For Now: There’s a Unified Heavyweight Champion

Mikey Williams/Top Rank

I have always said the heavyweight champion and division are the face of boxing. The history has always been a heavyweight as the face, but boxing has changed with different champions in all weight classes. Canelo Alvarez remains a face as the unified super middleweight champion (168) and this leaves room for doubt.

Alvarez fights twice a year, chooses his opponents, and is the face because of his ability to sell out venues and bring in pay-per-view revenue. Though his latest win over Jaime Munguia failed to surpass 500,000 buys, reflecting more of a dwindling pay-per-view industry with the increase of streaming networks that televise boxing.

But Saturday evening in Saudi Arabia, where the Kings and Princes enhance promoters with their dollars, and 25-years after Lennox Lewis defeated Evander Holyfield in a rematch, a unified heavyweight champion was crowned with Oleksandr Usyk defeating Tyson Fury via split decision. It was close after 12-rounds. Fury was certain after one judge had it 114-113 in his favor, but overruled 114-113, and 115-112.

So, for now, there is a unified heavyweight champion that is an Olympic medalist from Ukraine, showing how boxing has become more of international flavor, though the entire sports world woke up Sunday morning and found it difficult to see the headline. Boxing is no longer a mainstream sport, different from the era when Muhammad Ali fought Joe Frazier for the heavyweight championship more than one time, then headlines of the Hall of Famers made the back page and sometimes the front.

Making things more difficult, with various sanctioning organizations of alphabet soup (WBC, WBA, IBF, WBO) the face of boxing is difficult to identify. Ali, Frazier, Larry Holmes, Ken Norton, the Spinks brothers and company fought for one title. So did the undefeated Rocky Marciano. Then it was easier to identify a champion and boxing was mainstream except this is a hectic time as the NBA and NHL continue their road to crowning champions. A unified fight for the heavyweight championship is ignored unless you are a loyal and avid fan of the sport.

More difficult, though, is the rematch clause. Fury immediately invoked the rematch clause in the contract. They will do it a second time, October 12, again in Saudi Arabia and they will probably do a third. The Princes and Kings of the Kingdom have resources and money to host the heavyweight championship and have become major players for hosting mega fights. They have surpassed Las Vegas, New York, and other venues as a boxing capital of the world, hard to comprehend but in 2024 this is the norm.

I believe I won the fight, but I’m not going to sit here and cry and make excuses,” said Fury. “I believe he won a few of the rounds, but I won the majority of them. What can you do? We both put on a good fight, the best we could do.”

Fury said the decision also geared towards sympathy to Usyk and his war torn country, though I doubt boxing judges would go that route as much as I classify them as “Three Blind Mice.” The knockdown is classified as a 10-8 round and that went to Usyk, though not the deciding factor.

We witnessed Fury, a draw at the gate, on the streaming networks and next to Alvarez also a pay-per-view mega star in the ring. He is a phenom, huge, and with power. We saw Usyk, a resilient and tough heavyweight who sent Fury to the canvas in round 9.

Yes, this was a memorable heavyweight title fight. It had the drama and was not a dragged out affair, so different from the recent heavyweight title fights that were not classified as unification while continuing the confusion as to who is the face?

So for now, Usyk is the unified champion, though the face of boxing no longer belongs to the heavyweights. It is with Alvarez, or 29-year old Gervonta Davis of Baltimore, whom many see as the face. Davis is in that discussion of pound-for-pound best as a lightweight, rivals Alvarez as a top draw at the gate, and is a pay-per-view phenom.

He isn’t Mike Tyson who entertained and is perhaps a top three heavyweight of all time. Tyson, though still trying to relive his glory when he opposes Jake Paul in a sanctioned but spectacular July 20 event on Netflix Pay-Per-View that has no significance but will make tons of money.

But the face always has the distinction of being the heavyweight champion, like it or not. Usyk, who commands little of the English language, is known for his style in the ring. He is quiet, subtle and has a persona. Usyk has that ability to punch and finish opponents, but to the American boxing audience he is just one of many in the confusing title picture of a sport that has difficulty identifying who the real champion is.

Then again when Fury left the ring, and for many he was still the champion, not because of the decision but rather for his persona. Fury can rival any mega star in sports. He has more of a persona than Lebron James. He reminds many purists of Ali, that ability to punch and talk. He entertains and boxing needs those types of characters, same as it was in the Ali heavyweight era.

But for now, we again have a unified heavyweight champion. Usyk may not be Ali, Frazier, or Tyson. Enjoy this now because that word unified champion could be short lived with all the boxing politics.

And there is always Tyson Fury, a fixture in the heavyweight division until he says no more.

Rich Mancuso: X (Formerly Twitter) @Ring786 Mancuso Watch Keep It In The Ring with Rich, YouTube live and subscribe to the free channel with latest analysis and content.

About the Author

Rich Mancuso

Rich Mancuso is a regular contributor at NY Sports Day, covering countless New York Mets, Yankees, and MLB teams along with some of the greatest boxing matches over the years. He is an award winning sports journalist and previously worked for The Associated Press, New York Daily News, Gannett, and, in a career that spans almost 40 years.

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