Boxing, especially heavyweight boxing, has a way of dividing itself into definable eras, bracketed by what is happening in the ring rather than on the calendar. Most are named after the particular time span’s dominate fighter and from John L. Sullivan to Wladimir Klitschko, one era follows another.
There is, however, often a period of uncertainty, usually after a dominant champion exits the scene, when supremacy has yet to be established. Heavyweight boxing is currently going through one of those inconclusive phases.
The leading candidates are Anthony Joshua, the IBF, WBA champion, and Deontay Wilder, the WBC titleholder. Joshua’s claim is stronger because he stopped former champ Waldimir Klitschko, whose resume dwarfs that of anybody Wilder has fought. Still, it’s unlikely anything will be settled until Wilder and Joshua meet in the ring.
Moreover, we can’t ignore the fact that Tyson Fury is the man who beat the man, outpointing Waldimir to take the lineal championship. The chance of Fury ever fighting again grows less likely by the day. But when dealing with impulsive individual like him, you never know what might happen.
Joshua will attempt to advance his claim on Saturday when he makes his first defense of the title against France’s Carlos Takam in front of 80,000 partisans in Cardiff, Wales (Showtime, 5 p.m. ET). Takam is a solid fighter, but has lost his two biggest fights, a TKO in Round 10 against Alexander Povetkin in 2014 and a unanimous decision against Joseph Parker in 2016.
To get a different perspective on Joshua-Takam, the current state of the heavyweight division and how it compares to the recent past, we asked a man who fought through several heavyweight eras — two-time former WBA heavyweight titleholder John “The Quiet Man” Ruiz.
When Ruiz turned pro in 1992, Evander Holyfield was the heavyweight champion of the word. When Ruiz retired in 2010 (with an overall record of 44-9-1, 30 KOs) Wladimir Klitschko was in the midst of a decade-long title reign.
Seven years after his final fight, Ruiz shares his thoughts on the past, present and future of the division in which he toiled for 18 years.
How do the heavyweights of today compare to those of your era?
It’s like night and day. That was a time when there were guys with balls, guys who went out there and tried to get the other guy. That’s what made it attractive to the fans. We would just fight and not worry about what happens afterward. But when the Klitschkos (brothers Wladimir and Vitali) took over, that changed. I look at some of the rankings these days and think: Who is this guy? There are so many different rankings now. One of them has Fres Oquendo ranked in the top 10. I beat him in 2004!
Joshua will be making his first defense of the IBF and WBA titles this Saturday against Carlos Takam in Wales. What’s your estimation of Joshua?
Out of all today’s heavyweights Joshua has the most skills. He’s tall and agile for a big heavyweight. I don’t want to put him in the same category of Muhammad Ali, but Joshua can move.
Were you impressed by how Joshua got up after getting knocked down by Klitschko and came back to win?
It showed he had cojones. Anybody can get knocked down. It’s what you do when you get up that counts. Half of the guys today just want to get paid and take the easy way out. I saw that with the Klitschkos. When they were in a tough fight, they ended up quitting. When Wladimir saw Joshua get up, his cojones went out the window.
After only 18 pro bouts, Joshua attracted 90,000 fans to Wembley Stadium for the Klitschko fight. That’s an astonishing number.
If you’re in the Olympics and win a gold medal like Joshua did, it gives you a platform to create bigger crowds than a boxer who doesn’t make it to the Olympics and has to do it the hard way.
What about Wilder? Does he impress you?
He has a very heavy punch. That’s for sure. Tall guys with long reach like him can land hard punches from long range, but he doesn’t have the movement Joshua has. Wilder’s style is just trying to take out the other guy.
How do you think you would have fared fighting Wilder and Joshua?
I would love to have fought them because they are taller than me, and I always had good fights against taller guys. There’s only one thing you can do when you’re the shorter fighter. That’s keep attacking the body. Guys my size or shorter were tougher for me. I would have loved to have fought Lennox Lewis or one of the Klitschkos, but I never had the opportunity.
Wilder was scheduled to defend against undefeated Luis Ortiz in November, but Ortiz tested positive for a banned substance. Instead, Wilder is now fighting Bermane Stiverne, an opponent he’s already beaten decisively. You had a similar situation when you fought James Toney in 2005. What’s your take on performance enhancing drugs?
That’s what sad about boxing. Basically, PEDs make a boxer last longer. They are not going to get tired when it comes to the late rounds. Boxers want their opponents to get tired so they can take advantage of it. If the other guy is on steroids and doesn’t get tired, you’re screwed. When it happened to me with Toney, it took away my opportunity to get bigger fights. He got the decision, but when he tested positive, they changed it to a no-decision. I got the belt back, but it was almost like a loss. It took the wind out of my sails.
Did you suspect Toney was on steroids during the fight?
I just went out there and fought. But the people with me were astonished how well he took my shots.
Your last fight was against David Haye. Were you surprised when Tony Bellew stopped him last March?
Sometimes you reach a point where your body has had enough. You see guys who are past their prime keep boxing, and you notice a difference. It’s like a singer from back in the day who comes back years later. The tone of their voice is not the same.
Lennox Lewis was the champion during much of your career. What’s your opinion of him?
I never really thought highly of him. I was in training camp with him for most of his early fights, right up until he lost to Oliver McCall in England (in their first fight in 1994). Lewis was tall and knew how to use his reach, but at the same time it seemed like he was a scared fighter. He never really took it to his opponent. He was more of an opportunist kind of fighter.
What about Hasim Rahman? He beat Lewis the first time but was knocked out with one punch in the rematch?
When he fought Lewis, we were wondering where he came from and what he did do to earn that spot. Rahman wasn’t a bad fighter, but when I beat him he was overconfident.
The first time you fought Holyfield, he won a unanimous decision, but on two of the scorecards you only lost by one point, 114-113.
Yeah, but the next time I won by a larger margin than he did in the first fight. Then they gave me a split draw in the third fight.
Do you feel that your win over Holyfield in the second bout was the defining fight of your career?
Not really. After I got knocked out by David Tua in the first round, I went on a wining streak. Jimmy Thunder was a big puncher and was being considered for a title shot. When I beat him in 1997, it was the fight that got me on the road to becoming champion.