Boxing at an All-Time Low -The Heavyweight Division Is In Big Trouble

16.06.05 - By Lee Hayes: The saying in boxing is that things go as the heavyweight division goes. This is not to mean that good fights will not take place at lower weight classes. In fact, usually the lower weights are where a lot of the real action takes place. The saying is in reference to the meaning of being “heavyweight champion of the world”, which in essence means the man who can literally beat any other man in the ring.

Since the heavyweights are the largest of boxing specimens, it infers that the heavyweight champion if the most physically superior man on earth. If that’s the case, then boxing is in a whole world of trouble right now. With Vitali Klitschko the generally accepted top of the divisions multiple title belt holders, and his reluctance to fight any of the other champions or top contenders –let alone his mandatory defenses- it does not appear to be a situation that will sort itself out any time soon. Who is the greatest heavyweight currently fighting in the division? Is it truly Klitschko? It’s hard to give him that claim, because he still holds a loss to Chris Byrd, and Lennox Lewis. They being the only two champions that Klitschko has ever faced in the ring. Is it Chris Byrd? Again it’s hard to give Byrd that distinction, since he has lost soundly to Wladimir Klitschko, although it was many years ago.

At first glance, John Ruiz seems unfit even for consideration, considering that he’s lost to two former middleweight champions, and fought tooth and nail with several other top heavyweights, but keep in mind that Ruiz holds victories over Evander Holyfield, Kirk Johnson, Andrew Golota and a few others.

So if he is no better than the other two major belt holders, than he also is no worse. Enter Lamon Brewster. Brewster is the least accomplished of the belt holders, however he holds stoppage victories over Wladimir Klitschko and Andrew Golota (the latter had taken both Chris Byrd and John Ruiz to the wire in close decisions). Brewsters lack of experience at the top is well made up for because he has nothing to lose, and he seems intent on proving his theory that today’s big tall heavyweights are simply too large to have endurance in fights against tough willing opponents (such as himself).

The problem the division is currently seeing could easily be rectified. You can not force talent on a division that lacks it. There is nothing that can be done about that. You can however stage tournaments and box offs between top fighters to see who emerges as the best. This way you get a clear cut winner, and you can usually get some interesting fights and match ups in the process. Certainly this is much better than watching Chris Byrd fight Sergei Lyakhovich, or Vitali Klitschko fight Corrie Sanders or Danny Williams.

Lets see Vitali Klitschko be a man and fight Chris Byrd in a rematch to show us that he isn’t a quitter, that he has the heart to fight through adversity and beat Byrd soundly (for a complete fight, instead of what I call a “Klitschko fight” which is around 5 or 6 rounds, because anything over 5 or 6 rounds and these Klitschko’s start fighting with their hands by their hips with their jaws gaping open, mouths grasping for air.). Let’s see if Lamon Brewster can do what he did to Golota against Vitali. I think Brewster vs. Byrd could be a good fight too, with a boxer against a slugger. Say what you want about John Ruiz, but he has dodged nobody in his career, and he has personally called out Vitali Klitschko for a match in an open letter. So has Chris Byrd via an article in Ring Magazine.

Lamon Brewster has also joined the growing number of top heavyweights that are trying to convince Klitschko to fight someone other than an opponent that has already kicked his brother’s ass, in a previous fight. Hasim Rahman has also written open letters lambasting Vitali for his lack of heart and his obvious intent on fighting only opponents he knows he can beat. Rahman has been Klitschko’s mandatory defense for his WBC belt for over a year; however Klitschko has pulled out of his fight with “The Rock” on numerous occasions, and appears to have no interest in actually fighting him. Perhaps he’s seen the replay of Rahman’s one punch KO of Lennox Lewis one too many times, and he doesn’t want to end up a horizontal heavyweight like his younger brother, Wladimir.

Perhaps it seems I am being too harsh on Klitschko. This would be because Ring Magazine, the WBC and most of the boxing experts in the world have stated that he is currently the man to beat at heavyweight. Therefore this whole mess and the onus to correct it lays heavily on his shoulder, and he has shown a caviler, disinterest in putting the questions regarding the division to rest. He seems hell bent on one mission and one mission only, to be the heavyweight champion of any organization at the same time as his china chinned brother, Wladimir.

You see, Vitali can no longer hide behind his long running argument that Don King is impeding his progress with fighting a decent fighter. King has openly stated on camera that he wants no options for Vitali to enter a heavyweight tournament. He has offered Hasim Rahman as evidence, in a “no options” heavyweight title fight, and still Vitali is acting like a scared, little boy.

