College football isn’t perfect in the way it chooses its national champions, but it’s better than it once was. Young college football fans would have a hard time imagining a scenario where the two top contenders — Clemson and Alabama — went through a season filled with knockout wins and then, as the clearly dominant last teams standing — decided that they just couldn’t work out the details to play each other. Instead, Clemson would play Wisconsin, for example, and Alabama would play Washington State. Intriguing matchups, possibly. But then, suppose they both won and just decided that they couldn’t work out the details and play each other this year. Maybe next year. So both declared themselves champions — Clemson could be the AP Champion and Alabama could be the ESPN Champion and someone else might be the Fox Sports Champion. Things used to be that way — sometimes you ended up with the game everyone wanted to see, like Alabama-Miami in 1992 and sometimes you ended with, well, 1941.
In boxing, it still feels like that’s the way it is — and it comes at a bad time because, paradoxically, it comes at a good time. The heavyweight division is as vibrant as it has been in years. The Klitschko Years featured a skilled champion with a style that appealed to no one other than boxing scientists. There weren’t mega-fights, not because there weren’t decent fighters, but because there wasn’t much personality or, frankly, much American interest. Who remembers Vlad Klitschko vs. David Haye? Or Sultan Ibragimov? By the time Klitschko did fight Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua, his skills were on the decline and retirement was near. That’s not the case today. Today, with Deontay Wilder, Fury and Joshua, there is tremendous interest. Last year’s Wilder-Fury fight attracted all sorts of attention, with furious action and an unbelievable finish, draw or not. But now, as remarkable as it seems, there is no guarantee that any of the three heavyweight stars will get into a ring with one another in 2019. Fury has recently signed a deal with Top Rank Boxing that ties him to ESPN for “American exposure” (and, no doubt, plenty of money.) The best layman’s guess is that no one involved in that deal wants to start out with a fight against Wilder without getting some exposure for Fury against what one might describe as, if this was November football schedule, a cupcake or two. Joshua, also, is angling for more “American exposure,” but has never seemed especially willing to commit to anything.
Wilder, meanwhile, seems frustrated. His comments to Fury via social media were of the sort that would get an SEC basketball coach two quick technicals, an early exit, a healthy fine and a heavily edited space in a family newspaper. Some of Wilder’s frustration is probably financial as well. He wants a big payday — who doesn’t? But he and his camp seem to have been shuffled and played so many times, even while he holds the WBC title, that their patience is understandably thin.
There have always been politics in boxing. That’s nothing new. But imagine if Ali, Foreman and Frazier had not fought matches — a series of classics, in the case of Ali/Frazier — when all were more or less in prime physical shape to do so. One has to believe that these matches will eventually come about, maybe even in “late 2019,” as some have hopefully mentioned. But it already feels like a situation where Alabama and Clemson had played once, not four times in four years, and time doesn’t stand still.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.