Is This The End For Dariusz Michalczewski?

01.03.05 - By Alton Silverman: On Saturday, February 26, Dariusz the Tiger Michalczewski tasted defeat in the truest sense of the word in the form of a sixth round TKO at the hands of the reigning WBA Light Heavyweight champion, Fabrice Tiozzo. It marked the end of dominance for the old guard of the Light Heavyweight division, as both the former linear light heavyweight champion Michalczewski and his arch rival Roy Jones Jr. have now been stopped in convincing fashion. The career of Dariusz Michalczewski is an interesting one because it represents boxing on the world scene.

With the fall of the Soviet Union and the expulsion of Communism from its satellite states, the now united Europe has gathered a lot of strength on the world boxing scene. In fact, both Michalczewski and Tiozzo received a much higher payday in their fight than the top American Light Heavyweights, Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson, did in theirs; outside of the heavyweight division, it appears boxing has now truly gone from the American stage to the world, and Michalczewski’s career is just another testament to this extravagant transformation.

Dariusz Michalczewski picked up the sport of boxing in his native Poland, where he began boxing in the amateur ranks. He defected to Germany in his late teen years, hoping to escape the crumbling of the Communist government and the potential violence such an event could yield. Under communist conditions, professional prizefighting was prohibited, and even though his native Poland was liberating herself, there were no big name local promoters anywhere in the country, so Michalczewski made the move to Germany. There he signed with promoter Universum, and began an amazing professional career.

Michalczewski was relatively unproven when he first stepped up against top opposition: the young Tiger faced the WBO light heavyweight champion of the world, Leeonzer Barber, who was a top five rated light heavyweight at time. Even though Michalczewski had 23 pro bouts under his belt to Barber’s 20, it was Barber who had fought more rounds and logged more ring time, giving the 28 year old American a slight edge in overall experience heading in to the fight. The real difference was the big fight experience; Michalczewski had none at the time whereas the Kronk Gym veteran Barber was already 5-0 in WBO title fights. In the first two rounds of the fight, it seemed that Barber--who at 6’3 was a huge Light Heavyweight--was imposing his will on the 6’1 Michalczewski, because Dariusz had started cautiously.

However, around the third round Tiger began to let his hands loose with bad intentions, and the WBO’s fight of the year broke out. Michalczewski repeatedly snapped Barber’s head back with a magnificent jab, and dominated the toe to toe exchanges against the very tough American. Barber would rally down the stretch, but the champion needed a knockout to win heading in to the championship rounds, which the Tiger would win as well. With a commanding unanimous decision, Michalczewski had made his first mark on the boxing world, gaining the WBO strap in the process.

The Tiger then went up in weight and knocked out the WBO’s cruiserweight champion, Nestor Giovannini, with a single left hook to unify the two belts. The left hook would become Michalczewski’s best weapon behind his world class jab. Although Michalczewski racked in a few easy defenses of his 175 lb title (he chose to defend it over his cruiserweight belt, which he
left vacant), he was still somewhat short in the experience department.

His first tough challenger came in the form of Frenchman Christophe Girarde. Girarde turned the fight into a tactical affair, exposing some flaws in the Tiger’s straight forward pressure style. Although he boxed gamely, Girarde’s punches were without the powerful snap that Michalczewski’s blows conveyed, and the Tiger took the fight with another unanimous decision, 7 rounds to 5 on this writer’s scorecard (although the official scores were much wider in Michalczewski’s favour, causing some controversy).

In his next fight against German Graciano Rocchigiani, Michalczewski started out slow as well, dropping the first two rounds due to inactivity. When Dariusz picked up the pace in the third, A--a former IBF super middleweight champion--remained surprisingly competitive, and was still leading by two rounds heading into the fateful seventh. Here the challenger Rocchigiani, with the crowd surprisingly cheering him on, got a bit too reckless and nailed Michalczewski after the break. Michalczewski was hurt, and the fight was pronounced a technical draw.

However, reports soon came out that the two fighters were not even on a level playing field in the first place; Rocchigiani had tested positive for an illegal substance, and Dariusz was pronounced the winner by disqualification. His popularity suffered a great blow from this, but it turned out to be the pivotal moment of the Polish born fighter’s career.

Michalczewski now finally had enough experience against world class fighters to reach his peak. Furthermore, the Tiger proved he had a champion’s heart when he called for a rematch. Like all great fighters, Michalczewski wanted vindication, not a technical win. Rocchigiani was still infuriated with the scandal, so it was Girarde who would face the Tiger next. Less than six months after their first fight, the two were in the same ring again, and it was obvious that Dariusz was now a different fighter. He started strong and in the eighth round viciously floored Girarde three times to earn the stoppage win. Dariusz wanted Rocky next, but instead he got the opportunity of his career.

At 33-0, Michalczewski was set to face off against the best champion of his generation, Virgil “Quicksilver” Hill. Hill was 43-1 and had just defeated the 30-0 former Olympic gold medallist, Henry Maske in his native Germany to unify his WBA title with Maske’s IBF crown. Three titles were on the line as Hill returned to take on the Tiger. Michalczewski started the fight
fast, knowing that Hill was an extremely durable fighter and that the fight would probably go to the cards. After three rounds, two things became clear: Hill, who was the same height as Dariusz but possessed a considerable reach advantage, had a phenomenal jab.

