Over two decades have passed since the heavyweight landscape last enjoyed an undisputed champion, an almighty king sat on top the throne of boxing’s flagship division.
At one stage it appeared 2021 would bring us the four-belt ruler we so desperately crave when Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua, in possession of every meaningful belt at the time, reached an agreement for a historic British battle to take place over the summer.
Yet of course, just as boxing edged closer towards another undisputed heavyweight title fight than ever before, Deontay Wilder threw a spanner as devastating as one of his right hands in the works by winning an arbitration which forced Fury to instead face him next.
Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua had contrasting 2021s after almost sealing an undisputed bout
In the meantime Joshua was left with no choice but to turn his attention to WBO mandatory challenger Oleksandr Usyk; a former undisputed chief himself down at cruiserweight but surely too light, too small to trouble the 240lbs and 6ft 5in champion. Right?
Not quite. Defying almost every prediction from anyone worth their salt on the combat-sports scene, Usyk outworked, outmuscled and outwitted AJ over 12 rounds to upset the apple cart and, in turn, ensure our undisputed yearning would go on a little longer given the latter’s rematch clause.
Fury then dispatched of Wilder once and for all after 11 exhilarating rounds with his old adversary under the bright lights of Las Vegas, climbing off the canvas twice in Sin City to floor the spirited American to the point of no return and retain his WBC strap.
Joshua lost his unified heavyweight titles against Oleksandr Usyk back in September
Fury knocked out bitter rival Deontay Wilder after 11 brutal rounds to retain his WBC strap
With new unified champion Usyk contractually obliged to rematch Joshua, a test he should pass for a second time, the Gypsy King looked set to entertain his own mandatory challenger, Dillian Whyte, in early 2022 despite Joshua briefly flirting with the idea of stepping aside to let the two belt-holders collide.
The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow was in sight. Fury toppling Whyte as expected would surely clear the coast for an undisputed showdown with the Usyk vs Joshua 2 winner next summer.
However, once more the heavyweight rollercoaster has taken another drastic turn as Whyte, who once spent over 1,000 days as the WBC’s No 1 ranked contender, appears to be pricing himself out of a long-awaited title shot.
Fury’s US promoter Bob Arum recently told iFL TV that their mandatory challenger is demanding £7.5million to lock horns with his domestic foe, a fee the Top Rank boss insists is highly unreasonable.
Usyk is tied up with a rematch against Joshua which should take place in March or April
Fury was set to defend his title vs Dillian Whyte, but the latter is pricing himself out of the fight
The result? Fury will now keep himself active early next year against an alternative opponent, with Andy Ruiz Jr and Robert Helenius the frontrunners.
His WBC title will not be on the line, nevertheless, as Arum claims WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman has given his blessing for their heavyweight king to go and do business elsewhere amid Whyte’s obstructive requests.
Though given Sulaiman is allowing him to compete without the championship up for grabs, one would assume Fury will have to return to the negotiating table with Whyte once a clash with Ruiz or Helenius is done and dusted.
Whyte is currently locked in an arbitration with the WBC over his split for a potential world-title tilt, which is expected to conclude in March.
And if he prevails, Fury may be forced to either reach an agreement with the Brixton man or vacate his belt.
Quite frankly, it is yet another mess brought on by boxing’s alphabet soup of sanctioning bodies and time-consuming rematch clauses which could well push our undisputed hopes back until 2023.
If Usyk and Joshua meet again in March or April as has been touted, the winner will glance across the division to find Fury and Whyte squabbling over the final piece of the heavyweight jigsaw.
The heavyweight division is no closer to crowning its first undisputed king since Lennox Lewis
They would likely then take on a fresh test of their own to pass the time, tying them up until late 2022 at the earliest and placing the undisputed fight on hold once more.
At the very best, Fury will see off Whyte and do battle with Usyk or Joshua at the end of 2022 or early 2023 to finally deliver the crème-de-la-crème contest this division deserves.
But after a year of twists and turns and shattered hopes, it would be foolish to expect that ideal scenario to materialise without any further complications.
Almost 22 years since Lennox Lewis reigned supreme, boxing’s quest to crown a new heavyweight emperor is slowly becoming a pipedream.