In an unforeseen development that has left the boxing world grappling with issues of legitimacy and championship succession, Tyson Fury, the ‘Gypsy King,’ finds himself at a critical juncture. Scheduled to fight Francis Ngannou, a former UFC titleholder, in Saudi Arabia on October 28, this bout uniquely omits his WBC heavyweight title from the stakes. This scenario adds another layer of complexity to an already intricate web of rankings and mandatory challenges, forcing the boxing community to reevaluate what it means to be a world champion.

Originally, after Fury’s highly lucrative bout with Ngannou, he was expected to make history by challenging Oleksandr Usyk to become the first four-belt heavyweight champion. Yet, the latest WBC rankings have complicated this trajectory by positioning Deontay Wilder as the number one contender, followed by Anthony Joshua

These rankings carry significant implications. Should Joshua and Wilder engage in fisticuffs, their bout would serve as a final eliminator to determine Fury’s next WBC mandatory challenger. As reported by the Daily Star, refusing to fight the winner of this eliminator could result in Fury losing his WBC belt, a reality that seems increasingly plausible.

Complicating matters further is the uncertainty clouding the prospective Joshua-Wilder fight, attributed to a paradigm shift in the Saudi Arabian boxing promotion landscape. Eddie Hearn, the man behind the scenes labouring to make the Joshua-Wilder fight a reality, was unambiguous in his concern. “Everybody has agreed to terms, but until the money is put in place, the fight’s not happening,” Hearn stated. He went on to add, “There’s a movement in management and ownership of boxing in Saudi, and it’s up to them what they want to do.”

This turbulent backdrop coincides with a time when Fury hasn’t defended his WBC crown since his unambiguous victory over Derek Chisora last December. Instead of a conventional title defence, his forthcoming encounter with Ngannou is largely seen as a business-driven spectacle, one that devalues the prestige of the WBC belt. While the WBC has announced a novelty “Riyadh Champion” belt for the upcoming Saudi showdown, this move is perceived as tokenistic, offering little consolation to sidelined contenders.

World Boxing News contends that, “Fury faces being stripped of the prestigious green and gold title if he doesn’t agree to trade leather with either man.” A growing segment of the boxing community argues that measures must be taken to enforce more rigorous standards for title defences. “The WBC should put their foot down and strip Fury if he goes through with this fight with Ngannou because it’s not fair to the contenders in the heavyweight division,” the news outlet emphasised.

While the WBC belt adds a commercial allure to Fury’s bout with Ngannou, it detracts from the sporting rigour traditionally associated with heavyweight boxing. Eddie Hearn, who is also exploring backup opponents like Filip Hrgovic and Andy Ruiz for Joshua’s December fight, emphasised the urgency of resolving the situation: “It’s one of the biggest fights in heavyweight boxing.”

To reclaim the lost integrity, insiders argue that sanctioning bodies must craft meticulous rules that prevent champions from side-stepping legitimate contenders in favour of financial windfalls or exhibition matches. These rules should preclude title defences against fighters who are not within the top 15 contenders.

As heavyweight boxing sails through these turbulent waters, the responsibility lies heavily on its governing bodies to maintain the sport’s sanctity. In navigating this complex situation, they must decide whether commercial interests supersede traditional competition.

The choices made by Tyson Fury and the governing bodies in the upcoming weeks will not merely dictate the future of one fighter or one title. They stand to redefine the contours of heavyweight boxing, shaping its landscape for years to come. As the world awaits Fury’s bout with Ngannou, one thing is clear: the fight could either serve as an indictment of the current state of heavyweight boxing or as a catalyst for much-needed reform.