However, Michalczewski had an even better one. Dariusz was already up two rounds to one going in to the fourth; this was long before his great stamina would become a factor. In the fifth, Michalczewski absolutely battered Hill with rights and lefts to the head. Hill would not be dominated like this over the course of a fight until he was old and fighting in the cruiserweight division. Hill would win some more rounds towards the end, but when all was said and done, Michalczewski had dethroned the unified champion and had earned the right to be called the best light heavyweight in the world. The new WBA, WBO, IBF and linear world champion would, however, soon find out that in boxing, happy endings rarely happen.

The WBA suddenly informed Universum that it was stripping its new champion because it did not recognize the WBO belt he still wore. The IBF then ordered him to fight a mandatory within 30 days of his fight with Hill, which is a ridiculous request. Universum protested, but it was all for naught as Michalczewski would lose his titles in an absolutely disgraceful example of corruption within the sanctioning bodies. Of course, the man who would gain the most out of this disgrace was Roy Jones Jr., who would become Michalczewski’s biggest rival.

Jones knocked out Montell Griffin two months after Michalczewski beat Hill to avenge his sole loss (to Griffin by DQ) and regain the WBC version of the light heavyweight title. At this point, Universum offered Jones a stunning 5 million dollars (Hill, who was better known in Europe than Jones, was paid half of this amount) to face Michalczewski as soon as the linear champ was done with Englishman Nicky Piper. Jones turned down the payday and instead proceeded to beat the paper champs who won Michalczewski’s newly vacated WBA and IBF titles by wide decisions. He stated that as soon as he unified the other three belts, he would finally face his rival, but the fight would never happen.

Michalczewski would go on to beat former WBC champ Montell Griffin, who was highly regarded for out landing Jones in their first fight, despite being knocked out in the rematch. Griffin was rated number three in the world--behind the two arch rivals--as he had also defeated James Toney twice at light heavyweight (where Toney could make no excuses about his weight), taking the latter’s WBU trinket in the process. The 29 year old Griffin was also 2 years younger than Michalczewski, and started the fight moving well and throwing solid combinations. But in the fourth round, Michalczewski stepped it up and it was obvious that the American had no answer for the ferocity of the Tiger. Michalczewski caught Griffin with a hard right hand, which doubled him over, and then sent him crashing into the ropes with a jab cross combination.

Joe Cortez saw enough after Michalczewski landed fourteen unanswered punches to Griffin’s head, and stopped the bout with Griffin out on his feet. This was just weeks after Jones had unified the last of the belts, and neither fighter had any upcoming mandatory.

The stage was set for the showdown, but despite Jones being offered a career high payday he would not take the fight in Germany, claiming he would receive unfair treatment overseas. Jones did not even make any realistic offers for Michalczewski to come to the States, as Dariusz was not very well known in America. Michalczewski wrote an open letter to Jones, calling him a coward if he backed out of the fight, but Jones would not accept the challenge, preferring to fight the likes of David Telesco and Derrick Harmon instead.

The division was empty now, and both men resorted to lesser opposition. Michalczewski became very disinterested in the sport, especially after he cleaned up the last bit of unfinished business by knocking out reigning WBC champ Rocchigiani in ten rounds (although he would not receive a belt due to another sanctioning body scandal).

Soon it would become apparent that the Tiger’s best days were past him, as he began to struggle with fringe contenders and was involved with two life or death battles with the power punching 6’4 Richard Hall. Impressively, he managed to hang on to the linear title until late 2003, setting a light heavyweight record of going undefeated in 48 fights, one shy of Rocky Marciano’s heavyweight record. He was finally defeated when he dropped a somewhat controversial split decision against Mexican Julio Gonzalez. Some thought the Tiger still had it, but he underwent surgery and was out for a year and a half.

Michalczewski listened to his fans, who wanted a Tiger comeback, and he came back against the top rated WBA champion, Fabrice Tiozzo. Tiozzo--who is a year younger than the Tiger, and sports much less wear and tear--dominated this fight early, and Michalczewski looked like his best days were far behind him, although he showed up in good physical condition. His reflexes were not what they used to be, and he could not find the range with his jab, which was once his best weapon but had all of a sudden become a weak spot.

Michalczewski won one, maybe two rounds, but was floored by a three punch combo punctuated by a big overhand right in the sixth. Unlike his rival Jones, who lay unconscious for five minutes when he was knocked out by Glen Johnson, Michalczewski was up after just five seconds, but he was on unsteady legs and Tiozzo threw everything he had at him , prompting a stoppage with the Tiger on unsteady legs. It was the end of an era.

Of course, both Michalczewski and Roy Jones may still return to the ring. It would be great if they finally fought each other, but this writer is not holding his breath. Can Tiger successfully mount a comeback? That depends on whether it was wear and tear and age, or inactivity that was the main cause of his poor showing. If it is his age and the amount of punishment he has taken, Michalczewski should hang up the gloves. He will go down as a great light heavyweight, as he held the linear title for over six years and won a record fourteen straight light heavyweight lineal title fights. He also defended the WBO title a record-setting 23 times. History will show that Dariusz Michalczewski was a real fighter with a real heart.

Article posted on 01.03.2005

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