The M. r.e.a.u era of Heavyweights

14.07.08 - By Anthony Coleman: Let me be blunt and take the side of virtually all of the knowledgeable boxing fans and insiders: this is the worst era of Heavyweights in a long, long time. Ever since the retirement of Lennox Lewis in 2003, every major title holder and top contender has shown to the world that they are a collection of flawed boxers. In fact it seems as if the oldest and most glamorous division in boxing is almost forgotten. And now two days after Wladimir Klitschko, the universally recognized best fighter in the division, gave a less than sterling performance against Tony Thompson, we must recognize that a savior isn’t coming anytime soon. For the time being we’re stuck in the “Mediocrity rules everything around us”* or the M-r.e.a.u era era of Heavyweights..

Now that the Heavyweights have hit the abyss (and make no mistake, I can’t see how it could get any worse than it is now), we must ask ourselves how did it get to this point? Looking back in the history of the division the late 60s to later 70s, a time frame which included fighters such as George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Earnie Shavers, and of course Muhammad Ali, sticks out as the clear platinum age. After that it is very difficult to pick out another truly great era. While in the ‘90s we were treated to such great fighters as Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, and Riddick Bowe; we were also treated to bad champs like Francois Botha, Bruce Seldon, Oliver McCall, an ancient Frank Bruno, and Buster Douglass. The other eras weren’t that great, but most featured a dominant champion like the aforementioned Lewis, Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson, Rocky Marciano, and Joe Louis. And while Floyd Patterson is remembered as a weak-chinned champion (he was dropped more times than any Heavyweight champ in history and was blitzed in one round in both of his fights with Sonny Liston) he at least had the entertaining trilogy with Ingemar Johansson.

Now we have none of that. Over the last couple of years and to this moment, the division’s top contenders and champions are a mix of solid-but-not-excellent boxers and guys who would have been considered journeymen in other decades. Think about some of the fighters who have won the belt? We’ve had a guy like John Ruiz win the heavyweight title twice, even though he has no talent besides the ability to use and get away with illegal clinches. Chris Byrd while a great defensive fighter, was undersized and his lack of strength was exploited when he was held to a draw by Andrew Golota, and he may have actually been defeated by Fres Oquendo (and thank the good lord that the judges decided not to rule in his favor). Even fighters who looked like they could be considered to be a likely “heir apparent” to Lewis were proven to be hype jobs who were given extensive pushes by HBO.
From all that is seen one thing is pretty obvious: the lack of a dominant champion is hurting the sport. I hate to say this because it goes against everything that I believe in, but most of the mainstream sports fans recognize the Heavyweight championship as the centerpiece of the sport. Plus if the fighter in question is not a Lightweight or higher, they’re only going to get very little recognition. While two great fighters like Rafael Marquez and Isreal Vazquez can put on the best trilogy since Ali-Frazier, the mere fact that they are 122-pounders will cause most mainstream sports fans to not pay them any attention. To them (and many who go on message boards and claim to be boxing fans) they are “midgets,” and they want to see bigger men and more importantly a guy who they can believe is the “toughest man in the world,” or more precise a dominant Heavyweight champion.

Think about it: How many casual fans have you heard over the last several years talk about Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson’s dominance? They were looked upon as Superheroes (or in the case of the older Mike Tyson, a Super-villain), and because of this they were able to help maintain the popularity of the sport. Without the lack of heavyweight who can inspire that sense of dominance it handicaps the earning potential of the sport and makes it harder on ourselves to expand the fanbase of the sport.

But most distressing is the fact that as a collection, these fighters consistently put on terrible fights. If they were entertaining and mediocre, there would be a reason to turn into HBO or Showtime and watch these men slug it out with one another. But in the last ten years can you name a Heavyweight fight that could actually be considered a “Fight of the Year” candidate? I can’t. Instead we’ve been treated to some of the worst fights in the history of the entire sport such as John Ruiz-Fres Oquendo, Chris Byrd-DaVarryl Williamson, and most recently Klitschko-Ibragimov. The division is littered with boxers who, quite frankly, don’t deserve to be on TV and that includes the titlists.

Yet now we must wonder when will we see the next dominant Heavyweight champion? Or more importantly a dominant Heavyweight Champion who grabs the imagination of the sports nation? I have no idea. Things have been going downhill for over a decade, even during Lewis’s reign. It could be five years or, God forbid, 10 years before we see such a fighter. It would help if a lot of our more athletic American big men weren’t going to the NBA or NFL.

In previous decades you could easily make more money in the ring than you could on the field or the court. Now it is the opposite, and sadly many of the more heavily hyped “heir apparents,” most notably Michael Grant, were men who didn’t have boxing in their blood and only came to the sport after the washed out in other sports. If some of the country’s athletic big men decided to forgo other sports and choose the boxing route, it would be good for the sport. Yet we also can’t forget about the other countries.

Right now the division is dominated by champs from former Soviet block countries and it would be likely that the next dominant champ would emerge from those territories. However I wouldn’t be surprised if countries like Nigeria would produce our next Heavyweight superstar (in fact Ike Ibeabuchi looked as if he was on the track to becoming the next Heavyweight champ, had he not suffered those mental problems that were a probable factor why he was thrown into prison). But hopefully the savior will come soon, because the state of the oldest and most venerated division is pathetic. Until the savior materializes we’ll be stuck in the M. r.e.a.u maze.

*-Note: For all of the youngins out there who don’t what I’m referring to, I suggest you go onto Wikipedia and look up Wu-Tang.

Article posted on 14.07.2008

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