Anthony Joshua Leads Chase for Heavyweight Titles

Usyk vs. Fury: A Heavyweight Classic and the Future Contenders

by Faruk Imamovic
Anthony Joshua Leads Chase for Heavyweight Titles
© Getty Images/Richard Pelham

In a spectacle that lived up to its billing, Oleksandr Usyk and Tyson Fury delivered a thrilling clash for the undisputed world heavyweight title. The fight, held at the Kingdom Arena in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, saw Usyk (22-0, 14 KOs) edge out Fury (34-1-1, 24 KOs) via split decision. The bout was a high-quality encounter, with Usyk nearly stopping Fury in a tumultuous ninth round. Fury, despite being counted in Round 9, had his moments and controlled the early rounds. This epic showdown has left many wondering if Usyk and Fury are in a league of their own.

Tyson Fury v Oleksandr Usyk
Tyson Fury v Oleksandr Usyk© Getty Images/Richard Pelham

Joshua Leads the Chasing Pack

Anthony Joshua, a former world champion, is the prominent name behind Fury and Usyk. Joshua (28-3, 25 KOs) has shown a remarkable return to form after consecutive decision losses to Usyk and a shocking stoppage loss to Andy Ruiz Jr. in 2019. The 34-year-old British boxer is now in line for a shot at the vacant IBF title on September 21. Joshua's cautious but unanimous decision win over Jermaine Franklin Jr. was followed by a series of progressively improved performances, culminating in a stunning second-round knockout of former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou in March.

Ngannou, though a novice in professional boxing, managed to floor Fury before losing a split decision last October. Joshua's knockout of Ngannou is considered one of his career's best finishes, a testament to his restored confidence and dangerous form. With Joshua ringside for the Usyk-Fury bout, it's clear that the biggest fights in the heavyweight division, aside from a Fury-Usyk rematch, will likely involve Joshua. Potential matchups include Joshua vs. Fury, Joshua vs. Usyk III, and Joshua against former champion Deontay Wilder. However, Joshua's immediate focus will be on reclaiming a world title before taking on any of these high-profile fights.

The Middle of the Pack: Rising and Falling Contenders

While Joshua ascends, others in the heavyweight division are experiencing mixed fortunes. Joe Joyce, a former interim champion, is rebuilding after two successive defeats to Zhilei Zhang (26-2-1, 21 KOs). Zhang, despite a recent loss to Joseph Parker, remains a formidable opponent with deceptively damaging punches. However, Zhang's lack of mobility might make him an easy target for the hard-hitting Wilder (43-3-1, 42 KOs), who has rediscovered his motivation for boxing. Wilder and Zhang are set to clash on June 1, a must-win for both to stay in contention for big fights and paydays.

Boxer Deontay Wilder
Boxer Deontay Wilder© Getty Images/Francois Nel

Wilder, once atop the heavyweight division, was dethroned by Fury in 2020 and suffered another knockout loss to Fury in 2021. Since then, Wilder has fought twice, demolishing Robert Helenius in one round but looking less impressive in a one-sided loss to Parker in December. Parker, who trains with Fury in Morecambe, England, has rejuvenated his career with a decisive victory over Wilder and now stands as the WBO's leading contender.

Parker's recent success, marked by five consecutive wins, positions him for a title shot next year. A potential rematch with Joshua is also on the cards, contingent on other high-profile matchups not materializing. Additionally, Agit Kabayel has entered the title conversation after stopping Frank Sanchez with body shots in a WBC eliminator on the undercard of Usyk vs. Fury. Kabayel (25-0, 17 KOs) from Germany, demonstrated his power, though bigger challenges await.

Veterans and Prospects

Among the veterans, Andy Ruiz Jr. and Jarrell "Big Baby" Miller have seen their rankings slip. Ruiz, a former WBA, IBF, and WBO champion, is returning from a nearly two-year layoff, while Miller was stopped by Daniel Dubois in December. Filip Hrgovic (17-0, 14 KOs), another fighter struggling for momentum, is the mandatory challenger for an IBF world title shot. Hrgovic's recent performances have been underwhelming, but a potential fight with Joshua in September could reestablish his standing.

Andy Ruiz Jr.
Andy Ruiz Jr.© Getty Images/Richard Pelham

Jared Anderson (17-0, 15 KOs), hailed as America's best hope for a heavyweight title, is yet to make a significant impact. The 24-year-old from Toledo, Ohio, holds top-five rankings in three of the four major governing bodies and is poised for a world title shot soon. A step-up fight against a more prominent opponent is expected in the coming year.

Dubois (20-2, 19 KOs), known for his power, faces a crucial fight against Hrgovic on June 1. A loss could stall his career momentum. Moses Itauma (9-0, 7 KOs), a 19-year-old English prospect, continues to impress with his knockout power, although he remains a long-term project. English rivals Fabio Wardley (17-0-1, 16 KOs) and Frazer Clarke (8-0-1, 6 KOs) are still outside world title contention but showed promise in their recent draw. Efe Ajagba (20-1, 14 KOs), a Nigerian boxer based in Texas, is also developing his skills in a crowded division.

Dillian Whyte (30-3, 20 KOs) is another name attempting to regain his standing. The 36-year-old Londoner returned to the ring in March, securing a win after a doping scandal. However, Whyte is currently outside the top ten rankings of the four major governing bodies and will need significant victories to climb back into title contention. A rematch with Joshua could be his best chance for a notable fight.

Dillian Whyte
Dillian Whyte© Getty Images/Paul Hardling

The Road Ahead for Heavyweight Boxing

The heavyweight division is as dynamic as ever, with Usyk and Fury standing at the pinnacle after their recent classic encounter. Anthony Joshua leads the chase, poised to reclaim his title and take on the biggest names in the sport. Meanwhile, contenders like Joe Joyce, Deontay Wilder, and Joseph Parker continue to navigate their paths, each seeking to secure a shot at the world title.

Anthony Joshua