2004 Will be a Big Year for Boxing’s Big Boys
04.12.03 - By Carl M. Rice, Jr.: Don’t believe the hype! This was the name of an old school song by rap group Public Enemy in the late 1980’s, but it can also be used in reference to the criticism of the current heavyweight division. There have been many articles written about how the current crop of heavies just don’t have much talent in terms of skill and entertainment value. While I cannot argue the fact that the heavyweights today may not be as good as some of heavies of the past, the situation is not as horrible as others have made it out to be, and believe it or not, it could be worse!
Article posted on 04.12.2003
2003 has been an interesting year for heavyweight boxing. Roy Jones snatched the WBA version of the title from an overmatched John Ruiz. Chris Byrd grabbed the IBF slice away from old man Evander Holyfield, then proceeded to get a scare (or a gift) from Fast Fres Oquendo (or the judges). Lennox Lewis barely held on to his title, not to mention his legacy, by cutting up Vitali Klitschko. And Corrie Sanders pounded the WBO bauble away from Wlad Klitschko. And those are just the title fights. Let’s not forget that Holyfield has been halted by an overblown middleweight in James Toney, the “young” heavyweights are making some noise as Dominick Guinn and Joe Mesi came out of the evening called by promoters (quite blandly) “The Night of the Young Heavyweights” elevated in status, and what would the heavies be without Cast Iron Mike Tyson?
As the world of heavyweight boxing turns, so does the world of boxing itself. Lately there has been a great deal of talk about how boxing is dying, boxing is fading away into the sport subconcience, and boxing is a niche sport. Whatever. This line of thinking, much like the Shakespeare play, is much ado about nothing. Certainly, circumstances could be better, but for the most part, boxing is alive and well, and so is the heavyweight division. There are a number of scenarios that could play themselves out, and here are just a couple of them that will take place in 2004. Not only will these events help to rejuvenate heavyweight boxing, but the public will once again look at boxing as more than a passing fancy. Please allow me to whip out my crystal ball and put on my prognosticator’s hat:
Lennox Lewis Will Officially Retire
Although no one in Lewis camp is admitting it publicly, Lennox is waiting to see what happens with the fight between Vitali Klitschko and Kirk Johnson this Saturday on December 6. The winner will be positioned to fight Lewis next, and this is where the decision will be made. If Klitschko wins, it is less likely that Lewis will ever enter a boxing ring again. He already knows that it will be a tough fight, getting in top shape is not a easy as it used to be, and he already fought and beat the man, so there will be little incentive to step back into the ring. However, if Johnson wins, it validates Lewis not wanting or needing to fight Klitschko again.
Since he was already slated to fight Johnson before a pectoral muscle forced him to pull out, which allowed Klitschko to fight Lewis in the first place, he will return for one last fight against Johnson before calling it a day. And even if he does fight the winner, regardless of who it is, after that Lennox is done anyway. 2004 will be the first time in a long time that the heavyweight division will be completely open to whomever can get through the door first.
Jones v Tyson Will Happen
This fight will happen for two main reasons: Tyson is broke and Jones looks vulnerable. Four months ago, if you asked any boxing fan who would win that fight, Jones most likely would have been the favorite, especially after seeing how Mike had been so sporadic in his ring appearances. But now, after Jones’ harder-than-expected title fight with Antonio Tarver, Jones looks more beatable than ever. Does anyone doubt that Tyson saw that scrap and thought “If I could get him on those ropes like that, it’s an easy victory for me.”? It will be a fight of enormous proportions and there will be two distinct factions present at fight time: those that want to see Tyson return to prominence, and those who will want to see Jones get his head blown off. There will be a segment of fans that will cheer for Roy, but they will be vastly outnumbered.
Currently, there are several hurdles that could prevent this fight. One is the fact that Tyson is a Showtime fighter and Jones is a HBO guy, but Lewis v. Tyson was proof that something can be worked out between the two behemoths. With all the loot that can be made in a boxing match of this magnitude, combined with the fact that Showtime has to believe that Tyson can and will win this fight, a deal can be reached. Another question is who would get the lion’s share of the purse. Surely Jones thinks he should because he’s a titlist and simply because he’s Roy, but he also understands that Tyson is the spectacle here, and so Jones will need to make concessions to make it happen. The biggest hurdle may be the fact that Tyson has publicly said that he will not work with Don King again. However, this may be avoided because Jones will either need to fight the winner of Rahman v. Ruiz (I suspect he won’t) or be stripped. If Jones gets stripped, there would be no reason for King to be involved with this event. But if the WBA trinket were at stake, then Tyson would have no choice but to work with King again if he accepts the fight. But Tyson is in a huge financial mess and King is willing to do whatever it takes to get out of Tyson’s $100 million lawsuit against him. It would, after all, be the biggest purse in Jones’ and maybe even Tyson’s career, and Jones could dispel his many critics that perceive Jones as never willing to take a risk. It’s the perfect fight for both men call it a career.
