Deontay Wilder vs Andy Ruiz Jr. could reignite a stagnant US heavyweight scene later this year
Boxing’s primary attraction, the heavyweight division, has been built on the back of American success, with all-time greats Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson paving the way for today’s giants.
The 70s represented a historically crucial and intensely competitive period in boxing, with US heavyweights Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman all squaring off, and titles ‘The Rumble in the Jungle’ and ‘The Thrilla in Manila’ still eminent to this day.
The 80s also hold a special place in history, largely due to the rise of Larry Holmes, the destructive emergence of Tyson, and, of course, that epic middleweight encounter between Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns. It also represented the end of the two-belt era, with the IBF installed alongside the existing WBC and WBA governing bodies.
Americans Muhammad Ali (left) and Mike Tyson (right) were pivotal in making heavyweight boxing the worldwide spectacle it is today
Deontay Wilder became America’s first heavyweight champion in nine years back in 2015
A notable shift came in the 90s. Indeed, there were American contenders galore, including the likes of Oliver McCall, Shannon Briggs, Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield, but it was Britain’s Lennox Lewis who ended the decade as the No 1, becoming undisputed champion in 1999.
He remains the division’s last undisputed champion.
US boxing at heavyweight continued to dwindle in the 2000s, with the Klitschko brothers, Wladimir and Vitali, embarking on their conquest for long-term dominance after Lewis hung up his gloves in 2003.
Fast-forward circa 20 years, and the heavyweight division is once again ruled by those placed outside of America. After their recent stints in the limelight, perhaps the onus is now on Deontay Wilder and Andy Ruiz Jr. to bring their country back to prominence in the land of the giants.
Two former champions looking to rebuild; two fighters signed to PBC; a bout that would offer a guaranteed knockout; and an opportunity to quickly climb back to the top of the division – a matchup between the pair certainly makes sense.
But first, some context: it was Wilder – or the Bronze Bomber – who ended America’s arduous nine-year weight for a heavyweight champion in 2015, when he dethroned the short-serving Bermane Stiverne to become the WBC titleholder with what is to this day his one and only points victory.
America’s most recent heavyweight champion, Briggs, was still making headlines with his relentless, but ultimately futile, pursuit of Wladimir Klitschko, but the freakishly powerful Wilder was finally bringing primetime heavyweight boxing back to the US.
A succession of KO wins over Eric Molina, Johann Duhaupas, Artur Szpilka, Chris Arreola, Gerald Washington, Stiverne and Luis Ortiz followed before the American’s first encounter with Tyson Fury, which controversially ended a draw.
Wilder maintained his reputation as one of boxing’s hardest-ever punchers as he and Tyson Fury shared a dramatic draw in 2018
Fury survived two knockdowns and came on strong in the dying seconds of the encounter
Wilder was largely out-boxed by Fury, who was competing in his first genuine fight following a two-year layoff and having lost a staggering 140 pounds, but the American scored two crucial knockdowns, with many still questioning how the Gypsy King survived the 12th.
His reputation as perhaps the biggest puncher in boxing history remained intact, though a blueprint to beat the Bronze Bomber was now there for all to see. Nonetheless, America still had their champion, and another would soon follow.
That came in the unlikely shape of Ruiz Jr – not just because he doesn’t quite share the Adonis physique of his sorry victim – as he shocked the world by knocking out Anthony Joshua at Madison Square Garden.
Joshua, in making his US debut, had intended to do so against Brooklyn-born Jarrell Miller, before ‘Big Baby’ rather emphatically failed a drugs test. Mexican-American Ruiz Jr – born in California – was drafted in and secured a result no-one had foreseen.
After being knocked down in round three, Ruiz Jr went on a four-round onslaught before finally getting rid of his British counterpart in the seventh. He collected the WBA, WBO and IBF world titles, and suddenly all the belts were held in the US.
With both Wilder and Ruiz Jr signed to PBC, a path to an historic all-American undisputed showdown materialized; perhaps the spell of European domination was at an end.
Ruiz Jr would just need to beat Joshua in their contractually-agreed rematch, while Wilder – who fought Dominic Brezeale and Luis Ortiz before taking on Fury once more – certainly had the time to fit in a clash for all the marbles.
Ruiz Jr became unified world champion with a shock victory over Anthony Joshua in 2019
A more disciplined Joshua largely strolled to a unanimous decision win in their rematch
Wilder was also unsuccessful in his rematch, as Fury claimed his first of two stoppage victories over the American
Boxing rarely goes to plan, however, and Ruiz Jr was soundly beaten by Joshua in their Saudi rematch, while Wilder more recently fell to a pair of brutal stoppage defeats to Fury, the second of which took place instead of an undisputed clash between AJ and the Gypsy King.
