mandatory challengers.
April 2017: The torch is passed and Joshua is the new WBA heavyweight champion after stopping Klitschko in the 11th round of one of the greatest world heavyweight matches of all time. Joshua defended the IBF title in that fight, which would end up being the last fight in Klitschko's illustrious career. Fast forward several months later and Klitschko formally announced his retirement which is where we stand today.
To summarize the current heavyweight championship scene: Joshua is both the WBA and IBF champion, Wilder is the WBC champion and Parker is the WBO champion. Hughie Fury is the WBO mandatory challenger, Stiverne is the WBC and mandatory challenger, Pulev is the IBF challenger and Ortiz is the WBA mandatory challenger.
On Wilder’s stance, Wilder said at the start of the year he would like to unify titles with Parker, but has stated in recent months that he wants to have the big money fight with Joshua. Wilder also said he would also fight Ortiz if he doesn’t get to fight Joshua.
The problem is, Wilder isn’t allowed to fight either of those fighters because he’s obligated to fight Stiverne again by the WBC and Ortiz is ordered to fight Joshua.
On Joshua’s stance, Joshua would prefer to fight Pulev first, but the WBA issued their mandatory challenge first and the WBA is incredibly impatient because they want to sort out their world heavyweight title scene.
One other key factor is in play for the WBA: Fres Oquendo. Oquendo is still technically owed a world heavyweight title match by the WBA and should Joshua decide to fight Pulev first, the WBA could in fact strip Joshua of the heavyweight title and instead have both Oquendo and Ortiz fight for just the WBA title, getting rid of the “super” and “regular” labels and have one heavyweight champion.
The WBA has been trying for the past couple of years to get rid of the numerous world titles per weight class (an all-too common complaint from fans that has actually hurt the sport’s credibility and devalued the titles) and the WBA’s “regular” heavyweight championship has been vacant for quite some time.