Don King's Latest Fight Card Another Chapter In WBA's Recent Complicated Heavyweight Title Mess
How years of waiting for a long-ordered fight between Trevor Bryan and Mahmoud Charr ends with a dissatisfying conclusion and a late replacement opponent for Bryan.
Hall of Fame promoter Don King may not have as big of a foothold in the sport of boxing as he did decades ago, his upcoming January 29 boxing card in Warren, Ohio has created a certain level of curiosity (some say of the morbid kind) involving a couple of his fighters.
Many already know that King promotes WBC cruiserweight champion Ilunga Makabu, a fighter whose name was in the running for a possible fight with Canelo Alvarez after Alvarez’s trainer and manager Eddy Reynoso successfully requested approval from the WBC for a fight between Makabu and Alvarez. Makabu already has his hands full with a title defense against Thabiso Mchunu and a fight against Alvarez does seem unlikely at this point.
However, it’s the other beltholder promoted by King that was the focal point of a recent media call to discuss the January 29 card: WBA “Regular” heavyweight titleholder Trevor Bryan, who is defending his title against Jonathan Guidry.
The journey to Bryan’s upcoming fight is a long, complex tale involving a belt that isn’t technically the sanctioning body’s top heavyweight title according to most. That would be Oleksandr Usyk’s WBA “Super” version of the heavyweight title, which he won when he defeated Anthony Joshua last year.
Originally, Bryan was set to fight Mahmoud Charr later this month, but Charr was not able to secure a visa in time to travel to the United States. With Charr out, Bryan needed an opponent for January 29, which would be his first fight since January 29, 2021 when he defeated Bermane Stiverne. Before that, Bryan last fought in August 2018 when he defeated BJ Flores to win the WBA’s interim heavyweight title.
In 2018, the WBA still was going through a frustratingly tedious era of having multiple “champions” in the same weight class. Heavyweight was such an example, with a WBA “Super,” “Regular” (or World champion), Interim, Gold, and “Champion in Recess” present at one point in the last few years. It wasn’t until last year when, after pressure from virtually everyone in the boxing public, the WBA announced a plan to reduce the number of titles per division. It began with the elimination of Gold and Interim belts, followed by slowly ordering several “Super” champions to fight their respective “Regular” champions.
But when it comes to the heavyweight division’s title issues, the status quo remained, as if there was a Grand Canyon-sized divide between King’s champion in Bryan and Anthony Joshua plus Oleksandr Usyk, the last two fighters to hold the WBA “Super” champion. There’s been close to no efforts, at least publicly, from the WBA to have their two heavyweight beltholders fight. Instead the WBA seems to be acting as if these two titleholders operate in a separate universe with their own fights to deal with.
Charr won the “Regular” title in 2017 with a win over Alexander Ustinov. After roughly 18 months of inactivity, a fight between Charr and Bryan was ordered in May 2019. In the following months, extending all the way to 2021, the fight would go to purse bids, get rescheduled, initially won by King in March 2020, and undergo enough roller coasters to fill out a Six Flags park.
Come December 9, 2021, King would go on to win the purse bid once more to secure the promotional rights of the fight with a winning bid of $1,000,101.80. With plans to stage the fight in Warren, everything seemed to be set for this long, arduous chapter to be closed for good.
However, boxing rarely, if ever, makes things easy for its patrons, supporters, and even the fighters. Bryan even admitted that he was disappointed when I asked if a part of him felt that way towards the lack of a Charr fight that was originally ordered when Bryan, now 32 years old, was 29 when that initial order came out.
“Yeah, of course [I was disappointed]. I’m a fighter. When my promoter and my manager say, ‘This is my next fight,’ all I could do is get ready for that. All the fighting outside of the ring is what my manager and promoter does. It’s sorry that he can’t make it for the second time, but the show must go on. I have a strong replacement opponent and I have to do what Trevor does best and that is to fight,” Bryan said.
But what about Guidry, the man who will touch gloves with Bryan once January 29 hits? Guidry, a shrimper from Dulac, Louisiana, barely registered on anyone’s heavyweight radar despite a 17-0-2 pro record. Until a few weeks ago, Guidry wasn’t ranked in the WBA’s top 15 at heavyweight, which is typically required for fighters who are not champions of other organizations who want to challenge for a WBA world title.
