Rating the Heavyweights of the Decade

Klitschko24.08.09 - By Andrew Harrison, safe - With merely a handful of important encounters left on the heavyweight horizon before the sun sets on another decade of prizefighting, the time seems right to offer an opinion on the top ten big men of the noughties.

This was a far more daunting task than I first imagined, such has been the inconsistency within the division throughout this tumultuous period.

There is a trivia game I’m sure many of you will be aware of named ‘six degrees of Kevin Bacon’, which assumes that any actor can be linked back to the ubiquitous Hollywood star in six simple steps. Heavyweight boxing had many Kevin Bacons over the last ten years, the number of times Jameel McCline, Andrew Golota, John Ruiz and Fres Oquendo popped up when scrolling through career records was simply mind boggling..

Having painstakingly examined each candidate in turn, I have listed my picks below with each fighter’s numbers in brackets relating to contests they fought post January 2000.

The debate over this one should be interesting…….

1) Wladimir Klitschko (22-2)

Dr. Steelhammer has traded leather 24 times this decade and he needed every one of these outings in order to take top spot from the guy beneath him. In the end the choice became a direct trade off between the quantity of Wlad’s victories against the quality of those belonging to the guy who follows him in the rankings.

This wasn’t an easy choice by any stretch of the imagination, which perhaps says much about Wladimir when you consider that the other serious contenders for top spot managed only sixteen wins between them (seventeen of course if big brother Vitali manages to despatch Chris Arreola in September).

The first three years of the decade belonged to Lewis, with brother Vitali taking up the reigns until halted by injury in 2005. Since then and after a troublesome victory over unbeaten puncher Samuel Peter (a fight in which Wlad had to pick himself off the floor three times) he has slowly rebuilt himself into the top heavyweight of the moment, after previously suffering crushing defeats to Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster.

Wlad’s list of victims is beginning to look pretty decent; Ruslan Chagaev, Sultan Ibragimov, Chris Byrd (twice), Lamon Brewster and Sam Peter are good scalps, even if the manner of victory each time out was less than scintillating.

For those who consider Wladimir a shoo-in for top spot however consider this; Lennox Lewis went 6-1 in Ring Magazine championship fights over the decade whilst Vitali Klitschko managed 3-1. Wlad’s victory over Ruslan Chagaev was his first, leaving him 1-0 as the decade draws to a close.

2) Lennox Lewis (6-1)

As of today, the only fighter on this list with any claims to a lasting greatness and even that is disputed in some circles. Lewis began the decade on the back of a brace of battles with a still useful Evander Holyfield, finally achieving his aim of becoming undisputed champion. Very soon title belts began disappearing from his waist as unattractive mandatory defences were thrown in his direction, although this mattered not a jot, Lewis dominated the division until his retirement in 2004.

Seemingly unhindered after being released from the last chance saloon he so often found himself in throughout his career, Lewis came into his own as the decade began, obliterating and ruining the highly touted Michael Grant, flattening Frans Botha and completely outboxing David Tua.

Disaster struck against Hasim Rahman in Africa, Lewis poleaxed with an overhand right in round five before he returned the favour (with interest) in round four of their rematch seven months later. A dominant win against the shell of Mike Tyson and a dramatic slugfest victory against Vitali Klitschko in 2003 rounded out Lewis’s work this decade, the big Brit becoming the first heavyweight champ since Rocky Marciano to successfully retire whilst still champion.

3) Vitali Klitschko (10-2)

I was rather surprised at the numbers here and also the lack of top quality wins on Vitali’s record, the older brother perhaps a victim of the two headed Klitschko perception. Strangely, Dr. Ironfist lost to arguably the best two fighters he faced in Byrd and Lewis, both times to injury and both times when ahead on points. On the flipside, nine of his wins were by stoppage and he gave Lewis fits for the six rounds their donnybrook lasted.

Vitali was probably the best heavyweight in the world post Lennox Lewis, bombing out Kirk Johnson in a fight Ring Magazine recognised as being for their heavyweight championship. He followed this with wins over heavy handed Corrie Sanders and the limited Danny Williams before injury forced him to retire.

Vitali returned last year and his two victories since have been good ones, thumping Sam Peter and Juan Carlos Gomez in front of approving German audiences.

A dramatic victory over Chris Arreola in September is unlikely to be enough to elevate Vitali’s position any higher on this list.

4) Chris Byrd (11-3-1)

The highest ranking American fighter here in a division which has only ever seen the decade’s top heavyweight hail from US shores. Byrd’s placement however should not be seen as a disappointment; quite how a man of Byrd’s dimensions, one with limited punching power also, managed to hang tough with the new breed of heavyweight monsters the new century has produced really beggars belief.

Byrd’s second fight of the noughties saw him gain a rather fortunate win over Vitali Klitschko, the big Ukrainian retiring on his stool with a shoulder injury whilst ahead by 5 rounds on two judges’ cards and 7 on another after 9 completed rounds. Byrd immediately suffered Klitschko family retribution in his next outing, flattened twice en route to a unanimous points defeat against brother Wladimir.

Managing to bounce back with his tricky defensive and feather fisted counter punching style, he went on to frustrate and outpoint decent opposition in David Tua, Evander Holyfield, Fres Oquendo and Jameel McCline whilst also eking out a draw against Andrew Golota.

Byrd dropped two of his final three fights at heavyweight by stoppage defeat, Wlad Klitschko again proving too hot to handle for the much smaller man from Michigan, with Alexander Povetkin subsequently halting ‘Rapid Fire’ in eleven.

