Between 1960 and 1965 four men held the heavyweight championship of the world, they were involved in just eight title fights, during six years, with 24 knockdowns in just 36 rounds and they were an unforgettable series of fights.
Some people talk about those years, fights and boxers like they belong in ancient history and not the early Sixties. The truth is not quite so fantastic or romantic and the reality is that many of the modern problems that keep great fights from happening existed back in those glory days.
In the heavyweight days of the Sixties, the odds in rematches changed drastically, one challenger was dropped 11 times, less than 2,500 watched the second Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston fight, Liston needed less than three minutes in two fights to knockout Floyd Patterson twice. They were crazy boxing days, but not crazy busy boxing days.
Right now, Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua hold the four recognised heavyweight championship belts - there was just the one champion back then – and in 2019 there were four title fights, lasting 27 rounds and modern audiences had seven knockdowns.
Sure, there was no Ali v Liston in 2019, but the year certainly had its moments; the Andy Ruiz shock win over Anthony Joshua, the revenge one unforgettable night in Saudi Arabia and two single-punch finishes from Deontay Wilder, now his trademark in a sport that is still reluctant to recognise his abilities.
Wilder was a big betting favourite in both wins, a nice 12-1 came in when Ruiz won and Joshua was just about the favourite in the rematch. The Ruiz win in New York in June shook up more than Joshua’s head.
It should be far more interesting in 2020, assuming most of the plans and schemes for title fights, eliminators and various other showdowns take place. In 2019 the three challengers for the heavyweight title had all previously failed in heavyweight title fights - it must be different in 2020 with Oleksandr Usyk, Dillian Whyte and possibly even Joe Joyce getting a chance at the big money. There are four or five others also convinced that they will get a world heavyweight title fight. And about a dozen other fighters all dreaming, all living on the type of flimsy promises that for some reason heavyweights believe.
One of the problems, which is one of boxing’s oldest and most annoying, might be simply keeping the belts from becoming vacant; undeserving fighters too often meet when there is a vacant belt. Joshua is the WBA, WBO and IBF champion again and has mandatory commitments. The first of the three belts that Joshua won back in 2016 had been wrenched from Tyson Fury following his historic win over Wladimir Klitschko in late 2015. Fury had been given an ultimatum by the IBF to fight their mandatory – the ultimatum came the morning after the win as he ate poached eggs and nursed his blistered feet. He refused, the belt was vacant and Joshua soon had it.
This is how it stands now, the state of play in the heavyweight division at the very start of January, 2020. It is part fact, part fantasy and classic boxing.
Joshua has IBF and WBO mandatory commitments, Wilder has agreed two fights in 2020 for his WBC title with Tyson Fury and the interim champion, Dillian Whyte, has been told he will get his mandated fight for the WBC title in 2021; assuming the champions fight just twice - they all talk boldly of three fights and then only have two - there is little scope for the list of dreamers to gate crash the party. It will be Wilder, Fury, Pulev, Joshua and Usyk in title fights in 2020. That’s it.
Joshua was given 180 days from the night of the rematch victory of Ruiz to fight the WBO’s mandatory Usyk. Meanwhile, there is a plan to get Usyk in a British ring, perhaps in April, to fight Dereck Chisora - win that and he gets Joshua in September. Joshua could, in theory, fulfil his IBF commitment and fight Bulgarian Pulev on the same night as Usyk-Chisora. There are deals on deals on deals.
Wilder defends his title against Fury - a rematch first planned for May of 2019 - and the pair have agreed a June fight, their third. It could all happen, but two fights in four months seems a little optimistic even in the fantasyland of heavyweight boxing.
However, Fury and Wilder, the rematch, will happen on February 22 at the MGM in Las Vegas. Fury left for Las Vegas one week before Christmas Day to start camp.
The other heavyweights, their agents, promoters, managers, mothers, fathers and brothers will have to spend 2020 lobbying the sanctioning bodies and pleading for final eliminators to get their men in the mandatory positions. A word of warning: Whyte will have been mandatory challenger for the WBC title for over two years by the time he gets his championship fight. Incidentally, he has to stay unbeaten in 2020 to even make that happen.
The heavyweight division, the championship and the sporting politics that make it all run is a quagmire - often with outrageous legal tussles - of its own making. It is both frustrating and unmissable and it is not going to change anytime soon. It is also a lot of fun – we live in fine heavyweight days, forget the cynics.
Get the latest odds for Fury vs Wilder II here