Whine, Whine, Whine…What Does the Heavyweight Division Have to Do, Exactly?

Wladimir KlitschkoBy Jason Peck - It seems like every day there’s an article on the dilapidated state of the heavyweight division. About three years ago I jumped on the bandwagon myself. How could you blame me? The division was ruled by champions Hasim Rahman, John Ruiz, Lamon Brewster and Chris Byrd. All four seldom fought, and when they did, they usually battled inept journeymen. This era in heavyweight history was characterized questionable decisions, lackluster performances, and an unwillingness to unify.

But now it’s three years later, and the picture is undoubtedly much better. Superior fighters replaced these piddling champions; this new breed is actually taking risks. But the SAME heavyweight critics are making the SAME complaints, as though nothing changed.

They said Wladimir Klitschko could only amend those KO losses by beating Sam Peter. He did, and those same detractors still say he’s shit because Sam Peter was garbage anyway. They said there weren’t any great fighters here. Then superior Eastern Europeans liberated the titles, but that doesn’t count because the former Soviet Union fighters still suck for reasons that have never been explained.

Then they said there would never be any developments until a unification bout cleared the confusion. There was, but that doesn’t count because it didn’t properly energize boxing to the degree that some sports fans vaguely imagined it. We have the dominant fighters we lacked three years ago, but that doesn’t count either, because whoever they beat is retroactively second-rate.

Is this division as good as it was in the Tyson/Holyfield/Bowe years? I still say no. But it’s ridiculous to ignore the progress that’s been made.

Maybe this article is all for naught. As the sport’s glamour division, the fans have so many unrealistic expectations that it’s unlikely the bitching will ever stop – even if there is a truly dominant champ with one “true” belt and a series of victories that carry the same gravity as the climax of a Rocky film.

So there’s no quality opponents? Well, let’s consider that point.

My doubts about Vitali Klitschko remain, but there’s no doubt that either Klitschko brothers has provided the quality pugilism that none of the four Americans had. In particular, Wladimir has earned credibility the old-fashioned way: he takes on quality opponents and beats them convincingly. Insult Nicolai Valuev all you want, but even he has done a much better job of regularly defending his title.

A lot of heavyweights talked big about fighting the best and unifying three years ago, but I didn’t see anyone backing it up. Nor did I see any legitimate excuses. Don King controlled the belts, and unification never happened. Now it’s a very likely possibility.

But it’s not just Wladimir. The heavyweight belts have changed hands several times over the past three years, but the exchanges now occur between noticeably better fighters. I have a hard time imagining the Aforementioned Four matching later champions like Oleg Maskaev, Ruslan Chagaev and Sultan Imbragimov.

Furthermore, the up-and-coming fighters are looking a lot better as well. Naysayers may complain about Alexander Povetkin’s qualifications to fight for a title, but his resume speaks far louder than Sam Peter’s did when the Nigerian Nightmare was facing his first title shot three years ago. Former cruiserweight champ David Haye has yet to back up his boasts, but we didn’t have characters like him either.

Nor did we have prospects like Chris Arreola or Travis Walker actually taking risks against each other. The heavyweight prospects of yesteryear were kept at arm’s length from any possible blemish on their records. Now, we’re seeing fighters willing to take more of a risk.

It’s Always Something…

What gets me is people’s refusal to amend their opinion, even after circumstances have occurred that ought to give them reason to reconsider.

The most common dismissal? In the end, today’s fighters will always suck because they don’t match the greatest who ever lived, like Ali or Frazier.

Stop comparing today’s fighters to the all-time greats. It’s just a foolish argument. The Boxing Hall of Fame has a five-year waiting period after a fighter retires, which provides an opportunity for the fighter’s legacy to be properly analyzed. Only then can any historic evaluations be made.

Consider the case of Lennox Lewis and Larry Holmes, both of whom only got their due after their legacies had been fully considered. In their day, pessimists made the same arguments – they didn’t match the greatest. Who had either beaten aside from aged fighters like Ali or Holyfield? Today they’re considered two of the best, and that’s no discredit to their eras.

Who’s to say that the current heavyweight champs couldn’t make the Hall? No one’s to say – the time hasn’t come yet.

Article posted on 16.10.2008

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