5) Hasim Rahman (14-5-2-1)

If the top three picks were no-brainers, the rest were tough and it gets a whole lot tougher here on in.

Splitting Rahman and Ruiz became a progressive and worsening headache for yours truly, both fighters consistently and horribly inconsistent throughout the past ten years. The clincher was the manner and magnitude of Rahman’s biggest ever win, the knockout upset over heavyweight champion, Lennox Lewis.

Other than that, Rahman’s best efforts were stoppage wins over future Wlad Klitschko conqueror Corrie Sanders and Kali Meehan; he also tallied notable draws against David Tua and James Toney.

Just to make things even more difficult, ‘The Rock’ dropped a decision to Ruiz, was headbutted into defeat by Evander Holyfield and was flattened by Lewis, Oleg Maskaev and Wlad Klitschko. The Lewis win was huge however and just manages to elevate him above the best of the rest.

6) John Ruiz (7-5-1-1)

Ruiz seemed to spend the entire decade as either the WBA’s champion, mandatory challenger or title fight elimination competitor.

With Lennox Lewis choosing the biggest fights available to him over mandatory title affairs, the WBA quickly stripped the ever so briefly unified champion and chose instead to match Ruiz with Evander Holyfield for their title belt in 2000. Three somewhat tedious and scrappy fights followed with both men winning one apiece and sharing the third. Ruiz then picked up a disqualification victory over Kirk Johnson before having his ears boxed off by former middleweight Roy Jones Jr.

Ruiz rebounded to record points verdicts over Hasim Rahman, Fres Oquendo and Andrew Golota before again being thoroughly outboxed at the hands of another former middleweight champ, James Toney (the fight was later changed to a no contest after Toney failed a drugs test).

Since the Toney fight in 2005, Ruiz has fought just five times, losing three points verdicts, two against the giant Nikolay Valuev and the other to Ruslan Chagaev.

7) Samuel Peter (31-3)

At one point, Samuel Peter was being hailed as a heavyweight powermonger in the guise of a Sonny Liston or George Foreman, such was the clamour for an exciting heavyweight star to emerge in this much maligned division.

Peter only began his career in 2001 and quickly streaked to 24-0 with 21 knockouts over limited opposition. This earned him a shot at a comebacking Wladimir Klitschko in 2005, a fight in which he was largely outboxed despite flooring Wlad twice in round five and again in round ten.

Peter went on to duel with James Toney twice, winning a split decision in their first encounter and showing decent boxing in the rematch to win unanimously. After suffering a real scare against divisional gatekeeper Jameel McCline in his next one, he bombed out a resurgent Oleg Maskaev in March 2008 before succumbing to Vitali Klitschko. In Vitali’s first fight in almost 4 years, the former champion pounded a cumbersome Peter mercilessly, retiring him in eight. In his only other significant fight since, Peter was outboxed by Eddie Chambers.

8) Lamon Brewster (13-4)

With Brewster, we’re really only talking about a hot streak he had between 2004 and 2005 during which time he managed to roll over the top of Wlad Klitschko, Kali Meehan and Andrew Golota before coming from behind to defeat Luan Krasniqi in nine.

The Klitschko win was significant and his knockout over Golota was one of the fastest ever between top rated heavyweight big men.

9) Ruslan Chagaev (23-1-1)

Chagaev has fought all but two of his contests this decade yet he waited until 2006 before engaging anything remotely approaching world rated opposition when he outboxed the unbeaten Vladimir Virchis in Hamburg.

Chagaev’s only other notable wins have been decision victories over John Ruiz and Nikolay Valuev, his most recent outing however resulted in a one sided drubbing at the hands of Wlad Klitschko.

10) Nikolay Valuev (29-1)

The best numbers on this list and the only reason really that he features. The huge seven foot Russian holds disputed victories over John Ruiz (twice) and the relic of Evander Holyfield along with a more clear points win over Sergey Lyakhovich (the single blemish coming at the hands of the man ranked one spot above him).

So how does this crop compare to the ten best heavyweight’s of the 90’s?

KO Magazine compiled a similar list in 1999 with the following results: 1) Evander Holyfield 2) Riddick Bowe 3) Lennox Lewis 4) Mike Tyson 5) George Foreman 6) Michael Moorer 7) Buster Douglas 8) Andrew Golota 9) Ray Mercer 10) Oliver McCall.

The reputation of the 90’s heavyweights has soared in recent years after the somewhat dour and tepid 00’s however I’m not convinced that the gulf in class is as wide as many would have you believe. It’s certainly not as great as I myself believed it to be, especially when comparing the top four of each decade, the 90’s boys were an extremely erratic bunch let us not forget.

The real damning indictment of this past decade’s heavyweight division however has been the absolute dearth of great fights; I mean can you yourself name even a handful? It’s a difficult task and is perhaps due in no small part to the conditioning of contemporary heavyweights. It appears that in order to combat the sheer size of the top guys on this list, fighters of a more traditional heavyweight frame have bulked up noticeably, robbing them of their speed, movement and endurance, assets so crucial to the top 90’s big man as voted for by KO, Evander Holyfield.

Alongside this, the 00’s saw the emergence of the European heavyweight, a more controlled and systematic model of fighter, resulting in dominating victories in battles robbed of drama (the memory of Klitschko-Ibragimov still makes me shudder).

For the first time in the division’s history and regardless of which order you care to arrange the top three, a decade belongs to a European heavyweight. Such a feat was once unimaginable in boxing’s glamour division, a weight which has been dominated by America almost exclusively since its inception.

Agree or disagree with Andrew’s list? Let him know your views on his boxing blog:

Article posted on 25.08.2009

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