What’s a Contender to do?

Vitali KlitschkoBy Chris Acosta - If you’re the manager of a current unbeaten heavyweight prospect, you’d better assign some extra homework before that big call comes. In what might be the norm for contenders in this era, heavyweighthopeful Kevin “Kingpin” Johnson will bring a frighteningly emaciated resume into the ring with him when he faces off against WBC champion Vitali Klitschko on December 12th.

If you thought Chris Arreola wasn’t prepared experience -wise, than Johnson must seem like a novice by comparison. The biggest win on the Atlanta natives’ ledger is Devin Vargas whom he stopped in the sixth round earlier this year. The gap between Vargas and Klitschko can’t be adequately expressed by any language on earth, it’s that vast. So thenproblem here seems to be falling into a trend: challengers with little to fall back on, except their backs, being rushed into a situationnthey’re nowhere near ready for..

I will never forget the look on Arreola’s face after the very first round of his challenge of Klitschko. It reminded me of what I said to myself after consuming my first (and only) “specially” baked chocolate brownie: “This isn’t quite what I expected.” And who could blame the guy? Vitali was probably bigger in the ring than he appeared in the press conference, a little faster, stronger and just plain better than he presumed. And having to deal with all those variables on the same
night must have been has harrowing as waiting for that damn brownie to let me off the hook.

The top ten in the heavyweight division (or top fifty for that matter) is so thin that up- and- comers who are theoretically three years away from learning their craft to the degree they’ll need to compete, suddenly find themselves with a ranking their experience does not reflect. The Klitschkos came along at a wonderful time, I tell ya. As part of the 1996 group of amateur fighters (with Wladimir winning Goldnin Atlanta) they began to emerge just as a wealth of fighters from then 1988 squad were burning out. The Lennox Lewis era was a dangerousnplace to be- sort of a pugilistic version of the cretaceous periodn when true monsters lurked all around. If you were looking to move up nthe ranks, there was no shortage of foes waiting to eat you for lunch.

Just to name a few: Lewis, Evander Holyfield, MikeTyson, George Foreman, Michael Moorer, David Tua, Riddick Bowe, Andrew Golota, Ike Ibeabuchi, Ray Mercer, Tommy Morrison, Shannon Briggs, Hasim Rahman, Oleg Maskaev (the good version), Kirk Johnson, Corrie Sanders, Razor Ruddock,John Ruiz, Oliver McCall, and I’m sure I missed a few. And if that wasn’t enough there were still guys like Bruce Seldon, Bert´Cooper, Alex Stewart and probably more, who were capable of pulling you further down the food chain.

Lewis retirement was in effect, the big asteroid, the annihilation of the scariest inhabitants of the time. All that was left afterwards was desolation and the fact that things would have to start all over from scratch. Thankfully, this rebuilding won’t take millions of years, though it sure as hell feels like it sometimes Emerging from the ashes were two humongous Ukrainian brothers with little left to pick through. It didn’t get off to a great start though; evolution is a painful process, after all. Vitali had his misstep with Chris Byrd and Sanders and Lamon Brewster showed that Wladimir might have been ill-equipped to handle the fighters from the previous fistic epoch. But the ensuing years have been a slow extinction of the relics who survived that fateful blast and those blasted by the Klitschko’s fists.

What’s stomping around today are marginally talented heavyweights who are either too much or too little of one thing. They’ re either fast with little power or slow and powerful. They’re either overly technical with little flash or flashy…wait, there’s one flashy guy- David Haye and he seems to know his place in the pecking order, having backed out of two proposed bouts with the brothers K. Where are all the punchers with iron chins? Where are the menacing, imposing heavyweights who fought as though their lives depended on it? Where are the rivalries and gut –checks?

None of this, of course, is the Klitschko’s fault. They’re winning and dominating and taking all the intrigue out of the division because there’s just nothing to disturb their peace. It would have been great if they’d been around in the 90’s because unlike most folks, I think they would have fit in very well with that group, depending on who they were matched with (another story for another day).

So again, if you’re a manager, you’d better start thinking ahead. If you have an undefeated heavyweight with serious potential (and I do believe they are out there), you have a tough decision to make: take the offer for that title shot with the knowledge that your guy is more likely to be bitten by a shark – on land- than win; or bide your time (Malik Scott?) and wait until Vitali retires and Wladimir rides off into the sunset. This isn’t to say that a Denis Boytsov, Odlanier Solis or even an Arreola won’t eventually become a champion. They just might. And it’s not to say that any of them don’t have the stuff to one day be as good as either Klitschko (I’m gonna get ripped for saying that one). They just don’t have the resources available to speed up their progress and be that good right now. Take the Klitschko’s out of the equation and suddenly, you have several great match-ups and a more competitive environment.

Kevin Johnson’s only real “hope” (there’s that word again) is that of the intangible. Like Tim Witherspoon in his challenge of the great Larry Holmes in 1983, Johnson comes along solely because of the lack of quality challengers. And like “Terrible” Tim, maybe Johnson has something in his style that will bother Klitschko. Maybe it’s his jab, maybe it’s a superior reach, maybe it’s the possibility that Vitali will suddenly hit a wall. Whatever the case, he’s elected to take his chance now while those behind him in line, wonder if they should.

Article posted on 26.10.2009

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