Two Aging Heavies Carry American Title Hopes

By Paul McCreath: Any time now we should get the official announcement from the WBA that their heavyweight champion Ruslan Chagaev has been stripped of his title for not defending it against his mandatory challenger in over one year. They will either decide on a bout between top challenger Nicolay Valuev and their number two man John Ruiz for the title or they will fight for the interim title with the winner to meet Chagaev if and when he is able to fight again.. Either way Ruiz is back in the title picture and now joins Tony Thompson in making an attempt to restore America's status in boxing's heaviest division.

At one time it was taken for granted that America would boast the world heavyweight champion or at least some or all of the 4 main alphabet titles. Recently of course this has changed and for the second time we have all 4 titles held by non-American fighters. Naturally US fans would prefer to see one of their own at the top just like any other country would but they are reduced at this time at least to pinning their hopes on two 36 year old veterans.

Some may find it a bit difficult to think of Tony Thompson as a veteran but at 36 with 8 years as a pro he really is. He just has not been in the public eye all that long.In Tony's case, while he is 36 years old he is not shop-worn. His only loss came in his first year as a pro in his 5th pro bout when he was outpointed by another prospect Eric Kirkland, 5-0 at the time, in a 4 rounder. Since then Tony has won 27 in a row bringing his overall record to 31-1 with 19 KOs.He first came to prominence in June of 2006 when he outpointed former top prospect Dominick Guinn over 12 rounds. He followed this the next February with a ten round decision over Timor Ibragimov who was 21-1-1 going in, then earned his title shot last July when he stopped Luan Krasniqi in 5 rounds in an eliminator. Tony has had one keep busy fight since, stopping Cliff Couser in 2 last September.

What are his chances of defeating Wlad Klitschko on July 12th for the WBO and IBF belts? Minimal I am afraid. Tony is a pretty decent fighter but being realistic about it he is rated at about the same level as Ray Austin was before he met Wlad.We know what happened then. Thompson has good overall skills but cannot match Wlad in speed or power. His best chance is thought by many to be the fact that he is a big southpaw like Corrie Sanders who stopped Wlad a few years ago. Sorry but those characteristics are not what brought Sanders victory. Corrie won because of his power, hand speed, and aggression, none of which Thompson can equal. I would say his chances are about 20%. The oddsmakers have it about right. We all know what Wlad brings to the table as the widely recognized best heavyweight in the world.

That brings us to John Ruiz. Many wish this was not so. John has never been a popular fighter and that is especially true in his home country of America. People just don't like his fighting style. He is boring to watch. They don't call him Huggy Bear for nothing but his lack of popularity aside I believe he is due some respect. John has been among the top heavies in the world ever since his first bout with Evander Holyfield in 2000. He has had 12 title or elimination bouts over that time, compiling a record of 6-4-1 with 1 NC. He has met Holyfield 3 times, Kirk Johnson, Fres Oquendo, Andrew Golota, Roy Jones, James Toney, Nicolay Valuev and Ruslan Chageav but was never outclassed by any of them although Jones came pretty close. Nearly all his wins or losses have been close bouts and often disputed decisions. The only time he was blown away was that early career loss to David Tua. Like him or not he has been one of the best. Overall his record is 43-7-1 with 29 KOs.

Can he beat Valuev when they meet? Probably not. Although he earned his shot with the recent win over Jameel McCline who had given Sam Peter a very rough time in a WBC title bout in his previous match, John while not over the hill at 36, is not getting any better. The first bout with Valuev was very close and disputed but Big Nic has been improving with each match. Some would point out too that with the bout likely to take place in Germany this also gives Valuev an edge. I will leave that argument to those who think an American cannot get a fair shake over there. I do think having the crowd behind him and the extra experience Valuev now has will certainly help him in trying to defeat Ruiz again, probably by decision. Don't count out John completely though. He is known as the man who won't go away. Give him about a 30% chance.

Any other chances America has are farther down the road. Chris Arreola looks to be the best bet but he has yet to meet a contender and is probably 18 months away from a challenge to any title. Calvin Brock and Lamon Brewster may have fought their last fights. Eddie Chambers is still around but Povetkin exposed him as lacking what it takes. There are some other prospects but none are really prime quality. Chazz Witherspoon,Alonzo Butler,and Tye Fields have all lost recently. Travis Walker was flattened by TJ Wilson but came back to reverse that result in a rematch. If you want a long term hope you might want to keep an eye on Travis Kauffman. Travis was a top American amateur in 2005 then ran off 10 strait as a pro before being sidelined last year with legal problems. He was recently cleared of all charges and returned to the ring last weekend with a first round KO. He is now 11-0 with 8 KOs and probably 3 years away.All in all the chances of getting another American heavyweight champion any time soon do not look very good.

Article posted on 01.07.2008

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