Cruiserweight: One of the Hottest Divisions in Boxing?

17.01.06 - By John Way: Traditionally ridiculed as a career graveyard for flabby light heavyweights, the cruiserweight division is the ugly middle sister of boxing, decried by experts and hardcore fans alike as an example of modern day title fragmentation and proliferation of sanctioning bodies. All told, until last Saturday, the division hasn’t even had a unified champion for a long time: since Evander Holyfield was twenty-eight in fact (yes, that long ago!). In mean time, would-be comedians of pugilism have spent more time cranking out unfunny punchlines at the expense of fighters like Orlin Norris and Rick Parkey, than Zab Judah spent clinging to Carlos Baldomir last weekend.

The most puzzling criticism aimed at the little big men is the "fact" that the 200lbs class is plagued by a talent level shallower than a trailer park kiddy pool at high noon in July. What? Last time I checked, many cruiserweights are among the most gifted fighters in the business, blessed with the punching power of heavyweights, combined with the athleticism of middleweights. Honestly, if boxing scribes insist on picking on a division, they should drop down twenty five pounds to light heavyweight, a group ruled by three thirty seven year olds, a Polish Sausage, and a well protected European with all the stamina of a middle aged chain smoker. Make no bones about it, the cruiserweights deserve respect rather than contempt.

Headed by hard-hitting Jamaican, O’Neil Bell, this weight class has a roster packed with ultra-talented, if anonymous fighters, with a top five supporting cast including recently dethroned champions, Wayne Braithwaite, Jean Marc Mormeck, Kelvin "Koncrete" Davis, and long time WBO champion, Johnny Nelson. Also near the top is everyone’s favorite one handed bomber, Guillermo Jones, and Philadelphia phenomon, Stevie Cunningham, either of whom is a viable candidate for Number 1 contender status. Further down the list is boxing’s most glorious gladiator, Carl "The Cat" Thompson, and his wicked hitting rival, David Haye.

Finally, on the fringes of title contention are perennial title challengers like Dale Brown, Virgil Hill, Alexander Gurov, Sebastian Rothman, Jorge Castro, Vincenzo Cantatore, Louis Azille, Luis Pineda, Orlin Norris (again?), and possibly Herbie Hide. Can any other division above junior welterweight brag about rankings as packed with talent as this group? Granted, some of these men, such as Gurov, Pineda, and Azille will likely never crack the top ten again, but each one of these gatekeepers could factor into a plethora of attractive fights.

Who wouldn’t love to see Norris and Hide duke it out in a long overdue battle of the slimed down heavyweights? Make no mistake, we are living in a cruiserweight golden age.

Another common criticism about the cruiserweights is a supposed lack of charisma in the upper echelon of the division. Whoop-de-diddly-do! How many true boxing fans tune in to watch guys like Jose Luis Castillo, Erik Morales, or Arturo Gatti because of charisma? Of course, likability (or the opposite thereof) does put butts in seats, but did Sugar Ray Leonard’s toothy grin have anything to do with the excitement produced in his epic first fight with Roberto Duran? Of course not.

Marketability usually stems from excitement produced in the ring, not the other way around (unless you’re Sven Ottke). So why should anyone care whether or not they’ve heard of Pietro Aquino, as long as it’s a proven fact that he never leaves an audience disappointed? By sheer weight of thrilling battles, boxing insiders should be clamoring for rematches like Bell versus Mormeck II, or Thompson versus Rothman II.

Anyone who saw Guillermo Jones’ barn-burner with Wayne Braithwaite ought to be banging down Showtime’s door for a rematch to one of the most fearsome battles of 2005. This underrated classic began with the long shot Panamanian battering "Big Truck" along the ropes in a stanza that clearly rivaled Castillo versus Corrales for entertainment value. The nonstop, back and forth drama continued unabated until the referee called a halt to the bout with Jones the winner. It was a one of the greatest fights I’ve ever seen, but unfortunately, it received virtually no coverage because of lukewarm interest in the
cruiserweight contestants. As sad as that is, fights like Jones versus Braithwaite will continue to be ignored by the mainstream media until boxing fans start demanding that cruiserweights get the televised attention they deserve. Comments and questions are welcome below.

Article posted on 18.01.2006

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