I would argue that he has no less of an advantage than the Klitschko’s hold in their own back yard (pretty much anywhere in Eastern Europe), and since the Klitschko’s have been accused of using many dirty practices (accusations have come from Chris Byrd and others) involving gloves and the boxing rings. Personally, I don’t care if they fight in Timbuktu. I’m just sick of Klitshcko standing around like he’s the next Joe Louis, even though he’s too chicken shit to fight anybody good, and he’s even less interested in boxings history, or how the sport is perceived globally.

The last article I wrote for East Side Boxing was a scathing criticism of Klitschko and his lack of championship class. It was pointed out to me that I had not mentioned his actual fight credentials, and attacked him more on a personal basis than based on his accomplishments (or as I suggest, lack there of). I think that was a fair judgment, and I am now going to complete the assessment, by doing just that. My assessment of Klitschko’s career is as follows:

1. Klitschko turns pro in 1996. He fights a bevy of no-names and virtual no-hopers for the first 4 years of his career, until facing future IBF heavyweight king, Chris Byrd. Byrd is known as a good defensive fighter with little pop in his punches. Byrd comes in to the fight weighing 210 lbs, at around 6'1. Klitschko comes in at 6'7 and around 245lbs. David vs. Goliath, 2000 style. Klitschko had every possible natural advantage over Byrd, and that's not including the fact that the fight was in Klitschko's adopted home turf of Berlin, Germany. Nor is it taking in to consideration that Byrd accepted the fight on only two weeks notice.

He had not been training to prepare for a fight before hand either. I believe that two judges had Vitali up by 6-3 in rounds going in to the tenth round. Then, suddenly, Klitschko quit on his stool. He quit because he claimed his rotator cuff was torn. He appeared fine to carry on if he had wanted to (guys like Marcel Cerdan had fought with broken arms and won fights. Jesus Chavez had torn his left rotator cuff in the second round of his battle with p4p top fighter Erik Morales, yet still fought for 12 rounds, and that was in a fight against a guy he was soundly losing to, because in boxing, a true champion feels he is always in a fight, and that he can over come any obstacle.) Whatever the case was, HBO and many boxing experts labeled Klitschko, "Quitscko" and/or "Chicken Kiev".

He went from a prospect to a complete joke, and was generally regarded as the less talented Klitschko by everybody, including Eastern European Klitschko fans. (Although they seem to have forgotten that as time goes by, as they shout "It was always you Vitali!" while jumping from one Klitschko band wagon to the other). Klitschko NEVER attempted to rematch Chris Byrd, and it appears that his shoulder injury was caused and repetitively re-injured due to Byrd's elusiveness and Vitali's misses when he threw shots. Klitschko was already around 27 or 28 years old by this time. Most heavyweights in history had already established themselves as dominant champions by this age.

Klitschko did not look like he had much of a future in the sport. It would be another 3 years before Vitali would even dare to fight another top fighter, Lennox Lewis. This would be as Lewis hit the twilight of his career. Lewis had been talking about retirement since the year 2000, in an article with Play Boy magazine. He stated he wanted Tyson, then to retire. Unfortunately, his ego and indifferent attitude got him in the ring with an in shape Vitali Klitschko. Klitschko would use his size advantage (the first man Lewis would face in the pro's with an actual size advantage over him), and his awkward style -not to mention his unexpected gameness- to throw off Lewis. (Who for his part had shown up in the worst shape of his life and looked every bit as shot and done as Muhammad Ali had when he faced Larry Holmes.)

Still, after hitting Lewis with every punch in his repertoire, and catching an overweight Lennox on his worst night, Vitali was unable to even seriously harm Lennox, let alone knock him out to win his belts. Vitali Klitschko robbed us that night in June of 2003. A young lion is suppose to unseat the old lion. He is suppose to be able to cast his superiority and youth the way Tunney did to Dempsey, or Louis did to Braddock.

The way Clay did to Liston and Tyson did to Holmes. Klitschko was unable to do more than win a couple of rounds, continually hitting Lewis, who Klitschko fanatics will point out has a weak chin, yet he was unable to put Lewis down even once. Not exactly the thing great champions are made of. Lewis clearly realized he had escaped a close call when he managed to rip Klitschko’s face apart with a desperations flurry of uppercuts (forcing the doctor to stop the fight, lest he let Klitschko bleed to death in the ring).