“Rather than stop [Bryan vs. Charr] and try again with the visa. I was hopeful that we would have Charr because so many stories and so many lies have been told in regards to that the fight would have settled it all. Charr had not defended his title for almost four years until we came on to the scene. I would have loved Charr in there and since Charr did not get there, the rules of the WBA, they told us that if I don’t [give them a fight], Trevor is going to lose his championship. If Charr isn’t there, then he loses his ‘Champion in Recess’ status. We knew with the money we had in December, or January, we had plenty of time to get the visas in. He didn’t meet the deadline,” King said.
“Rather than go for an opponent, we appealed to the WBA with a guy that was fighting for the NABA [title]. He has a perfect record and we appealed to them to let this fight go on that date, that we had spent money on promoting and setting it up that it would be there. They graciously realized that Bryan had not fought in a year. They had punished him already even though there were good intentions, he still hasn’t fought in a year. I thank them for [approving Bryan vs. Guidry]. That’s why I put on six title fights to make certain the public gets what they want.”
- Don King
At first, Guidry was going to fight on the January 29 card against Alonzo Butler. However, with the possibility that Charr was not going to get his visa in time all too real, King already had a plan in mind which was to supply the WBA with a satisfactory replacement opponent in Guidry. In King’s mind, an undefeated fighter who was ready to fight Butler for a regional title (the NABA heavyweight title) on that date was more than enough to convince the WBA to approve the replacement, seemingly ending this saga.
Surprisingly enough, Bryan and Guidry do have some history in the ring together, stemming from a 2011 fight in the amateur ranks which, according to Boxrec, Bryan won. Though one can believe that an interesting tidbit could have played a role, however minute, could be in shaping that fight, King (and for that matter, Bryan as well), looked stunned upon learning that fact on the call. Only Guidry seemed to have remembered their encounter, though there wasn’t much to glean from that experience.
“We fought at the Golden Gloves nationals in Indiana. He is a big guy and has a really good jab. We have a lot more fights now. I was fighting in the amateurs at like 215. I was small and he was big. Now I’m at 250, a lot faster on my feet and a lot stronger,” Guidry said.
Looking into Bryan’s future, even if he does emerge victorious against Guidry, his 2022 is an enigma. In Bryan and King’s eyes, the WBA title that Bryan holds puts him on par with fellow champions Tyson Fury (the WBC champion) and Usyk (who also holds the WBO and IBF titles).
Realistically, it would take an act of god to get Bryan in the ring with either of those two fighters this year. Usyk is in the midst of negotiating a rematch with Joshua and Fury was ordered to fight interim WBC titleholder Dillian Whyte, but that fight is up in the air. Even if Fury doesn’t fight Whyte next, it is hard to envision the undefeated Fury lacing up his gloves to fight Bryan this year.
Is it impossible for it to happen? One would suppose not. Stranger things have happened in the sport and that possibility is always there.
King seems ready to fly the Trevor Bryan flag as he was more than ready to lay it all out there when I asked the promoter about the plan to have Bryan in the ring again this year.
“He’s ready to fight anyone. It’s like the song says, ‘You only live but once and when you're dead you're done, so let the good times roll.’ Anybody and everyone, he’s ready to take them all, so bring it on. We will take on anyone. We’ll take Tyson Fury tomorrow. In fact, we’ll take them all on the same night… We want to give him opponents who have never lost. We want them all. We want Anthony Joshua, Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder, bring them on. How are you going to do that? Win the confidence of the people,” King said.
But if Guidry pulls off the victory, it would be just another chapter in a never-ending book of upsets and title changes in the sport’s extremely long history. Would a rematch occur? Who’s to say. Would Guidry make his own efforts to call out the top dogs at heavyweight or simply take what he can realistically get? Still, a win over Bryan could be the type of life-changing result every boxer hopes to attain.
However perverse the curiosity to some is for a Don King-promoted card in 2022, its top heavyweight bout showcases what has been one of the strangest sagas involving a title (whether or not it should count as a world title is up to the individual) in recent memory. That fight taking place in a small town in Ohio with a population of just under 40,000 more than an hour away from Cleveland further accentuates a long-known fact about the sweet science.
It is joyous to watch, frustrating at times to follow, but always intriguing in some way shape or form.
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