Up For Grabs: the Jump Ball that is the Heavyweight Division

10.11.05 - By Michael Youssef: The end of the Vitali Klitschko reign as WBC champion has significantly shaken up the division, even in spite of the fact that Klitschko held a mere quarter of the heavyweight crown. As of now, Don King sits in control of all four belt holders, and thus in control of the division, or so it would seem. In spite of the ramblings from King that he will now be able to construct a heavyweight unification tournament, there are significant odds stacked against him.. Even more, though boxing is surely dying for an undisputed heavyweight champion, a lot of people will find it hard to believe that such a champion could be salvaged from such a sorry foursome as the one controlled by Don King (with the notable exception of Lamon Brewster, who is in truth, a potential bright spot).

First of all, with the exception of Lamon Brewster, I’d like to ask anybody reading this article, a hypothetical question.

If you had a choice between shelling out fifty bucks to watch John Ruiz, Chris Byrd, and Hasim Rahman all fight on the same card against different opposition, would you pay to watch, IF, during the same night, you could shell out the same fifty bucks, to watch Calvin Brock, Samuel Peter, and Wladimir Klitschko fight different opposition on another card? I know where my money would go, and it wouldn’t be found in King’s silk pockets by the end of the night.

The point is this, King may control the belts, but in boxing, as we have slowly learned since these different organizations started popping up like groundhogs, it is the fighter who makes the belt, and not the belt who makes the fighter. Again, John Ruiz, Chris Byrd, and now Hasim Rahman are all good cases in point. Ruiz was last seen losing to an under trained and lazy former super middleweight in James Toney. Byrd was last spotted playing patty-cake with Davarryl Williamson in one of the most legendary nights of slap-boxing I can remember. And if anybody thinks Rahman looked like the future of the division holding on for dear life against the unimpressive Monte Barrett, than they may as well stop reading now.

I am exempting Lamon Brewster from any chastisement as he has, in my opinion, taken a belt that fell into his lap in rather odd form with his fight against Wladimir Klitschko, and proven that indeed, he is worthy of holding it. Brewster got shipped into Andrew Golota’s back yard, only to ship Golota right back out in 53 seconds. King later took the world’s traveling heavyweight to Germany on Max Schmelling’s birthday, where he still pulled out a win, even with fraudulent refereeing. So he struggled with Kali Meehan, at least he’s rebounded to knock people out, which is more than any of the three stooges I mentioned above can claim.

Now, refocusing on Don King and his proposed unification tournament, I’d like to again point out that there are a number of obstacles in the way that not even Don King may be able to bribe, or I mean politic his way out of. First and foremost, is Chris Byrd, who is suing Don King for failing to pay him his guaranteed minimum of 2.5 million dollars per fight (imagine that, Don King is getting sued). The lawsuit, which claims breach of contract at first glance seems very solid, and should go a long way towards revealing how King and Byrd’s relationship has been as of late.

Furthermore, there is the obstacle of mandatory defenses. The same mandatory defense obstacle that King used to try to have Vitali stripped repeatedly this year, could very well prevent him from holding a tournament in 2006. With Wladimir Klitschko already the established mandatory to both Lamon Brewster and Chris Byrd, King is holding two fighters in which one must fight the younger Klitschko, and the latest they can hold out, if I’m not mistaken is now just under nine months. And of course, King can’t hold a two step tournament within nine months, which means Klitschko will either be awarded a belt Hasim Rahman style, or get a chance to swipe it away himself.

Finally, there is Home Box Office (HBO), which is the only major cable network that would likely be able to put up the finances for such a tournament. As we all now know, HBO is Wladimir Klitschko’s single biggest groupie. It is highly doubtful they would support a tournament that included the same fighters they purposely fill their calendar with matches like Vargas vs. Joval, to avoid having to show, if Wladimir Klitschko was not part of such a unification tournament (and how likely is that?).

Though Don King may hold all four belts, as a fan, I’m not going to hold my breath, and neither should anybody who is aware of the politics and sanctioning rules in this sport. Though boxing is longing for a unified champ, I am still going to pray that it does not come in the form of Mr. Care Bear, John Ruiz and company.

Vitali Klitschko may be gone, and with him the ‘Klitschko dream’, but the reality of things is fairly simple. In John Ruiz, Chris Byrd, and Hasim Rahman, you have three very weak title holders who can and often do lose on any given night, which means the reigns of the division can be taken from Don King in a heartbeat, or a left hook (sorry ‘Jawny’). There are at least three solid contenders who are capable of unseating any of the above three stooges in the form of Calvin Brock, Wladimir Klitschko, and Sam Peter. All of whom figure to be fighting for some version of some belt at some point in 2006. The one title holder who might have what it takes to stick around is Lamon Brewster, and even then I wouldn’t put any money on him in a rematch with Wladimir Klitschko or for that matter, a fight with the Nigerian Nightmare (Peter).

So what you get is more of the same, confusion. What could happen is anybody’s guess, but what most fans know, is that three of King’s four belt holders have been around for awhile now and failed to produce anything meaningful for the division. Perhaps the new pack of hungry heavyweights, none of which are under the ‘King-don’ can help usher in a new era of exciting action packed heavyweight title fights. Hey, it may not be a unified champ named Rahman, Ruiz, or Byrd, but I’d certainly take it (dedicated to Raleigh Henry and the Thorsen boys).

Article posted on 10.11.2005

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