So Go The Heavyweights...

10.21.04 - By Chris Acosta: On November 13th, Don King will hold another of his blockbuster heavyweight fight cards, another epic event featuring two title bouts and a $54.95 price tag that will disturbingly empty out the wallets of fight fans who have apparently come to accept the very real possibility of being swindled. The goal it seems, is to find the "true" heavyweight champion so that the next time you ask Joe Sportsfan who that very man is, he won't look at you like you're an algebra equation.

The two obvious problems are that the guy whom most of us consider the champ isn't even part of the card because he has this thing about putting a price on his soul.

Whatever you think of Vitali Klitschko, he is the successor to Lennox Lewis and is currently the most consistent big man on the scene. And for the record, can we all just take a deep breath and repeat after me: "The loss to Chris Byrd came via injury."

The way some folks have been speaking, it's as if Byrd dropped him four times and knocked him cold. Did he quit? Yep. Has he redeemed himself? Absolutely. And Byrd, though a genius of a defensive boxer, has failed to convince the masses that his last two victories were in fact, just that. Problem number two is that a unified championship last about as long as a middle- aged man without his Viagra. For some reason, possessive alphabet groups just can't stand to share a champion and so consequently they position their mandatory defenses so close together that a champion can't possibly have adequate time to prepare and thus is stripped of his title.

Suddenly, two new contenders (worthy and otherwise) are matched for the "vacant" belt and around and around we go. But those are simply the facts that we already know. Since it is the heavyweight division that draws attention to the sport (and not always in a good way), we fans can only hope for the very best. But what does that mean? I have yet to hear much positive press lately and how can you when George Foreman still likes his chances against the current crop?

Really, there are only a pair of roads that the next year can take and we may as well decide right now which of the options sounds better. A Dominant Champion. Every era has been characterized by one champion and you know who they are. No matter how bad the contenders are, all seems to be forgiven if one guy is doing the ass kicking and looking good doing it. It's fun for us and even better for the sport if our heavyweight champ can stick around long enough to endorse sports drinks or a Visa card. Even when Mike Tyson was disintegrating one hapless challenger after another for pay-for-view dollars, we came back for seconds (and many lasted about that long) and thirds. If there's one thing that all people this side of witness protection crave, it's identity.

A dominant champion makes headlines and puts boxing where it should be, on the front page with the big four: basketball, football, baseball and synchronized flatulating (Just kidding on that last one...I think, though nowadays you can never be too sure).

Another plus about a name champion is that if he is upset by some unknown, the sports world is hit with the kind of waves that no other sport can rival. Think about it: When the heavily favored team loses the World Series or Super Bowl, you'll see them again next year. When Tyson lost to Buster Douglas, it was the kind of defeat that could have ruined him right then and there and we all knew it; boxing has a way of unveiling an athletes mortality that is both unique in sports and cruelly intriguing.

No Dominant Champion. This is truly a double-edged sword. Remember the early 80's before the short guy showed up? Remember how Tony Tubbs, Trevor Berbick, Pinklon Thomas, Carl Wiiliams, Greg Page, Tim Witherspoon and the rest engaged in what seems like one long, nightmare-ish series of jab-a-thons?

I still break out in a cold sweat just thinking about it. Conversely, Muhammed Ali had his Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Ken Norton to deal with and with capable contenders like Ron Lyle, Jimmy Young, Jerry Quarry, fireworks were only a spark from igniting. This is somewhat similar
to what we had when Evander Holyfield was sharing the top ten with Lennox Lewis, Riddick Bowe, Ray Mercer, Tyson, and Razor Ruddock. And look at the dandies we came out of that with. Yes, I know that there were a few snoozers but Ali had his too as did Holmes and the rest of the greats before and after them..

From what I see now, it isn't quite as bad as most cynics swear it is. The Lamon Brewster- Kali Meehan fight was exciting enough for me to stand up from my chair, even though I didn't see it until the following weekend. Chris Byrd and Andrew Golota was fun and for a Byrd fight, that's seriously saying something. Vitali Klitschko's last three bouts were fast-paced and exciting. His title-winning victory against Corrie Sanders was enough to get the small crowd I had gathered in my apartment, a crowd that normally wouldn't watch any boxing if not for me supplying the beer and pizza, to hop around like the floor was on fire. I agree that the top ten isn't anywhere near the strongest it's been but as long as the contenders are hearing (and believing) that the division is wide-open, I'll bet that they give it hell when their chance comes.

I guess the very best we can hope is that each of the upcoming bouts in boxings' biggest division emerges with clear victors and devoid of controversy. Corruption in boxing does more than favor particular fighters and select its own judges, it stalls out inevitable conclusions so that more money can be made down the line. Don King has rarely negotiated unless the benefit weighs heavily in his favor. But for once, his stingy hold on the sports most glamorous weight class is in dire straits because he must know deep inside that the biggest draw out there, both literally and lucratively, just refuses to play by his rules.

Article posted on 22.10.2004

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