Heavyweight boxing retains a fascination and intrigue that arguably outweighs any other titanic sporting clash.
While the honour and prestige of being world heavyweight champion has reduced dramatically since the days of Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali, the prospect of two giant fighters standing toe-to-toe and slugging it out still remains an enticing proposition for even the most casual of boxing’s fans.
Thankfully, though, there are tentative signs of a renaissance in boxing's marquee division. While David Haye and Wladimir Klitschko will battle it out for world supremacy on July 2, these young fighters will one day hope to emulate the legendary former wearers of the world heavyweight championship and bring the division into another golden age.
Some inevitably won’t get there. Boxing is the hardest of all sports, one of few where a whole career can be made or broken on the outcome of a single match. One thing is certain, though: these fighters all have the talent to get the top.
The giant Englishman is a relative latecomer to the sport of boxing and, like so many fighters before him, Towers' chequered past adds a further element of fascination to a man who has amassed 10 straight wins since turning professional in 2009, with eight of these wins coming by way of knockout.
Towers was sentenced to spend 13 years in prison (he ended up serving six) for his part in a gang's kidnap and torture of a man from his home town in Sheffield, and was also charged with three attempted murders in a wild spell of drugs and alcohol-fueled delinquency.
Yet boxing always offered him a reprieve and in Brendan Ingle, trainer of former world champions Prince Naseem Hamed, Herol Graham and Junior Witter, Towers had someone who continually refused to give up faith in him.
The 6'8" monster has gone some way to repaying this faith since joining the professional ranks, racking up the wins and looking very impressive doing so.
While he's yet to be truly tested, the 31-year-old is quick, athletic and aggressive, with a sharp hurtful jab reminiscent of that possessed by either of the Klitschko brothers.
If he can keep his momentum going and remain active, Towers could well follow the giant Ukrainians to the top of the heavyweight tree.
Besides giving us a lean mean fat-reducing grilling machine, George Foreman may also have spawned a future heavyweight champion of the world.
His third son George grew up immersed in the world of boxing, but despite flirting with the idea of fighting George Jr. never took the plunge until 2009 at the relatively old age of 26.
With no time to waste he has followed firmly in his father’s destructive footsteps, racking up 12 straight victories over a series of American journeymen. He certainly has his father’s heavy hands, with seven of his wins coming by the very crowd-pleasing manner of first-round knockout.
George Foreman III is certainly not the brooding, menacing figure his dad was earlier in his career. He is a nice guy, with a degree in Business & Sports Management and an appearance in reality TV Show ‘Filthy Rich: Cattle Drive’ among his list of accomplishments.
But there is a quiet resolve about him, a steely determination that was present in his father’s second reign as world heavyweight champion in the mid-90s.
While he’s nowhere near the finished article yet (he got knocked down in his last fight only to get up and knock the other guy out just seconds later), he is a big heavyweight who can bang.
Don't forget, George Sr. won the world title at 45; by those standards, his son has plenty of time to iron out the technical deficiencies and become a heavyweight champion.
The African continent has had a long and heartfelt affiliation with the world heavyweight championship, way before the infamous ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ in 1974, and Thabiso Mchunu could one day become the third South African to wear the heavyweight championship belt around his waist.
Nicknamed ‘The Rock’, Mchunu racked up over 150 amateur fights before turning pro in 2007 at the age of just 19. Campaigning as a cruiserweight, he won the South African cruiserweight title in only his sixth fight, only to be stripped of the title in his next bout after failing to make weight (the cruiserweight limit in South Africa is 190 pounds, Mchunu came in at 196).
So he’s switched to heavyweight, a division where he has all the characteristics necessary to succeed as a small, lightning-fast heavyweight in the mould of David Haye. He is aggressive, slick and always in tremendous physical shape, and has yet to taste defeat in his nine professional fights so far.
There is even talk of him boxing in a world title eliminator in his next bout, with his handlers seemingly confident that he is already capable of making his mark on the world stage.
While this may be a bit premature, the 22-year-old southpaw looks certain to carry the South African flag in boxing for many years to come.
The 22-year-old German is slowly starting to make a name for himself in the flourishing boxing scene currently going on in his homeland.
After a decent amateur career, where he picked up a bronze medal in the European Junior Championships in 2006, Gerber turned professional in 2007 and went quietly about his business, winning his first nine fights with minimal fuss before he was thrust into a tough-looking match with the much-fancied Rene Dettweiler.