So, from the precipice of undisputed glory, both Wilder and Ruiz Jr instead find themselves back on the periphery of the heavyweight scene, with the Americans largely out of the equation once more.
Yes, you have the likes of Michael Hunter, Charles Martin and Jared Anderson in the mix – Jarrell Miller, too, following his return to the ring in June – but it’s unlikely at best that any of them will win a world title in the near future.
That’s where Wilder and Ruiz Jr come into play; the American duo – despite their reputations taking beating in recent years – are proven threats to those at the top of the division.
And importantly, both fighters are intent on restoring their pride and recapturing their titles. For Ruiz Jr, the chance to exhibit this intent will come on September 4, when he fights an aged but still handy Ortiz.
An overweight Ruiz Jr put in an uninspired performance as he claimed a unanimous decision victory over Chris Arreola in May last year – needing to overcome an early knockdown to do so – in what is his one and only outing since suffering defeat to Joshua.
Ruiz Jr has fought just once since losing to Joshua, claiming an unconvincing win over Chris Arreola
The Mexican-American will square off against Cuban heavyweight Luis Ortiz on September 4
Ortiz has suffered just two defeats during his 35-fight pro career, both to Wilder, and though now 43 years old – with speculation that number could actually be higher – a win over the Cuban would resemble a step in the right direction for Ruiz Jr.
What would come next for Ruiz Jr should he emerge victorious? Well, there’s only one man he wants. ‘We’re actually training hard,’ he told FightHype. ‘If I win [against Ortiz], I would want to fight Wilder if he comes out of retirement.
‘I got all these houses, but my dreams are not done,’ he continued. ‘I want that WBC belt. I told my son, “I’m not going to retire until I have this WBC belt”. Even if I lost again and lost another time, I’m still fighting until I get this belt.’
Wilder meanwhile in May outlined his intention to return to the ring, having previously contemplated retirement. ‘I can’t stop right here,’ he said. ‘I must continue my journey. I have to, I have to.’
The Bronze Bomber more recently in June revealed he was still only considering a return, but boxing promoter Frank Warren has since claimed he’s heard rumblings of a matchup between Wilder and Robert Helenius in October.
Wilder’s Manager Shelly Finkel has also recently confirmed his fighter’s return, stating they are keen on the winner of Joshua’s eagerly-anticipated rematch against Oleksandr Usyk on August 20. He also ruled out a possible bout against Derek Chisora.
Wilder’s manager Shelly Finkel (left) has confirmed his fighter will return to the ring this year
Wilder wants to fight the winner of the rematch between Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk (left)
There are reports that the American will make his return against Robert Helenius in October
‘Maybe the winner of Usyk and Joshua,’ Finkel told Planet Sport when asked who Wilder could fight. ‘I don’t know what Fury is doing?
‘Maybe if Joshua wins it’s a huge fight in the UK (between AJ and Wilder). There’s so many intangibles so we’re looking to see what happens in that fight (Usyk vs Joshua).’
Finkel did, however, acknowledge that Fury will get first dibs at the winner should he come out of ‘retirement’, and, regardless of what the Gypsy King says, that will almost certainly be the case – particularly if it’s Joshua who emerges victorious.
But even beyond Fury, neither Wilder or Ruiz Jr will likely be next in line to face the winner, with Joe Joyce patiently awaiting a shot at the WBO belt. The Bronze Bomber remains the No 1 contender for Fury’s WBC belt but, as stated, few believe we’ve seen the last of the Briton yet.
What would put either Wilder or Ruiz Jr into contention once more, though, is a win over the other. Given the timeframes of their returns, a match-up between the pair could conceivably take place in December or early 2023.
Fury will get the first shot at the winner of Usyk vs Joshua, with few believing his talk of retirement
A fight between Wilder and Ruiz Jr could reignite the US scene in the heavyweight division
Undoubtedly one of the best fights possible outside of the world title mix, and one that promoter Al Haymon is reportedly keen to make, a matchup would bring both fighters back into the spotlight and set the victor up for a title shot next year.
Wilder could send an ominous warning to the heavyweight division with a knockout win, while any victory for Ruiz Jr would put to bed the prevalent questions of his desire. A loss for either could well also spell the end.
With such a clash of personalities and styles, a fight between the two could also reignite the interest of US boxing fans in the heavyweight division.
While Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr take center-stage in the welterweight division, and the likes of Devin Haney and Gervonta Davis spearhead the lightweight division, the declines of Wilder and Ruiz Jr have left the heavyweight division lacking in terms of US representation.
That could all change if the pair are to be matched, however. And who knows, perhaps the winner could fight for – and win – a heavyweight world title next year, and America could once again have someone to cheer on in the land of the giants.