In the realm of heavyweight boxing, Anthony Joshua has emerged as a beacon of hope amidst a lackluster year for the division, earning gratitude from fans and observers alike.
The disappointment began with the unfulfilled promise of the highly anticipated undisputed heavyweight championship clash between Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk. Instead, Usyk faced Daniel Dubois while Fury ventured into the octagon against MMA titan Francis Ngannou. Both emerged victorious, yet neither showcased their best selves.
Fury’s encounter with Ngannou proved especially perilous as he suffered a knockdown, narrowly clinching a decision victory in what could have been a monumental upset. Usyk, while securing a win, encountered controversy with a body punch ruled as a low blow, resulting in a contentious eighth-round drop.
These events birthed two prevailing narratives: the embarrassment of the world’s best heavyweight boxer by an MMA fighter and the contentious save of the unified champion due to an alleged inability to withstand a body punch. It undeniably tarnished the division’s reputation.
Hope flickered with the announcement of the “Day of Reckoning” card in Saudi Arabia, featuring Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder in separate fights. The aspiration was for both to triumph, setting the stage for a long-awaited showdown in 2024. However, Wilder’s lackluster performance against Joseph Parker dashed these dreams, leaving Joshua as the solitary heavyweight standing.
Joshua’s resilience shone through in his exceptional display against Otto Wallin, compelling the Swedish fighter to retire after the fifth round. Following a challenging period where Joshua faced consecutive losses to Usyk in 2021 and 2022, he concluded 2023 with a stellar 3-0 record, including two knockouts.
Although he might not possess the invincibility of years past, Joshua’s resurgence signifies a return to form since 2018. He single-handedly salvaged the heavyweight division’s dignity, countering criticisms that this era lacked standout performers.
While Joseph Parker, Zheli Zhang, and Jared Anderson had commendable years, the weight of the division’s credibility rested on the shoulders of Fury, Wilder, Usyk, and Joshua. Yet, only Joshua emerged unscathed from the year’s scrutiny.
While Fury and Usyk may rebound in 2024, the past year remains a forgettable chapter for heavyweight boxing. Contrastingly, other weight classes offered exceptional performances and anticipated fights, magnifying the division’s shortcomings.
The division requires rehabilitation to overcome the wounds of 2023. Joshua’s resurgence, however, offers a glimmer of hope, hinting at a renewed credibility. His performances against Franklin, Helenius, and Wallin showcased his resilience and reaffirmed his status as a boxing attraction.
Despite not securing the desired megafight against Wilder, Joshua’s expected bout with IBF’s No. 1 contender Filip Hrgovic could further solidify his comeback. While not the grand spectacle envisioned, it serves as a step in the right direction.
Looking ahead, the anticipated clash between Fury and Usyk for the undisputed heavyweight title early next year could serve as the antidote to the lackluster 2023, rekindling hope for the division’s revival. As for Wilder’s future, uncertainties loom post his defeat to Parker.
Critics may voice their opinions, but in 2023, Anthony Joshua stood as the only consistent force in heavyweight boxing, a testament to his resilience and determination.