Dettweiler, a former European title challenger with just two losses in his 29-fight career, was blasted out by Gerber in the second round.
In his next fight, Gerber travelled to Denmark to take on the unbeaten Samir Kurtagic, and totally outboxed him to win by a wide and convincing unanimous decision.
He has since racked up a further five wins to take his record to 16-0, recently stopping giant Brit Carl Baker in the first round. His style is typically European, with a steady and efficient jab teamed with a laser-accurate right hand that has brought him the majority of his stoppage victories.
He’s certainly in with the right crowd; he’s signed with Sauerland and Universum, the managerial power behind the Klitschko dynasty. They know a thing or two about bringing through heavyweight champions, and they might have another one on their hands here.
The second big Briton on the list, 6’ 8” Price has drawn inevitable comparisons with the Klitschko brothers ever since he turned professional in 2009, and has been drafted in for sparring with the likes of Odlanier Solis and David Haye as they prepared to face boxing’s baddest brothers.
But Price is not just a Klitschko clone handy to have around for a spot of sparring. He entered the pro game with an outstanding amateur pedigree having won bronze at the 2008 Olympic Games, and he previously won gold at the Commonwealth Games in 2006.
He was also the youngest-ever winner of the ABA Super-Heavyweight title, which he won in 2003 aged just 19.
The transition to the professional ranks wasn’t as smooth as many initially thought it would be for Price, who was plagued by injury and mismanagement in his first few months as a professional fighter.
He switched to veteran promoter Frank Maloney though, the man who guided Lennox Lewis’ career, and soon began to hit the heights his talent deserved.
He has won his last five fights via stoppage, and his straight right hand has developed into one of the most feared punches in British heavyweight boxing.
His latest victory over the previously-unbeaten Tom Dallas was his most impressive to date, and he’s expected to fight for the British heavyweight title within the next six months.
One day, he could well be facing some of his former sparring partners in a world heavyweight title fight.
In a way, Andrzej Wawryzk already holds a version of the world heavyweight championship. The 23-year-old Pole is currently recognised as the WBC Youth heavyweight champion of the world, and has been for nearly three years now.
While this title may not carry much grandeur with it, Wawryzk has still had to impress on his way to earning the right to be called the WBC’s number one young heavyweight.
With 21 consecutive victories to his name already, including a notable win over the vastly experienced Tomasz Bonin to claim the Polish heavyweight title, it’s fair to say that he hasn’t put a foot wrong since turning pro.
His amateur career wasn’t bad either. He was crowned the European Junior champion in 2006, and reached the quarter-finals of the World Junior Championships in the same year.
At 6’ 5”, Wawryzk is certainly a very intimidating presence who uses his height and reach to good effect, jabbing his opponents into submission and fighting the fight at his own pace.
While he may not possess concussive punching power (only 10 of his 21 wins have come by knockout), his rangy and measured boxing style lets him get away with it. It may not be very exciting to watch, but if he carries on winning titles, then I’m sure he won’t really care.
Any man with such a ruggedly-macho name is surely destined to become a fighter. Tyson Fury, the 23-year-old Irish traveler born in Manchester, is doing his level best to live up to the fearsome expectations that his name creates.
As amateurs he and David Price, No. 6 on this list, waged a very personal war with one another as they looked to establish supremacy as Britain’s undisputed No. 1.
Despite Fury’s impressive list of accolades (bronze medal at the World Junior Championships in 2006, runner-up in the European Junior Championships in 2007), it was Price who was given the nod to go to Beijing in 2008, leaving Fury with little choice but to turn professional.
However, the 6’9” Fury has taken full advantage of his extra few months in the professional game, winning the English heavyweight title in a real barnstormer with John McDermott in just his eighth professional fight.
He has recorded a perfect 14-fight record thus far in his career, and on the 23rd of July, he will challenge the unbeaten Dereck Chisora for the British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles in what promises to be an extremely thorough test of Fury’s championship credentials.
But Fury is cut from fighting cloth. His family has a long tradition with the art of combat, and Fury combines his massive physical frame with an aggression and toughness that is sometimes lacking from the giant boxers of today.
He certainly has skills as well though, and his wide variety of shots marks him out as a very accomplished boxer as well as just a brawler. It’s a very potent combination, and one that could carry him to boxing’s biggest prize.
It is a crying shame that such a proud and talented boxing nation like Cuba has never produced a world heavyweight champion.
