No more 'semi-finals' - boxing's heavy hitters have a duty to deliver the fights fans want

Gareth A Davies
Anthony Joshua is set to fight Andy Ruiz in New York next week - Getty Images Sport

Surely it is time for a moratorium in boxing’s heavyweight division until the top four fight each other? Could the fans simply vote against the stand-off by ignoring upcoming fights? Perhaps they will have when the pay-per-view numbers come in.

It should have been the year that defined the division. Three undefeated fighters at No 1, No 2 and No 3. Yet we have another year of 'building'.

Deontay Wilder – who banjoed his challenger Dominic Breazeale after 137 seconds with a right hand from hell in New York a week ago – Anthony Joshua, Tyson Fury and Dillian Whyte are no nearer defining the best boxer in the division than they were a year ago.

Even Joshua, speaking from his Miami training camp yesterday, said it would be “one of the biggest regrets” of his sporting life if he does not fight Wilder and Fury as he pursues the undisputed title.

In December, one of the fights of the year thrilled the public when Wilder and Fury fought to a controversial draw in Los Angeles.

Tysn Fury and Deontay Wilder fought to a thrilling draw in December Credit: Action Images

Then, Fury went into a contract with ESPN – five fights for £80 million – and the rematch disappeared in a shower of bank notes, while Joshua joined digital streaming service DAZN in the United States in what is believed to be a similarly lucrative deal.

In a parallel universe, they might have fought each other already, arguably more than once. Yet this is boxing, and we are witnessing the Class of 2019 flunking, and failing again to go toe-to-toe.

We are in the middle of a two-month period when the leading quartet are all fighting 'semi-finals'. Imagine if this happened in any other sport. There would be uproar. So, we are left with Joshua meeting late replacement Andy Ruiz in his US debut in New York next week (Ruiz is ranked 14 in the world by, and Fury, two weeks later, meeting the even more obscure Tom Schwarz in Las Vegas, with the German ranked No 57.

Hardly inspiring, and on social media the boxing world and its following have made it very clear that the heavyweight division has been transparent with its greed as the warriors, and the promoters, line their pockets.

Unfortunately for the fans, given the bidding war between ESPN and DAZN in the US, the principal protagonists are being paid huge sums, regardless of them fighting 'lesser' opponents. In that sense, they are doing what is right for them.

Andy Ruiz, Joshua's next opponent Credit: Getty Images

There is nothing new here, by the way. Joe Louis, the great American heavyweight, once had a succession of fights against opponents who became known as "the bum of the month", meaning he was facing no-hopers.

Joshua is 1/25 to defeat Ruiz at Madison Square Garden; Fury 1/50 to demolish Schwarz at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Sin City. That is why there has to be scepticism around these fights, in spite of the fact that one punch can change everything in a heavyweight bout.

Buster Douglas was a 42/1 underdog when he stopped Mike Tyson, then undefeated in 37 fights, in the 10th round of their heavyweight title bout at the Tokyo Dome in 1990.

But other eras – the greatest ones – have produced legacy fighters because they did fight each other. Through the Eighties, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran fought each other no less than nine times. None feared the others. None put greed – or indeed the obsession to keep an '0' in the loss column on their record – above anything else. It produced a decade in which they became known as 'The Four Kings'.

In the golden era of the heavyweight, Muhammad Ali fought both Joe Frazier and Ken Norton three times. Ali fought George Foreman, memorably, in the Rumble In The Jungle, and Frazier and Foreman also went up against each other.

The fighters, the promoters, and the broadcasters now have a duty to make the big fights happen by the end of this year. Fury vs Wilder, or Joshua vs Wilder. Otherwise they will make the division look like a laughing stock. No more semi-finals, please.