Heavyweight Legacies of the Past Twenty Years: Part II

heavyweights23.06.06 - By Geoffrey Ciani: To continue where I left off, I shall now do a quick breakdown of the five greatest legacies established in the heavyweight division over the past twenty years.

5. Andrew Golota: It’s kind of ironic that one of the greatest legacies established during the past twenty years is that of a pugilist who never technically won a championship. However, the case of Golota is very interesting. Here we have a man who physically had all of the tools necessary to dominate the heavyweight division. But this would never happen due to Golota’s inability to mentally cope with pressure situations. It is often said that Golota would thrive when sparring inside the gym in the absence of fans, media, and the cameras. On the flipside, all of his physical talent couldn’t save him in the face of adversity; this caused him to mentally crumble, allowing sure-victories to escape from his grasp.

Despite having never won a championship, Golota certainly had his moments near the top when he twice dominated Riddick Bowe before succumbing to repeated low blows that resulted in two disqualification losses. After his debacle against “Iron” Mike Tyson, few thought that Golota would ever figure his way back into title contention, but that he did. He was awarded a draw in a bout most observers felt he had won against IBF champion Chris Byrd and he was on the shaft end of a very controversial decision when the judges inexplicable gave Ruiz the nod in a championship bout for the WBA throne. A strong argument can be made that Golota should have been a unified champion after these matches. What’s compelling about this, is both bouts happened nearly ten years past his prime.

Bottom Line: Golota, despite never having won a championship, will be remembered long after most others are forgotten. He’s living proof that it takes more than physical talent to be an elite boxer. He was an A-level talent who never achieved the status of an A-level fighter

4. Riddick ‘Big Daddy’ Bowe: When Riddick Bowe beat Evander Holyfield in the first of their three bouts, he looked about as good as any heavyweight who ever laced-up the gloves. He was a big heavyweight with the agility of a middleweight. On that night, Riddick Bowe truly did it all. Whether it was fighting on the inside or from the outside, brawling or boxing, taking it or dishing it out – he exhibited a textbook array of skills that few fighters have ever shown before or since. He truly appeared to be the complete package of heavyweights, and the Bowe from that night might very well have stood a chance at beating any heavyweight in history.

However, therein lies the problem with Bowe. After that one night of magnificence, it all went down hill. To be sure, he would go on to have two more memorable bouts with Holyfield and a couple of wars with Andrew Golota, and that was that. Retiring at the age of 29 was next in store for “Big Daddy”, and he had only himself to blame. After a bout, Bowe would celebrate by feasting like a king, causing his weight to balloon up in between fights. This took its toll on Bowe, and it became more and more difficult for him to get in shape prior to bouts. Had Bowe taken better care of his body, he might very well have been one of the absolute greatest in the sport’s history, but that was never to be. Early retirement denied fans the opportunity to see mega bouts between him and Tyson and him and Lewis (the latter of whom he is often accused of having “ducked”, and unjustly so).

Bottom Line: Bowe’s impeccable skills cannot be denied, but his lackadaisical training habits cost him big-time, and will forever taint his legacy.

3. Lennox Lewis: Okay, I concede, many readers might be a tad upset with the decision to clock Lewis in at the number three slot. After all, Lewis was undoubtedly the best heavyweight in the past twenty years, and surely, his name will live to pass the test of time. However, despite his excellence in the ring, and the fact that I rank him higher in an all-time sense than any other fighter on this list (barring Foreman), his legacy won’t have the same impact as the two I’ve decided to rank above him. Much of this had to with Lewis’s ordinary and boring persona.

To the American fans in particular, Lewis came across as pompous and effeminate – two characteristics that aren’t best known for leaving a great impression in the minds of boxing fans. And for this, his legacy will undoubtedly suffer. Sure, he more or less dominated the heavyweight division for a decade, and yes, he defeated every foe every put in front of him. But his safety-first style will cost him, much like his arrogance. Lewis was, at times, a very exciting fighter, but he was never able to capture the imagination in any type of meaningful way, which is a shame, because he was definitely the greatest fighter during his era.

Bottom Line: That he never had a considerable fan base combined with the fact his detractors like demonizing him as the only heavyweight to be knocked out twice by single punches from less-than-spectacular fighters – he can’t be any higher than #3 on this list.

2. Evander ‘Real Deal’ Holyfield: As I’ve written this article, one thing has jumped out, and that is the number of times Holyfield’s name has been mentioned herein. Quite incredible, really. With the exception of Andrew Golota and Vitali Klitschko, Holyfield has faced the other eight pugilists who’ve made my legacy list. That in itself warrants his inclusion here. However, Holyfield’s legacy is even greater than his level of competition. It’s his warrior spirit that has captured the imagination of fans and enabled him to become one of the most popular fighter’s in the sport’s rich history.

Always the underdog when faced with stronger and bigger opponents, Holyfield, much like Chris Byrd, made the best of what he had. However, in the case of Holyfield, this fact is more profound. Indeed, Evander truly was the “Real Deal”; he personified warrior spirit with his relentless desire to be great. The history books will show that he holds wins over Tyson, Bowe, Moorer, Foreman, and Ruiz, as well as a controversial draw with Lewis. On the flipside, some of Holyfield’s losses resulted in some of the worst champions the era has seen, but that does little to undermine his impeccable successes in the ring. Holyfield is an all-time great by any measurable standard.

Bottom Line: Holyfield was an admirable fighter who was easy to root for. It is unlikely that he will ever be forgotten.

1. ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson: Tyson is clearly the obvious choice, and for good reason. His legacy has already left a lasting impression, not only in the realm of boxing, but also in the realm of celebrity-hood. No other fighter in the history of the sport has captured the imagination of the fans in the same way that Tyson has. He truly is in a class all by himself. Forget the fact that he was the youngest heavyweight champion of all-time. Forget the fact that he holds numerous records for selling fights in the PPV arena. Forget the fact that he dominated his opponents in a fashion never before seen in the sport’s history during his title reign. With Tyson, the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts, and that speaks volumes about how he will be remembered.

Yes, it’s true that Tyson transcended the line between the casual fan and die hard fan; he was accepted by the mainstream, which is a rarity. And yes, it’s true that much of Tyson’s popularity largely stemmed from his image as an out-of-control animal. The idea that he was unpredictable and that one never knew what he was going to do next made him exciting to watch. So, too, did the way he brutally dispatched his opponents with a unique blend of speed, power, precision, and ruthlessness. To be sure, Tyson had character flaws, but these flaws did not detract from his appeal; it amplified it. There’s just something about human nature that longs to see violence, and Tyson embodied this instinct to perfection. People wanted to watch him fight, even if they weren’t boxing fans.

Bottom Line: He will be remembered as the most exciting heavyweight of all-time.

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Article posted on 24.06.2006

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