The Heavyweight Boxing Scene (February 2008)

02.02.2008 - By Cesar Pancorvo: I thought the heavyweight division was getting better in 2007, but now it has declined once again after Klitschko’s long inactiveness and the recent unimpressive performances of Ruslan Chagaev and Alexander Povetkin. Almost two years ago, Wladimir Klitschko demolished Chris Byrd, for the second time, and became the top dog of the heavyweight division. But he’s still not the Champion, even after twenty-one months; he has not faced another top contender like Hasim Rahman (who was a top heavyweight before being defeated by Maskaev), Sergei Liakhovich (he was a top heavyweight after defeating Brewster), or the current elite: Chagaev, Ibragimov, Peter. Maybe, if he defeats Ibragimov and unifies two heavyweight belts, he will be finally perceived as the Champion, or, at least, as something more than a simple #1 contender..

So that fight, which will happen in twenty days, might be the coronation of Wladimir Klitschko, the enthronization of a new Heavyweight Champion of the world, especially because the rest of the opposition has looked very vulnerable –Sam Peter looked very vulnerable against past-his-prime fringe contender Jameel McCline and Ruslan Chagaev had an unimpressive performance against Britain’s Matt Skelton– and Ibragimov, another beltholder, has rised like a decent challenge.

The IBF tournament concluded and, as I expected, Alexander Povetkin won it and became Klitschko’s mandatory challenger. The WBO, meanwhile, has Tony Thompson as mandatory challenger, so he should be fighting soon against the WBO beltholder (that could be Klitschko or Ibragimov). What else is new? The WBA will declare soon their mandatory after the Valuev-Liakhovich bout and, finally, the WBC continues their chaos because, after Maskaev-Peter, their champion must face Vitali Klitschko, now recovered from injuries and political aspirations, and then Juan Carlos Gomez or Vladimir Virchis. It’s a mess. Let’s see the current Heavyweight Top10.

Champion: It has been vacant for the last four years. Some will say that Vitali Klitschko was the Champion in 2004-2005. The point is that the Heavyweight championship has been vacant for a long time, and the last dominant and solid Champion, as you know, was Lennox Lewis.

1.Wladimir Klitschko: The primus inter pares. The Steel hammer defeated Byrd, who was number 1 in 2006, after Brewster was unexpectedly defeated by Liakhovich and Vitali Klitschko, also unexpectedly, retired. His next fight is against Sultan Ibragimov, and I will consider Klitschko the new Champion if he wins and takes the WBO belt. Wladimir, by facing Ibragimov, will also face shadows of Corrie Sanders, the fighter that gave him a dramatical loss: Ibragimov is also known for having power and he is a southpaw.

2.Ruslan Chagaev: The momentum that he built after defeating Virchis, Ruiz and Valuev decomposed with his inactiveness in most of 2007; he apparently had an illness that couldn’t let him prepare for an unification bout against Sultan Ibragimov. He returned to the rings some days ago, against Matt Skelton, who I consider a Top20 heavyweight, and looked “beatable”. If the rumors are true –let’s hope they are– he will face the winner of Ibragimov-Klitschko, a fight that would make a new Champion emerge in the eyes of everyone. However, the WBA/WBO/IBF Champion would have a lot of mandatories: Thompson, Povetkin and Valuev or Liakhovich. I hope Chagaev can return to what he was a year ago. If he is active, he can do it.

3.Sultan Ibragimov: With Briggs, Whitaker and a 44 year old Holyfield in his resume, Ibragimov is not doing bad and not doing so well. He is average in this mediocre weight class, but has looked more impressive than Chagaev in his last bout, and that Peter in his last bout. The first word that comes to my mind when I think of Ibragimov is courage. He agreed to unify against Ruslan Chagaev, knowing that White Tyson was performing better and had better wins, now he has signed to fight Klitschko, who is, of course, a better fighter overall. We need more men like him in boxing.

4.Sam Peter: I will not lie, I had Peter as my #2 heavyweight half a year ago, but not anymore: two wins over obese James Toney (and their first fight could have easily been a loss for Peter) and a turbulent performance against Jameel McCline doesn’t justify or guarantee a #2 ranking. Peter, who was supposed to be a destructive puncher when he started to appear in 2004/2005 (I remember that he was catalogued as a “New Tyson” in some articles and columns), has never knocked out an elite heavyweight; I think Maskaev will be the first one.

5.Oleg Maskaev: Fragile. He should not be underestimated, but I think his days are counted in the heavyweight Top10, because he will be knocked out by Sam Peter. Two reasons: a) styles, Maskaev doesn’t have the tendencies or advantages of McCline and b) more than a year of inactiveness isn’t good when you’re 39 years old. Oleg could have had a much better career –rule number one: never face prime Oliver McCall and prime David Tua before your 13th professional bout.

6.Nikolay Valuev: I will quote what I wrote the last time I mentioned the Russian Giant: He won more respect for a loss than for 46 wins (…) Valuev’s physical advantages will make any opponent look awkward, lilliputian and disoriented. What he lacks in skill, speed, and athleticism, he has in chin, stamina and endurance. Now let’s talk about his next fight. It is against Sergei Liakhovich, and I think Valuev will win because of his own merits as a fighter and because Sergei has been too inactive. Unless Liakhovich impacts us with a fantastic performance, like the one from his fight against Brewster, which is improbable, I think Valuev will beat him and become the new WBA mandatory.

7.Alexander Povetkin: His new nickname is “The White Lion”, which reminds me of Lennox Lewis and also of Ruslan Chagaev. Sasha needs to improve his defense, because he has the rest…technique, skills, power and guts, like the ones he showed in the bout against Eddie Chambers. He wanted it more, you could feel it, he wanted to win and just outworked his adversary. I would also like to see how his chin would respond to the bombs of a powerful puncher like Klitschko. He should gain more experience and fight some more times before challenging for the IBF belt.

8.Tony Thompson: I rank him above Liakhovich because, although Liakhovich is better face-to-face, Thompson’s last wins are much better: Dominick Guinn, Timor Ibragimov and Luan Krasniqi. They are, at least, much better than Liakhovich’s extended inactiveness since he was defeated by Briggs. Thompson is also the highest ranked American in my resume. What has happened to American heavyweight boxing? Thompson, who isn’t precisely a torpedo that will make the division tremble, is the American heavyweight with the better wins and no fresh losses. Then you have Hasim Rahman, John Ruiz, Chris Byrd, Lamon Brewster, Calvin Brock, Eddie Chambers, James Toney, Shannon Briggs, Jameel McCline…which have all lost recently and are coming back. And there are prospects like Chris Arreola, Chazz Withersppon, JD Chapman, Kevin Johnson, etc, but they are the next generation.

9.Sergei Liakhovich: It’s incredible to think that his victory against Lamon Brewster was almost two years ago. After that win, I, very enthusiast, put Liakhovich in my Top3. Then he lost against Shannon Briggs, and that’s it. I can’t take him out of the Top10 list. He looked exceptional against Brewster and then lost against Briggs (therefore, I put him in the lower part of the Top10), but hasn’t had another loss that could take him out of the list, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt and, perhaps blinded, maintained him in my Top10. His eliminator against Valuev is soon and, if he loses, it will be the perfect opportunity to take him out of the list, but if he wins it will confirm the reason of why I still believed in him.

10.Vladimir Virchis: Hasn’t had a win that defines him yet but is clearly better than the fighters that are below him, like Rahman, Gomez, Tua or prospects like Dimitrenko and Arreola. A win over Juan Carlos Gomez, in March, could be a fine argument to keep him in this place and maybe higher.

Article posted on 02.02.2008

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