Boxing

Vitali Klitschko and the Heavyweight Ice Age

24.06.05 - By Chris Ireland: "So I say to you, gentlemen, let the next era begin." With those words, Lennox Lewis didn't begin a new heavyweight era. He kicked off a pugilistic Ice Age. What typically defines an era in the sport of boxing is a dominant champion. The 30's and 40's were Louis' day. The 60's and 70's were Ali's time.. This decade, it seems, is still up for grabs. Lost in the sanctioning body fog of the corrupted and crooked is the dominant heavyweight champion needed to lift us from the WBA, WBC, and IBF sewer.

I'll throw in the WBO, too. Immediately following Lewis' final bow, Vitali Klitschko made the strongest statement to succeed Lewis. The towering Ukrainian won the WBC trinket previously held by Lewis, and compiled a 3-0, 3 KO record in the process. The problem? Klitschko's opponents were Kirk Johnson, Corrie Sanders, and Danny Williams. Consider: all of the other champions have arguably fought better competition. John Ruiz has taken on Hasim Rahman, Fres Oquendo, and James Toney. Chris Byrd has defended against Andrew Golota and Jameel McCline. Lamon Brewster won his title against Wladimir Klitsckho, squeaked by Kali Meehan, then demolished Golota.

What keeps Vitali atop the heavyweight rankings is the fashion in which he wins. As earlier stated, Klitschko is undefeated since losing to Lewis, with all of his wins coming by way of knockout. Chris Byrd on the other hand has squeaked by McCline and drew with Golota, with a controversial win over Fres Oquendo coming before those two defenses. John Ruiz won, if you can call it that, against Hasim Rahman and Fres Oquendo, then lost to James Toney. Several days later Toney had his title revoked after a positive steroid test, and Ruiz wound up with the title once again. Lamon Brewster seemed to be the weakest of the champions, after outlasting Wladimir Klitschko and slipping past Kali Meehan. That perception changed overnight when Meehan destroyed Andrew Golota a few weeks ago. Golota could have arguably been holding two heavyweight titles at the time (Draw with Byrd, Close Loss to Ruiz). The statement made by Brewster was one that has yet to be made by any of the other champions, including Klitschko.

Earlier this year, a Vitali Klitschko vs. Hasim Rahman bout was announced for the WBC title. After two injuries and two cancellations, however, that fight is off. A Hasim Rahman vs. Monte Barrett fight for the interim WBC title is now penciled in for August. Klitschko, meanwhile, has been on a curious mission for a September opponent.

At first, the name coming from the Klitschko camp was the winner of Barrett-Rahman. That would have been fine. Both Barrett and Rahman would be worthy, top ten opponents who could give Vitali some trouble. Rahman's a smooth-talking former champ with some heavy trash talk. His right hand isn't bad, either. Barrett is a seasoned veteran who has the skill to give anybody in the division fits.

Then rumors spread that Vitali would extend an invitation to Lamon Brewster in a unification bout. Even better. Brewster is the hottest fighter in the division after vaporizing a fighter would could have arguably been holding two division titles. At one point, Vitali-Brewster would have been pegged as a mismatch, but now has turned into a real heavyweight title fight, and one that either man could win.

Next on Vitali's hit list appeared to be James Toney. In recent weeks, various sources have reported a fight offer from the Klitschko camp to Toney. Fantastic. "Lights Out," had he not have tested positive for steroids, would currently be the WBA heavyweight champion, and is currently the division's most interesting characters. Vitali's people say Toney hasn't responded to the offer. Dan Goosen and company say a 60-40 split is needed to get the two in the ring, but there have also been hints that a 50-50 split is needed.

With three interesting possibilities on the table, the champion then set his sights on Oleg Maskaev.

What?

That's right, the same fighter who dropped off the face of the earth after dropping out of the ring against Kirk Johnson five years ago. Maskaev is an aging fringe contender who does not have the credentials to fight for a world heavyweight title. There was no doubt a time when Oleg would have been a suitable opponent, but that time was brief, and several years ago. A proposed Klitschko vs. Maskaev fight is so unappealing that even HBO, who has obsessed over Vitali ever since his war with Lewis, turned it down.

The fact of the matter is, Vitali Klitschko cannot fight Oleg Maskaev if he wants to remain atop the division. Klitschko then sinks to the level of a Don King paper champion looking for the next unworthy challenger. Fights with Monte Barrett, Hasim Rahman, James Toney, and Lamon Brewster are all unquestionably better options. If Vitali makes the right decision and takes on a real opponent, the "Old's Cool" heavyweights may have hope to rise from the coffin yet and Klitschko will once again clearly establish his position as the division's best fighter. However, another unwatchable and unsatisfying defense will only add length to the modern heavyweight Ice Age.

Article posted on 24.06.2005



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