The likes of Teofilo Stevenson and Felix Savon illuminated the Olympic Games but were forbidden from competing professionally, while their modern-day counterparts Eliseo Castillo, Juan Carlos Gomez and Odlanier Solis have all been unable to break the Klitschko dominance over the heavyweight division.
Yet hope has arrived in the form of Mike ‘The Rebel’ Perez. A former world junior champion at light-heavyweight, Perez escaped Cuba to compete professionally in 2007 and somehow ended up in Cork, Ireland.
While Cork isn’t known for its thriving Cuban community, Perez certainly seems happy enough there judging by his boxing.
He has blitzed his way to 16 wins from 16 fights, with 12 of these coming by way of knockout, and he really announced himself to the world in the ‘Prizefighter’ tournament in May this year.
This revolutionary format puts eight boxers into a knockout contest, with the fights consisting of three three-minute rounds, and Perez simply annihilated the competition in a scintillating display of heavyweight power.
This was not a shoddy set of fighters either. Perez beat the heavyweight champions of Trinidad & Tobago and France, in the quarter and semi-finals respectively, before obliterating 6’ 8” American Tye Fields in just one round in the tournament’s finale.
There's no denying that Perez bears a striking resemblance to Mike Tyson, with his squat frame and devastating hooks, all trademarks of the youngest-ever world heavyweight champion.
At 25 years old Perez has missed the chance to break that record, but if the notoriously undedicated Perez can fully commit himself to a champion’s training schedule, success similar to that enjoyed by Iron Mike shouldn’t be too far away.
In terms of pure stats, this 25-year-old Russian blows the rest of the contenders on this list completely out of the water. He turned professional in 2004 at the tender age of 18, and has gone on to collect an exceptional 28-0 record, with 23 of his wins coming via knockout (19 inside the first three rounds).
He certainly hasn’t been given an easy run, either. Vinny Maddalone and Israel Carlos Garcia are the two most impressive names on his boxing résumé, but all of his opponents in his last few fights have won significantly more than they’ve lost.
The best thing about Boytsov though is the manner in which he fights. At just 6’ 1”, a mere midget compared to most of today’s heavyweights, he can’t afford to box behind a long, robotic jab and simply grind his way to victory.
This Russian heavyweight is actually explosive, dynamic, with fast hands and a real desire to go into the ring and knock people out.
He is almost the perfect package except for a worrying tendency to pick up injuries. He struggled as a teenager with back and spinal problems (he still managed to win gold at the World Junior Championships in 2004) and was sidelined for eight months last year because of a hand injury.
The likes of the Klitschko brothers and David Haye will probably be hoping these injuries keep him out of action for a lot longer yet.
The task on this young man’s shoulders is one of the biggest and most important in the centuries-old history of boxing.
Wilder must succeed where the likes of Chris Arreola, Kevin Johnson and Eddie Chambers have so far failed; he must reignite interest amongst the modern American audience in heavyweight boxing.
For too long now, casual boxing fans in the States have been put off by the Eastern European invasion at the top of the heavyweight rankings, with an apparent conveyor belt of upright, boring fighters coming along and suffocating a division that was once electrified by the likes of Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and Sonny Liston.
Wilder, a 25-year-old from Tuscaloosa, Ala., needs to electrify it once again. A bronze medallist at the 2008 Olympic Games, he has all the tools necessary to thrive in the landscape of today’s heavyweight division.
He is a huge man, standing at 6’ 7” and generally weighing in somewhere around the 22-pound mark. A childhood playing basketball and football ensures he is quick and light on his feet, with good hand-eye coordination and hand-speed marking him out as the first really athletic American heavyweight in over a decade.
He has so far been brought along gently, cruising to 16 wins in a row and knocking out every single opponent he’s faced. He is signed with the promotional juggernaut that is Golden Boy, the brain child of Oscar De La Hoya, and they have been very cute so far in their dealings with the potentially lucrative Wilder.
Every promotional picture has an American flag draped over his broad shoulders, and the nickname ‘The Bronze Bomber’ is a shameless tribute to legendary heavyweight champion ‘The Brown Bomber’ Joe Louis.
But someone as savvy as De La Hoya will know the financial gem he has in Wilder. He has the looks and the talent to become the next great heavyweight champion, and can single-handedly revive America’s love-affair with top-class heavyweight boxing.
While there is an argument that he isn’t the best fighter on the list at the present time, there is no argument that he is the most important heavyweight of his generation.