Clinton van der Berg.
If you wanted proof that boxing is a stinking, foetid mess, your very first stop would be at the heavyweight division.

Apart from the drug fiends who populate the top 10, and routine bad behaviour - last week David Price was bitten on his stomach by an opponent and Kubrat Pulev faces a ban for forcibly kissing a reporter - none of the elite fighters want to face one another.

By most estimates, the top dogs are Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury, three individuals of striking contrasts, both as men and as fighters.

They all have pulling power and charisma, but their common flaw is helping oil the machinations keeping them apart.

So, while the hype merchants blather on about each wanting to fight the other, the truth is that these boxers - and their promoters and accountants - want to stay as far away from danger as they possibly can. It’s all about protecting their carefully manufactured records lest they lose on their way to a gazillion dollar showdown.

The buzz word in boxing’s lexicon is “marinate”, which is how promoters justify holding off making the fights the public wants.

They want the hype and the tension and the smack talk to “marinate” until the fighters are ready to explode. Which is why you get a fight like Floyd Mayweather jnr versus Manny Pacquiao taking place eight years too late.

That’s not “marinating”, just insulting.

It wasn’t ever thus. Muhammad Ali once fought two of the greatest heavyweight beasts in the same year, beating Joe Frazier in New York and then memorably duelling with George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle in 1974. Mike Tyson was the same. Roberto Duran, the greatest lightweight of them all, did even better. From January 1983 he fought four world champions back to back: Pipino Cuevas, Davey Moore, Marvin Hagler and Tommy Hearns.

He lost the last two, but none of his cachet. Even now, he enjoys reckoning as one of the sport’s greatest warriors.

Part of the problem is that not only is boxing splintered with the absurd proliferation of venal world bodies, but boxers have become aligned with rival broadcasters and big-money brokers.

Joshua fights for DAZN, the streaming channel with a seemingly endless supply of cash.Wilder, who turned down a $120-million offer from DAZN, is sticking with Showtime TV, while Fury has a big cash deal with ESPN+.

It’s true that Fury and Wilder fought last year, but the obvious rematch is withering on the vine as the different investors look to maximise their return by playing the long game. In the meanwhile, each of the “champions” - they each hold a version of the heavyweight championship with Fury the nominal “lineal” champion - has lined up safety-first opponents for their next fights. Wilder fights Dominic Brezeale, who was KO’d by Joshua; Joshua himself fights rotund Jarrell Miller, a former kickboxer with a dubious resumé; and, Fury fights a German who is barely known in his home country. Sacrificial lambs have been more threatening.

The irony is that we could have an era to rival the 1970s when Ali and his great rivals lit up the world.

Instead, we’re left with several big, useful men who look the part but are imposters at heart, loudmouths unwilling to forge great legacies. Shame on them.

@ClintonV


Sunday Tribune

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