Klitschko vs. Peter: Heavyweight Unification or a Utopian Pipe Dream?

By Geoffrey Ciani: With the recent unification of the IBF/WBO by Wladimir Klitschko and the vicious knockout victory for Sam Peter over WBC champion Oleg Maskaev, it appears as if heavyweight boxing might finally be headed in the direction of unification. After all, in Klitschko, we have a unified champion for the first time since Lennox Lewis dumped his IBF belt instead of facing Chris Byrd, and it appears a rematch showdown between Klitschko and Peter is inevitable..

When “Iron” Mike Tyson defeated Tony Tucker on points back in 1987, he had technically become the first undisputed champion since Leon Spinks defeated Muhammad Ali about nine years earlier. Of course, he would maintain this distinction until succumbing to Buster Douglas in what many consider the biggest upset in sports history. Buster Douglas would go on to lose the undisputed championship in his very next fight against Evander Holyfield, who would ultimately lose it against Riddick Bowe after a trio of successful title defenses.

When Bowe threw the WBC version of the heavyweight title into a garbage can, it essentially symbolized the end of an era, and ‘undisputed champions’ became a thing of the past. The question becomes, is there anything on the horizon that indicates a change in this unfortunate trend? Sadly, I think the answer is no, and unless there are some major changes made, I suspect we are entering a new status quo where splintered titles become the norm.

When Mike Tyson reigned supreme, the prerequisite for calling oneself the “undisputed champion of the world” generally meant that one had to be in simultaneous possession of the three major sanctioning body titles—the WBA, the WBC, and the IBF. Today we also have the WBO, widely becoming recognized as a fourth such body, further complicating an already complicated subject matter. Let us ‘briefly’ go over the history of the heavyweight championship from the time Bowe said to hell with the WBC.

Lennox Lewis was declared the new WBC champion and defended his new crown in a barnburner against fellow Brit, Frank Bruno. Meanwhile, Bowe would defend the WBA/IBF against the likes of Michael Dokes and Jesse “The Boogeyman” Ferguson while WBO champion Tommy Morrison made successful defenses against George Foreman and Tim Tomashek. 1993 closed out with Morrison being knocked out by Michael Bent and Holyfield winning his rematch with Bowe.

In 1994, Herbie Hide stopped Bent to win the WBO, Holyfield dropped a decision against Michael Moorer costing him the WBA/IBF trinkets, and Lennox Lewis defeated Phil Jackson before losing a stunner at the hands of Oliver McCall. The 45 year old “Big” George Foreman would go on to make history when he defeated the 26 year old Moorer, making him the oldest heavyweight champion in history. The victory earned Foreman the WBA/IBF straps, but also sent things into even more of a tailspin.

In 1995, Bowe beat Seldon for the WBO, Foreman defended his IBF in a disputed decision over Axel Schulz, Bruce Seldon beat Tony Tucker for the WBA which was recently vacated by “Big” George, and McCall was bested by Bruno after having made a successful defense against Larry Holmes. Confused yet? It gets better. Francois Botha would end the year by winning the vacant IBF strap against the aforementioned Schultz when Foreman was stripped of his lone remaining belt, meaning, even though he had not lost a fight, Foreman no longer held any belts.

The four belts remained splintered throughout all of 1996 and most of 1997, often changing hands between many of the aforementioned names, with additions like Mike Tyson (freshly released from prison) and Henry Akinwande joining the mix. In November of 1997, we finally had another unified champion for the first time since Foreman dropped the WBA when Evander Holyfield defeated Michael Moorer in a rematch which reunified the WBA and IBF.

In 1999, at long last, we would have another bout for the ‘undisputed heavyweight championship of the world’! This all went down in March when IBF/WBA titlist Evander Holyfield was pitted against WBC champion Lennox Lewis. At the time, Vitali Klitschko was the reigning WBO champion, but that never precluded the powers that be from selling Holyfield-Lewis as the bout for all the marbles. Perhaps an argument can be made that the WBO was still not yet as well respected, but whatever the case may be, fans were still left dissatisfied when the Holyfield-Lewis contest was inexplicably declared a draw in a match clearly won by Lewis.

Later that year, fans would be ‘afforded’ the chance to see these two square off again, and at the end of another lackluster affair, Lewis was declared the victor and, ergo, the first undisputed heavyweight champion of the world since Bowe dumped the WBC belt which, incidentally, Lewis had literally picked out of the trash can some six years earlier. Hooray! We had an undisputed champion!

Sadly, this was short-lived, as Lewis would be stripped of the WBA in his very next contest when he decided to defend against the universally recognized number one contender Michael Grant rather than the WBA number one contender, John Ruiz, who was best known for his humiliating 19 second loss at the hands of David “Tuaman” Tua. So much for having an undisputed champion! *sigh*

Here we are, eight years later, and we are still no closer to having anyone unify the championship. The way the game is set-up, it is unlikely we will ever have an undisputed champion, and even if we do in brief spurts here and there, the status quo will inevitably shift the momentum in favor of splintered champions causing fans to become more and more disinterested in the sport. Such is heavyweight boxing of today. If Wladimir Klitschko, Sam Peter, or some other pugilist does ever manage to unify three or more belts, rest assured, it will be short lived, as evidenced by the last fifteen years.

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Article posted on 12.03.2008

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