Joe Mesi Will Fight for a Title
It’s been a long time since a white American heavyweight has been in the position Joe Mesi has been in the past two years. He has fought his way up the boxing food chain on local shows, to ESPN2 cards, and now he has finally made it to the big time, HBO Championship Boxing. Mesi is a relatively talented guy with some power, some speed, but also some question marks. How will his chin stand up to a solid shot? Can he make it through 10 or 12 hard rounds? Will he ever fight a live body? Is he the next Great White Hope, the next Great White Hype, or the next Great Heavyweight?
Mesi seems like the real deal now, but 2004 will be a breakout year for him. After beating DaVarryl Williamson, many have clamored that he steps up the level of competition. Monte Barrett, next on the agenda, is not quite a step up, but recall that Barrett fought Wlad Klitschko three years ago, so there is a comparison there in terms of his progression to taking on tougher opposition (hopefully it will not take Mesi three years before stepping up to fight more difficult competition). After dispatching of one or two more Barrett class fighters, he will get his chance to fight for 1 of the 4 titles out there. If Jones does not defend the WBA title, the winner of Rahman v. Ruiz will be in line to fight for it, and it is one of these guys that Mesi will battle for the title.
Wlad Klitschko Will Lose Again. And Vitali Will Rise to the Top
After the pounding Wlad received against Corrie Sanders, many fans said that Wlad was done, and this is the truth. Wlad will fight a few stiffs before either stepping to the plate to fight Sanders again, who now holds the psychological edge and will once again KO Wlad, or he will fight someone to get in place to fight for one of the titles and get KOed in that fight. In any case, it is safe to say that little brother has been exposed and now the intimidation factor is gone. Vitali, on the other hand, had shown his toughness in his back and forth Pier 6 brawl with Lennox Lewis. Yes, he does have a very upright European style, but he took on the real champ and not only held his own, but was close to scoring a knockdown on several occasions. Even though he was on the verge of being knocked down as well, the fact of the matter is that he was very much in the fight.
I see this Saturday’s fight playing out like this: Vitali shoves that telephone pole jab into Kirk’s face and Johnson responds by fighting while going backwards. Johnson’s boxing skills keeps him in the fight, but Klitschko delivers a hard right hand that puts Johnson down in the 3rd, and another that puts him out in the 6th. After beating Johnson, he will be in line to fight a title eliminator for Lewis’ belt after he retires and will beat either Corrie Sanders or Davis Tua to become the first and only Klitschko to win a major world title.
James Toney Will Beat Jameel McCline and Fight for a Heavyweight Title
James Toney showed the world that he could compete at heavyweight by not just beating Evander Holyfield, but completely dismantling him. However, he will be taking on his biggest challenge to date in the form of “Big Time” Jameel McCline in February. This seems like a tall order for Toney, but if there is any fighter that can be a giant killer, it appears to be Toney. McCline’s lack of experience will work against him, as will his tentative (that’s putting it lightly) boxing style. But if McCline realizes that he is with a much smaller man, he may go on the attack. If he does, that will also work against him; this strategy will play right into Toney’s uncanny counterpunching abilities, which will allow him to outbox the big man, and Toney will get a hard-earned decision.
After that, he will have several options to fight for a title, specifically Chris Byrd or Vitali Klitschko. Byrd and Toney have been talking back and forth ever since Toney defeated Vassily Jirov earlier this year and I suspect that both men want to get it on. However, if Vitali has a title later this year, which I suspect he will, Toney will fight him or little brother Wlad, but this McCline fight is being taken for a reason: It is getting Toney ready to take on the big boys.
Evander Holyfield Will Retire
It has been a tough ride for Holyfield the past few years. He wins, loses, and ties with the very average John Ruiz, a guy he would have destroyed in the early 90’s. Then he has a good showing against Hasim Rahman, who, for his trouble, received one of the ugliest swellings I have ever seen, courtesy of Holyfield's melon head. After that, he gets in the ring with slippery-when-not-wet Chris Byrd, a man he publicly stated he did not want to fight, but boxing politics (along with being offered the chance to fight for another title) forced his hand. In that fight he tears the rotator cuff in his shoulder, continues to fight, and loses the most lopsided decision of his career. But after repairing his shoulder and saying all the right things, he was slated to fight Roy Jones for the WBA title Jones acquired by whooping on Ruiz for 12 rounds. But, as is the case with many of Jones’ fights, money was the key issue, and with each side not willing to concede, Holyfield found James Toney, who was looking for a fight also after negotiations collapsed with a fight with Bernard Hopkins. The cause of this breakdown? Money (GHASP!). The result of this fight was the worst one-sided beating Holyfield has ever absorbed in the ring, even worse than Bowe v Holyfield III.
Although Holyfield has reported that he will continue on his quest to become the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World again, he will have problems getting all the belts together, plus it is doubtful that he could beat any of the current titleholders. Combine that with an unwillingness of the major boxing outlets (HBO, Showtime, and ESPN) to showcase Holyfield again, and that he will fight a top 10-15 fighter and get destroyed (my initial thoughts are Fres Oquendo or Joe Mesi), he will come to the conclusion that he has achieved ample success in boxing and has finally had enough.
2004 will bring the heavies to the forefront once again. This may not be the most talented crop of heavyweight, but with all the older guys preparing to retire, there will be room for new, fresh faces to jump on the scene.
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