The good news is that Deontay Wilder is making all the right “Bomb Squad” noises about putting his WBC belt up against the IBF and WBA “super” titles owned by Anthony Joshua, holding out the possibility that this most anarchic of sporting industries may soon have a universally recognised world heavyweight champion again. It’s been a while.
The complicating factor is Joshua is determined to fulfil his other mandatory defences. Once he has rested properly from his 10-round win over the stubborn Carlos Takam two Saturdays ago in Cardiff, he is happy to accommodate the WBO champion Joseph Parker in his next fight, probably in London in the spring.
However, victory there would lumber Joshua with a diary of defences that could only make a deal with Wilder more difficult to finalise. All the organising bodies want their sanction fees and they will do their champion no favours for the greater good of the sport by allowing him to go off script.
Yet Joshua is adamant: he wants to be a long-term unified champion and he thinks the only way to do that is to own and regularly defend all the belts. History is not on his side. Nor is his promoter, Eddie Hearn: he knows rotating the defences is an almost impossible job.
Disregarding the claims of the competing governing bodies, what Joshua needs to be king of the world in the eyes of boxing fans is for Hearn to clear the clutter and make the Wilder fight happen, preferably in front of 90,000 people at Wembley Stadium next summer. There seems at least a reasonable chance of that. Nobody is much interested in Joshua fighting Parker – or Wilder fighting Dillian Whyte (although that might yet happen) – as they all mark time.
The other slightly bad news for Joshua is that Wilder looked awesome destroying Bermane Stiverne when defending his WBC title for the sixth time in Brooklyn on Saturday night. There never has been a question about his one-punch power – this was his 38th stoppage in 39 fights, the 19th in the first round. But he had nothing to beat.
The American whirlwind took less than a full round to knock down the Haitian-Canadian fat boy twice before leaving him in an embarrassing heap on the ropes because Stiverne came in shamefully underdone.
Stiverne, the only opponent to take Wilder the distance – when he surrendered his title to him on points in January 2015 – weighed a flabby 18st 2lb, the heaviest of his career and, unable or unwilling to throw a meaningful blow, showed the ambition of a quivering blancmange. This was on a par with Audley Harrison’s meek one-round surrender to Wilder in Sheffield in April 2013.
Wilder’s championship dance card also has a tawdry historical look: Eric Molina (who lasted three rounds against Joshua) reached the ninth; Johann Duhaupas (who knocked out Robert Helenius last year) caused him some problems until the 11th; the obscure Artur Szpilka went nine rounds; old warhorse Chris Arreola went eight; and Gerald Washington, a former linebacker, was stopped in five.
So how good is Wilder? Better than he was. Not as good as he thinks he is. But anyone who can punch like that is dangerous – the sort of thrill Joshua says he craves.
Along with a string of poor challengers down the years, Stiverne dishonoured the sport’s most important crown – but that is no blinding revelation. The Klitschkos, Wladimir and Vitali, entertained a revolving door of ordinary contenders – not that the division was brimming with quality – and we have to go back to the reigns of Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson for a tenuous link to the sport’s glorious past. They had Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield for company, too.
The heavyweights have provided thrills of varying quality ever since John L Sullivan’s bare-knuckle pomp, through Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali, whose peers included the toughest collection of big men at one time in Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Ken Norton and a string of others.
This era is a long way short of that. And, it has to be said, outside of Joshua and Wilder, there is not a lot on offer. There are ambitions for the highly promising British heavyweights Daniel Dubois and the Olympic silver medallist Joe Joyce but they are two or three years away from genuine contention. Tyson Fury lurks in the background as ever but it is folly to listen too closely to his serial promises of making a comeback until his belly shows proof of the effort.
For now we have Joshua and Wilder. If they meet, it will be explosive. If it is close, we could have the start of a genuine rivalry. That, at the moment, is the most we can hope for.