The Cruiserweight Division: No Longer a Pit Stop?

[social_warfare] 05/12/2016 - By Chris Acosta - Comments

On December 8, 1979, the WBC held a title bout between Marvin Camel and Mate Parlov to anoint a champion in a new division called, “Cruiserweight.” Created to narrow the gap between light heavy weights and heavyweights, thedivision began in less – then – inaugural fashion when the two fighters fought to a draw. Though Camel would go on to win a rematch and later, also become the first IBF cruiserweight champion, what seemed like a logical idea never caught on with the public who were already turned off by emerging sanctioning bodies. Additional weight classes only added to the confusion (little did we know what we were in for with all of this idiotic “regular” and super” champion nonsense).

But when 1984 Olympic Bronze medalist Evander Holyfield came along and began unifying the titles, completing the task by stopping Carlos De Leon in 1987, the division had its first bonafide star and much – needed validity.It seemed like the cruiserweight renaissance had begun.

Or so we thought.

Holyfield immediately vacated his belts and set his sights on the biggest prize in sport, the heavyweight championship of the world, his accomplishments at cruiserweight becoming something of an afterthought.The division was left out in the cold and though it’s had its share of outstanding fighters ring walk through its welcoming doors, most onlystayed long enough to pick up a title before trying to follow in Holyfield’s footsteps. Some, including Michael Spinks, Michael Moorer and Roy Jones Jr., would bypass the cruiserweights altogether to capture different versions of the heavyweight crown. Talk about insulting.

It seemed that the division was doomed A.E. (After Evander), relegated to some back alley out behind a crowded arena but luckily the back alley brought out the best from some of the best. We’ll never forget James Toney and Vassiliy Jirov locking horns for 12 grueling rounds, O’Neill Bell and David Haye being pushed to their limits by Jean – Marc Mormeck, Tomas Adamek going to war with Steve Cunningham and more recently, Krysztof Glowacki getting up off of the canvas to pull out a late knockout against the division’s second – longest reigning champion, Marco Huck (with the UK’s Johnny Nelson being number one). Pit stop or not, lots of blood has been shed here; fans have gotten their money’s worth.

But still, something was missing. There wasn’t an Evander Holyfield around who wanted to make the division all his own. And outside of an occasional great scrap, the division has traditionally lacked the depth to sustain good competition or a serious rivalry.Thankfully, that could all change very quickly.

Glowacki is the current WBO champ and the most accomplished of all the titleholders. He’s a gritty, tough guy with one of the best fan bases in boxing; Polish fans love their athletes. The rest of the titlists are Denis Lebedev who has the WBA title, Victor Emilio Ramirez who is the IBF ruler and the WBC title is held by Grigory Drozd. Outside of Glowacki, who defeated Huck on a PBC broadcast, the rest of the bunch, while being respectable to various degrees, haven’t been exposed to fans in the U.S. Also, none of these fighters appear to have the upswing that the hard –punching Glowacki currently has.

But there are some that do and maybe even a little more.

The Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk is Glowacki’s mandatory challenger and if there was ever a guy who had star quality written all over him, it’s Usyk. A decorated amateur that led to a Gold medal in the 2012 Olympics in London, Usyk is polished beyond his limited professional experience 9-0 (9 KO’s). He’s a top – shelf athlete with outstanding fundamentals and skill. He’s a character as well (watch some of his shenanigans on YouTube) and sportsa haircut befitting an 80’s New Wave band. The fact that he is signed to the very reserved, Klitschko brothers’ K2 Promotions, says a lot about his quality. So far, it’s difficult to gauge the extent of the southpaw’s ability because his opposition has been modest, at best but sometimes it’s the way a fighter goes about his business as much as what’s in front of him, that speaks volumes. Usyk is accurate and calm under fire. He just looks like the real deal. Well not, THE Real Deal but enough in contextual similarity to get the point home.

It gets even better.

This Friday on Shobox: The Next Generation,a quartet of undefeated American cruiserweightsarrive at a time when the division seems to be gaining momentum. Andrew Tabiti and Michael Hunter face Keith Tapia and Isiah Thomas, respectively. But while all four fighters are undefeated, it’s clear that both Tabiti and Hunter are the name fighters who are favored to win.

Tabiti is signed to Mayweather Promotions, trained by Floyd Sr. and has a style that is similar to his promotional namesake. He’s blessed with thoseunique, fast – twitch reflexes that give him options galore and is able to transition nicely between offense anddefense. But that’s not why he’s called, “The Beast”. In addition to his athleticism is an aggressive attitude in the ring,capped by serious wallop in both fists. Tabiti’s one – punch KO of Thomas Hanshaw was absolutely frightening, a rocket of a right – hand counter that should cure many – a – lazy jab tendency from future foes. The only questions that remain are those that take a little longer for the truly gifted to answer, those of the heart and chin. If Andrew passes those tests we may be hearing about him for a long, long time.

Michael Hunter is a national amateur champion who qualified for the 2012 Olympics. At 6’2”, possessing an 80” reach and with a naturally bigger frame than Tabiti, Hunter will likely not stay at Cruiserweight although he has stated that he does plan on winning a title before moving up. Hunter has ability but is still a work in progress.

He has a nice jab, knows how to work on the inside and can control distance, if necessary but hasn’t yet put everything together, sometimes abandoning the basics and becoming a bit wild and sometimes smothering his own attack after he’s hurt his man. Still, he’s fan – friendly and may decide that his very physical style might serve him better against other cruisers rather the current behemoths who dominate the heavyweight division.
There are others worthy of mention, who round out some very interesting possibilities and they include, Dmitry Kudrayashov (a devastating puncher who is now training with Joe Goosen), the man who handed him his first loss, Olanrewaju Durodan and the outstanding, Ilunga Makabu who we’ll know more about at the end of this month when he tangles with Tony Bellew. The talent pool is getting deeper.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the cruiserweights were designed to give smaller heavyweights an even playing field.And a light heavyweight wanting to move up to challenge heavyweights made much more sense than settling for less prestige and money by taking the exit to cruiserweight. But with the recent size explosion of modern heavies, that idea may have to be reconsidered altogether (recent, as in there being many more heavyweights standing 6’ 5” and over and weighing 240 and over, within the last couple of years).

Remember that when the cruiserweight division was formed, most heavyweights tipped in around the 205- 215 mark and averaged about 6’ 2 -3” tall. But since then, boxing’s big men have gotten even bigger and not just bigger but more mobile and athletic than in years past when giants like Frank Bruno and Bonecrusher Smith symbolized the big, lumbering powerhouse – types. Suddenly, the idea of a light heavyweight, even an exceptionally tall one, moving up to heavyweight is almost too much to ask. It’s not realistic picturing Sergey Kovalev (even a beefed – up one) facing off against Anthony Joshua but against any one of the current cruiser champions, he wouldn’t be hopelessly out-sized. The “Krusher” has said that he won’t move up regardless of the result of his imminent battle with Andre Ward but I beg to differ. I just can’t see how much longer the powerful Russian can continue to contain 175 lbs. within his dimensions. He looks much larger than his opponents.

The cruiserweight class has found its place through sheer necessity rather than practicality and this could lead fighters to understand that it is they who make the division and not the other way around, which would be a plus for boxing. The giant heavyweights of today are prone to clinching and don’t like to give up their height. They often demonstrate low outputs as well (Vitali Klitschko was somewhat of an exception during his prime), the result of the energy required to move their larger bodies. But cruiserweights have always been and will continue to be a nice merging of higher activity, speed and power, just like the heavyweights of thirty- five years ago.