Is Moving Up To The Heavyweight Division A Smart Move?

05.01.07 - By Paul McCreath: Moving up to heavyweight is really nothing new. As far back as 1897, the then world middleweight boxing champion, Bob Fitzsimmons jumped all the way up to heavy to take that title from James J. Corbett by 14th round KO. It should be noted that there was no lightheavy class at that time. Fitzsimmons would later drop back down to that division in 1903 and win that title as well.

It would be 1986 before we would see another successful challenge at heavyweight from a smaller champion. In the intervening years, several would try but we will skip those years for this article since few of us would have any memories of those times anyway. For today, we will examine more recent years. At present, we have two popular cruiserweights, David Haye and O'Neil Bell who are talking about a possible move up. How will they do? If you look at the most recent eight prominent fighters who have grown into the heavyweight division you might expect they will do just fine.

Of the 8 mentioned above, only Chris Byrd was not a champion earlier in a smaller division. Chris, of course, had only two fights at super middleweight and one at 193 pounds before becoming a heavy. Among the 8, there have been three, including Chris who have been highly successful with their move. The other two are Evander Holyfield, the most successful of all and Roy Jones Jr. Roy fought only once at heavy but won the WBA belt from John Ruiz and earned a ton of money. Both Holyfield and Byrd had extended reigns at the top and won world belts more than once.

There have been three others who were fairly fortunate as heavyweights. Michael Spinks took the IBF belt from Larry Holmes in 1985 but made only two defenses before being destroyed by Mike Tyson in 1988 by first round KO. Michael Moorer won two different belts as a heavy but was never as dominant as he had been as WBO lightheavy champ where he scored nine consecutive KO's in title bouts. He probably liked the money better with the big boys, I would think. James Toney managed to defeat John Ruiz for the WBA belt but lost it again hours later due to the steroid testing which changed the result to a no decision. He later drew with Hasim Rahman in a WBC title match and he remains a top contender to this day. All in all, these three have done rather well, too.

Two fine champions at lighter weights have not fared so well. Juan Carlos Gomez made 10 defenses of his WBC cruiser title but in four years at heavy he has accomplished very little. Al Cole had 5 good wins in IBF cruiser title bouts but became little more than a trial horse at heavy. Six success stories out of 8 is pretty good but I began to wonder what makes the difference between great careers and flops.

I found upon doing a bit of research that weight and how it is gained has a lot to do with expected achievements. Of the top three, Byrd won his first title at 210 pounds, Holyfield was 208, and Jones was only 193. Obviously it is better to remain a small heavyweight. All three worked hard to gain the pounds and remained well toned although Byrd was a bit chunkier. Spinks fit this category as well.He was only 199 3/4 when he took the title from Holmes.

Of the others, Moorer gained about 50 pounds, not all solid and fought around 225 or so. Toney as we all know gained even more. Cole moved up to the 225-235 range for most of his fights and Gomez the mid 220's.It seems that more weight is not better if you move up since the ones that fought the heaviest had the least success.

I though that height would play a big factor but it doesn't. Cole and Gomez were the tallest at 6'4" and 6'3 1/2." Two of the shortest, Byrd and Toney at 6'0" and 5'10," were much better heavyweights. Holyfield fell in about the middle for size at 6' 2 1/2."

Durability was important, too. While Moorer, Spinks and Gomez had no chin problems at the lighter weights, they were a bit brittle at heavyweight. The best heavies could certainly take a good punch. Fighting style was important, too. Only Cole was not strong defensively. Punching power as Byrd proved is not essential.

All in all, the odds are pretty good for a fighter moving up to heavyweight. The money is better and most succeed to some degree, but there are many variables that mean a lot. There are no guarantees.

Article posted on 05.01.2007

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