Boxing

Rahman & Barrett May Be The Shot In The Arm The Heavyweight Division Needs Right Now

12.08.05 - By Chris Acosta: If you listened to most of the sports media right now, they'd tell you that we are living in the most dreadful era the heavyweight division has ever seen. And that's saying something. Never mind that boxing in general gets less coverage than high school sports and even sports that are not in the midst of their regular seasons.. There exists a leprosy-minded bias against boxing that pumps in the veins of mainstream acceptance and finds its way onto the keyboards of the very writers whom supposedly stand for the legitimacy of the sweet science. We know who those people are. As puzzling as it is, the heavyweight division is saddled with the unfortunate distinction of carrying the torch for pugilism. The theory is that if the big boys are prospering, then the whole sport is too. Excuse me but in a year that has given us Diego Corrales - Jose Luis Castillo and action from both the wonderful Featherweight and Jr. Welterweight divisions, you suddenly understand that under the right conditions, size really doesn't matter.

But I'd be taking it a shade darker than white lying if I said that a solid heavyweight division doesn't draw more people (who otherwise might not care) to the sport. If it adds to the fan base, then I'm all for it. Right now, the division is really not as bad as many "experts" might be regurgitating. If it is indeed a cesspool of mediocrity, then what are we to call the Joe Louis "Bum of the Month Club"? Or how about Sonny Liston making a few all-time top ten rankings by virtue of one defense against the same scared fighter in Floyd Patterson whom he beat to win the title? Larry Holmes, a fine champion for sure, went through his whole reign defending against tough, though hardly exceptional foes. Many of Mike Tyson's challengers during his prime were terror-stricken and those who possessed the ability were riddled with well -documented drug problems.

Everywhere we look, complaints about our current crop of heavies point to the lack of a dominant champion and a famine of overall talent. The former is quite ironic considering that if we had a dominant man atop the throne then the cynical masses would probably whine that his competition is weak. Right now, the division is capable of producing some excellent match-ups if Don King were not involved. But things are looking up.

This weekend, former champion Hasim Rahman, 40-5-1 (33 KO's) and ranked number three in the world by Ring Magazine takes on number five seeded Monte Barrett, 31-3 (17). It's a heavyweight fight (for the WBC "Interim" title) wherein there exists a strong possibility that we'll get some serious fireworks. With two of King's other champions, Chris Byrd and John Ruiz simply incapable of capturing any real public attention no matter who they fight, Rahman and Barrett are at the point in their careers where a loss could very well end their hopes of ever capturing a title.

Rahman is a worthy contender to be sure. His left jab is a humongous weapon and that right cross is straight, hard and can dent the strongest of chins. He also has a great fighting heart when motivated. Just the fact that I was compelled to use the words, "when motivated", takes an awful lot of luster off the compliments I just afforded him. It's been both his bag of tricks and Achilles heel throughout his career. By his own admission, "The Rock" has under trained for fights that resulted in him getting knocked through the ropes in a display worthy of a WCW wrestling match and making John Ruiz look better than he really is (which is even harder than turning down a willing Jennifer Lopez).

With new trainer Thell Torrence, Rahman says he is rejuvenated like never before which most of us would like to believe because Hasim is a great guy and a great interview but how many times have we heard the same sentiment only to be fooled?

Enter Monte Barrett.

If you ever needed someone to have your back in a time of crisis, Monte might be your first choice. Unlike Rahman, Barrett always gets every single shred of character out of himself. He lacks Rahman's power and physical strength but makes up for it with frightening tenacity and an unyielding self-belief.

He's also on a roll.

In successive bouts, he's beaten up four prospects, all of them undefeated and dug down at the right moments. Against Erick Kirkland, Barrett appeared flat and uninspired but with much doubt hanging in the balance, sucked it up on a night when he just didn't have it and stopped his opponent anyway.

Against the heavily hyped Joe Mesi, Monte got up off the floor in the fifth round, returned the favor in the seventh and surged down the stretch, having "Baby Joe" looking unsteady at the bell. He lost a debatable decision but it was obvious that had he only another round to work that he might have stopped Mesi. Dominick Guinn was a prospect of considerable note, many in the business calling him the best American heavy at the time. But while he may have had the talent, he lacked fire and Barrett, sensing his moment, fought with desire and urgency to get the decision.

Finally, "Two Gunz" overcame a terrible gash over his eye to break the will of the game and reasonably skilled Owen Beck. This run of good fortune clearly identifies what Barrett is all about: he is unconditionally willing to pay the price to win.

From an entertainment perspective, this fight has all the makings of a barn- burner. As is his habit, Rahman is only a reflection of what he has in front of him. When confronted with passive opponents, Rahman rarely takes initiative, instead looking to keep things on the end of his one-two. But when attacked as he was against Corrie Sanders and David Tua, "The Rock" shows some variety and much needed defiance. Then again, he isn't quite that easy to predict. It all depends on which version of himself decides to show up. One thing is certain though: Barrett, having fought his heart out to get to this point, isn't about to rely on odds. He'll fight like he's always done.

It's easy to envision a scenario where a primed Rahman is just too much of a force offensively and slowly beats the fight out of his opponent as was the case in Barrett's only KO loss to Wladimir Klitschko a few years ago. Monte still has the treacherous habit of standing a bit too straight up, which could be disastrous against a man with a longer reach and superior power. But something tells me that Barrett has matured to the point of being a veteran and now has enough experience under his belt to make the slightest corrections to his overall game. Plus, his technical faults were only vividly apparent versus taller foes like Klitschko and the even taller Lance Whitaker.

This is a great start for a heavyweight resurgence, another step towards clearing up the fog. And with upcoming bouts like Wladmir Klitschko -Samuel Peter and Vitali Klitschko -Calvin Brock, it sure looks like a trend worth watching.

Article posted on 12.08.2005



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