A look at "America's Last Line of Offense"

13.08.06 - By Dan Mocci: Being that he delivered one of the greatest upsets in the history of the heavyweight championship, it seems a little strange to write that Hasim Rahman has once again under delivered in a big fight. Under deliver is what Rahman did in what was billed as “Americas Last Line of Defense”, and the result is a fourth reigning heavyweight champion born from the rubble of the old Soviet empire in Oleg Maskaev. Now, we wait for a definitive champion to emerge from the rubble of what has become the heavyweight division. We also search for America’s new “Last Line of Offense”.

The choice of a legitimate champion amongst today’s champions could very easily be Wladamir Klitschko. At least he would make the most sense. He would be a strong favorite against any of the other champions. He is the most physically talented. He is also the most marketable. He, too, is probably the only of the four champions with any name recognition in the eyes of the general sports viewing public. Yes, Klitschko would make the most sense. The problem is that we are talking about the heavyweight division…where nothing has made sense since the retirement of Lennox Lewis.

The easy way to clear this up would be to get the four beltholders—it is hard to use the word “champion” for the time being—into the ring with one another to bring us an undisputed champion. They could do it in Moscow in front of 100,000 people. Of course, fighting one another would make too much sense. Instead, IBF champion Klitschko is headed towards a November 11th date with Shannon Briggs—who followed Maskaev’s lead by parlaying a long winning streak against club fighters into a title fight. Before the Klitschko-Briggs tilt, WBA titlist Nikolay Valuev has an October defense against Monte Barrett—whose path to a title shot includes losing his last fight. Both bouts will take place in New York City in the backyards of the challengers. The final beltholder, WBO champ Serguei Lyakhovich, is perhaps taking on the most legitimate contender…his schedule is simply empty.

If unifying the titles amongst the current lot of chumps—uh, champs—will be hard, then finding America’s “Last Line of Offense” will be near impossible from the current crop of contenders. Either Briggs and/or Barrett could spring an upset, but neither would provide a long term solution to the heavyweight problem. Should be WBA/WBC champion James Toney is likely to be packing about 250 pounds on his 38 year old body when he takes on Samuel Peter in September. The future Hall-of-Famer has forgotten more about boxing than each of the four current title holders know combined, yet Toney’s window of opportunity may be slammed shut by the vaunted combination of two many cheeseburgers and Sam Peter right hands.

The best of the American contenders, Calvin Brock, would be an underdog against Klitschko, but possibly a slight favorite against the other three titlists. The “Boxing Banker” is a solid technician with decent pop; his undefeated record is smattered with the names of today’s typical heavyweight cannon fodder. All stated, Brock’s potential emergence would be based more on the division’s weakness than an overabundance of his own skill. American fans seem to be willing Brock to be better than he is in search of a legitimate American champion. After Brock, the list of American contenders dwindles to a list of men who comprise more of a heavyweight scrap pile—something tells me Rahman, Lamon Brewster, John Ruiz, and even Evander Holyfield may not be too far from title shots. Chris Byrd has flown south to take a crack at the cruiserweights so he can no longer be recycled. Perhaps, George Foreman can come back and become the oldest heavyweight champion …again. Or, even better, somebody can spring Ike Ibeabuchi, from his prison cell. After all, the Nigerian has spent enough time in the American prison system to be considered a citizen by now. Maybe it is for a Tex Cobb comeback.

Overall, the forecast doesn’t look bright for the heavyweight division. For American heavyweights, the new great contender is probably playing in the NFL. Is it coincidental that today’s four title holders rose from the destruction of their homeland in a similar fashion that Ali, Liston, Foreman, Tyson, and Bowe rose from impoverished childhoods? Probably not. For former Soviets the outlet to a future was boxing and basketball—two American pastimes. For the youth of America, the trip out of the ghetto is spelled NBA…not WBC, IBF, or WBA.

For the fans, the “Last Line of Offense” is the best. Watch the fighters ranging in weight from 118 to 175. It should not be overlooked that we are in an underrated golden era at the lower weights. While the boxing world waits for its next great heavyweight there are many great fighters making great fights. The heavyweight picture will most likely remain unclear for the foreseeable future, but there is a one issue that has cleared…we no longer have to search for a “Great White Hope”. Instead, we search for a “Great American Hope”-- or “Last line of Offense."

Article posted on 14.08.2006

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