HW: The Worst Division in Boxing

21.11.05 - By Jason Peck: I'll be blunt. The heavyweight division is boxing's worst. And here's why. Consider this: Two-time world champion Manny Pacquiao has not held a world title belt since he relinquished his super bantamweight belt to fight Marco Antonio Barrera three years ago. Against Erik Morales, he didn't even seek a title.. He sought the big fight. And that's all right, because a belt does not make Manny Pacquiao a champion. Manny Pacquiao makes Manny Pacquiao a champion. The same holds true for champions in virtually every weight class. The fighters matters most. Arturo Gatti can sell a fight regardless of where he fights and whether he holds a belt.

No one really cares if Barrera has a title. And if Bernard Hopkins had ever felt like vacating his titles for another weight class, it wouldn't matter. He's Bernard Hopkins, after all.

By contrast, the heavyweight champions are not made famous by their fighting prowess. Heavyweights are defined by their titles and weight class. Prospects that raise eyebrows anywhere else receive top billing by sheer virtue of weighing more than 200 pounds.

It's not too terribly difficult to imagine the current batch of heavyweight title-holders shrunk down to relative size as cruiserweights. And if any questions I raise in this article sticks with you, it ought to be this one: if these guys were cruiserweights, would anyone watch them?

I think the answer is an obvious no. Here you have WBA champ John Ruiz, whose fighting style mirrors a wrestling match more than a boxing match. And IBF champ Chris Byrd - landed so few punches in his last fight against DaVarryl Williamson that the both of them should have been disqualified.

Even Lamon Brewster and Vitali Klitschko would attract very little attention if they were not heavyweights. One might look at their records and assume they had potential, but that person would also request they fight someone of note. Likewise, cruiserweight prospect Sam Peter never would have garnered the hype he managed. Calvin Brock - who I do consider a legitimate prospect - would still be virtual unknown. Wladimir Klitschko's chin would have already doomed him to obscurity. And no one would view a title match with Hasim Rahman as a legitimate fight.

The hype surrounding Vitali Klitschko' aborted title defense against Rahman proves my point. The fight supposed was to be Pay-Per-View, and by all rights it shouldn't have been.

Klitschko's basic claim to fame was a loss to Lennox Lewis. The fight is much less impressive when you consider that Lewis took the fight on 10 day's notice, came in terrible shape, and was 38 years old. Rahman became famous by claiming the world heavyweight championship from Lewis with the luckiest punch of his - or any fighter's - life. Even against a badly conditioned Lewis, Rahman was still behind at the time of the stoppage. By contrast, "The Rock's" knockout loss to Lewis seven months later is much more indicative of Rahman's place on the food chain.

So, really, all a guy has to do to top this division is lose to Lennox Lewis. I had no idea he was that good.

Nevertheless, the promoters hyped Klitschko-Rahman as if it were a competitive fight by sheer virtue of it heavyweight nature. But honestly, anyone who thought Rahman stood a chance was deluded. In essence, a B+ fighter was to fight a D+ fighter. That's not the makings of a pay-per-view card. It a mismatch no more exciting than featherweight champ Juan Manuel Marquez's horrendously boring defense over mandatory challenger Orlando Salito. And if Klitschko and Rahman were anything but heavyweights, their fight would broadcast on the undercard.

But the real tragedy is that this divison brings the whole sport down. A famous maxim holds that as the heavyweight division goes, so does the rest of boxing. Not even a diehard heavyweight fan believes the sport wouldn't be better off if it reflected fights at 140 pounds and under.

Now consider this as well: what if the great fights in the lighter divisions had happened at the heavyweight level? What if Jose Luis Castillo and Diego Corrales were two guys weighing over 200 pounds who battled in a similar manner to their first fight? I dare say The Ring would declare it a defining moment in boxing history. Or any of the Ward-Gatti fights? How much more courageous would flyweight champ Jorge Arce be if he were a heavyweight that fought through a bloody cracked nose like he did against Hussein Hussein?

I dare say every pundit would declare a new Golden Age of boxing, the likes of which hasn't happened since Ali and Marciano blessed the human race with their fighting prowess. And the sad part is that for those of us who ignore the heavyweight, the Golden Age is here. The mainstream press has ignored some truly great fights from truly great fighters.

Not since Tyson-Holyfield has a heavyweight fight placed Ring Magazine's Fight of the Year. One could argue that fight represented the last time two superlative heavyweight shared the same ring. In the lightweight division an informal elimination bout between Acelino Freitas, Julio Diaz, Jose Luis Castillo and Diego Corrales resulted in an undisputed champion and a sure-fire winner for Fight of the Year.

Casual boxing fans forget that boxing history is littered with smaller fighters who annihilated much bigger men, and many heavyweight champs of yore wouldn't even be eligible to fight as heavyweights.

Fighters have to prove themselves to their fans. More and more it seems like we're under an obligation to watch a division where no fighter cracks the Pound-for-Pound rankings, and where no big fights happen.

And until something happens, I'll take my attentions elsewhere.

Article posted on 21.11.2005

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