Joshua’s Massive Defeat Proves Even At its Best, the Heavyweight Division Remains a Far Cry from Glory Days of Past

Photograph: Al Bello/Getty Images

The Heavyweight division remains dormant, and that has largely been the case since Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield last squared off in 1997. Like children, fans and critics were excited and full of anticipation that the most significant division in boxing was finally making a return to its glory days of years past — that is until everything changed. In the blink of an eye, reality set back in and the hype surrounding a potential mega-showdown between superstars Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder took a massive blow.

On June 1, Joshua went into his American debut at Madison Square Garden as a 15-1 favorite to beat Andy Ruiz Jr. Joshua, a strong charismatic champion was boasting three of the top four weight class belts and possessed an impressive resume that led to ESPN listing him as the No. 10 best fighter in the world. In what was meant to be a rather simple night of sparring for Joshua, turned into anything but when he was dropped four times at the hands of Ruiz Jr. before referee Mike Griffin ultimately declared the TKO — handing Joshua the first defeat of his promising career.

Anthony Joshua (R) on the offensive against Andy Ruiz Jr. (L)

What made Joshua’s stunning defeat so disappointing was the deflated anticipation for a showdown with “The Bronze Bomber” and immensely powerful puncher Deontay Wilder. Wilder and Joshua have been at odds over making a fight happen that would’ve likely earned the fighters over $100 million in total.

Now? That boat has likely sailed as many fans have exhaled their excitement, realizing the best of today’s heavyweight division wouldn’t be able to hold a candle to the cream-of-the-crop of the ’90s, ’80s, ’70s or ’60s. Following Joshua’s defeat, Wilder took to social media to once again show his disdain for his rival.

“He wasn’t a true champion. His whole career was consisted of lies, contradictions and gifts. Facts and now we know who was running from who!!!! #TilThisDay

Wilder will undoubtedly be upset at the big payday all but evaporating, although it is fair to wonder if he has some blame to play in the negotiations that never materialized into a fight between himself and Joshua. While Wilder has never received accusations of ducking anyone as he has shown on countless occasions he is willing to take on challenges, his comments on Joshua read more like relief than disappointment.

Wilder, who came close to losing his last two major showcases against Tyson Fury and Luis Ortiz, takes an even bigger hit in this situation as a fight with Joshua would have netted him by far the biggest payday of his career. In contrast, Joshua, powered by his large England fan base, is a cash-cow who never needed Wilder to make top dollars. To date, Joshua has a reported net worth of $60 million — doubling Wilders worth ($30 million).

Deontay Wilder (L) facing off against Tyson Fury (R)

The lineal champion of the world, Fury, had a more appropriate response to Joshua’s defeat, encouraging the former champion to bounce back. Fury, unlike Wilder, likely realizes the importance of Joshua’s relevancy moving forward to make top dollars in a potential fight down the road.

“We have our back and Forth’s but @anthonyfjoshua changed his stars through life. heavyweight boxing, these things happen, rest up, recover, regroup and come again.”

As the general public increasingly grew more excited over Wilder’s Iron Mike-like knockout power or Joshua’s sharp skills similar to his countrymen Lennox Lewis, one thing is clear: the heavyweight division remains a dark and bleak place that has drifted far away from the glory decades of Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, and Muhammad Ali.