2. Incredibly, the loss to Lennox Lewis propelled Vitali’s popularity for a short while. He appeared to be big enough, strong enough, and effective enough to be a force in the division. It was easy to forget that he had fought the absolute worst Lennox Lewis that ever entered a ring. It was easy to forget that this was the guy who quit and surrendered a minor title belt already, because he couldn’t fight through pain. Well, if all of these things were so easy, we wouldn’t need to wait long to be reminded of them.

Soon after Lennox Lewis made the choice to retire, rather than risk his health or legacy fighting further past his prime, it was announced that Vitali Klitschko would be fighting Canadian Kirk Johnson for what was being deemed the WBC title fight eliminator. Nobody seemed to care that it was being fought for by unproven Johnson, and a guy who had lost to the only two top quality opponents he’d faced. The boxing God’s must have frowned. It was a shamble. Johnson made the farce complete by coming in to the ring at 260 lbs showing a much more direct fashion, his disdain for the sport by acting completely unprofessional. He was an embarrassment to Canada that night, looking more like a Canadian moose than a professional fighter. Klitschko destroyed Johnson before an inevitable diabetic coma could. Louis vs. Schmelling II this was not.

3. Next Klitschko took on a semi-retired golfer/ex boxer in Corrie Sanders. Sanders was at one time a dangers punching brawler, who was most notorious for losing a slug out with Hasim Rahman (yes, the same Rahman that Klitschko is currently avoiding like the Plague.) Sanders had suddenly become an overnight success, (and incredibly elevated to all-time great puncher in the eyes of Klitschko fans) simply by exposing Vitali’s younger brother Wladimir, as nothing more than a product of careful match making and controlled atmospheres while fighting in Germany. Sanders simply tested Wlad’s beard, and Wlad failed the test. Sanders had seen much better days, and was far past his prime.

Somehow he was deemed worthy for an automatic shot at Vitali Klitschko’s WBC title belt, despite the fact that Sanders had been pretty much retired for years, and had not been highly ranked by the WBC before he destroyed Klitschko (in a WBO title bout). If there isn’t something fishy about a guy going from being unranked by an organization to fighting for their title, based on how he did fighting for another organizations belt, I don’t know what is! Sanders decided to follow the Kirk Johnson training regimen, and showed up in abysmal shape for his fight with Vitali, weighing in at 235 lbs. It was a yet another embarrassment to the sport, as Sanders looked more like a model for male bras than a professional boxer. The hoax continued as Sanders made his only real half hearted attempt to win the fight in the first minute, and pretty much quit and accepted the role as lackey, taking a sustained beating for the final 7 rounds.

4. Neither Klitschko took the hard route coming up. They didn’t face top young heavyweights. Others did. Chris Byrd, for example had fought both Klitschko’s, Ike Ibeabuchi and David Tua by the time he was 31 years old. By that age, John Ruiz had already fought David Tua, Evander Holyfield (three times), Kirk Johnson, Roy Jones jr. AND Hasim Rahman. Comparatively, Klitschko had only really fought Chris Byrd by the same age. I’m simply trying to point out that he’s not exactly a “go getter” that’s eager to get it on with other top heavyweights. My guess would be that Klitschko’s management knows exactly what they have here, and they learned their lesson from Wladimir. They will not put Vitali in with any good fighters as long as they do not have to.

5. You can go back through history with all of the heavyweight champions of the past, and they had one thing in common. They beat other champions. Corbett beat John L. Sullivan, and Kid McCoy. Jim J. Jefferies beat Corbett and Fitzsimons. Johnson beat Fitzsimons, Tommy Burns, Jim J Jefferies, amongst others. Willard beat Johnson. Dempsey beat Willard. Tunney beat Dempsey. The list goes on and on and on. Even Ken Norton had a win over Muhammad Ali. Klitschko has only faced two world champions, in Chris Byrd and Lennox Lewis. As I already stated, he had Byrd on two weeks notice, and quit. He had Lewis in his last fight, at the end of his career. With all the stars aligned in Klitschko’s favor, he still got stopped by the old, all-time great. He simply is not a very good champion

In my opinion, it is Klitschko and his lack of willingness to fight the best in the division that is currently holding back boxing. It certainly isn’t the lower weight classes. Fighters like Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo, Erik Morales and Manny Pacquio; guys like Ricky Hatton and Arturo Gatti are doing their part. Perhaps if Klitschko makes a glaring error and underestimates an opponent like a Samuel Peter, we’ll finally get him out of the picture and make room for someone who actually wants to fight, and isn’t just looking for a notch in the record book (as the only brothers to hold belts simultaneously), maybe then, just then, boxing can start moving forward, instead of stagnating, like it has been.

This author welcomes your comments and suggestions:

Article posted on 16.06.2005

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