29.12.03 – By Wes Moore: It is the time of the year when fighters are scaled based upon whom they have fought in the past year, their possible path for the new year, and where they rate against their peers. The heavyweight division is difficult to score but definitely worth a shot. So I am going to play teacher again this year and hand out report cards for some of the divisions top champions and contenders. In the undertaking of this project, I have decided to list whom I consider the top 10 heavyweights in the world. Opinions are rampant on this topic so feel free to bash or praise this list however you see fit.
1. Lennox Lewis
Activity: The champion fought one time this year and escaped with a win when his fight with Vitali Klitschko was stopped when doctors ruled Klitschko couldn’t continue. Lewis was trailing on all three cards and seemed on the road to a decision loss.
Outlook: Lewis appears to be ready to hang up the gloves but he may come back for one more showdown with Dr. Klitschko. Hopefully, he will notify the boxing world of his decision soon.
Analysis: He fought one of the best guys out there but was coming up short. He’s still the champ but inactivity and age are not in his favor.
2. Vitali Klitschko
Activity: The good doctor fought twice in 2003. He was winning his fight versus Lewis when it was stopped and he came back to beat Kirk Johnson decisively later in the year. He stepped in for an injured Kirk Johnson, and accepted the fight versus Lewis that proved to be a defining moment for his career so far.
Outlook: He wants Lewis, and surely the boxing world wants the same but it may not happen. He may go after Corrie Sanders or Chris Byrd if the Lewis fight doesn’t materialize. Either way he should be fighting top shelf contenders or another “champion” within the division in 2004.
Analysis: He had the world champion in trouble on the cards and in the ring and also beat a solid top 10-15 guy in Kirk Johnson. It was a great year for Vitali Klitschko.
3. Chris Byrd
Activity: He had one fight this year versus Fres Oquendo. He was ruled the victor but many would argue with the decision. His style makes him a tough opponent for many top guys to agree to fight but he should be more active than he was this year.
Outlook: He should probably fight Oquendo again but I doubt he will after Oquendo had him figured out. He may receive a big money fight since he holds a belt, which he should take if he can get.
Analysis: I rate him so high because no one else in my mind has done enough to be above him but he has to take a couple of fights this year and be impressive to stay in the top five.
4. Corrie Sanders
Activity: He beat Wlademir Klitschko in the shocker of the year and secured the mantra of WBO titleist. He is a dangerous fighter who showed it but he’s not very active due to age and negotiations on whom he will fight next.
Outlook: He’s looking for a big money payday that parallels his status as a “champion”. He will probably find the rematch with Wlademir is his best option.
Analysis: He beat a top 5 guy and won a title. I’m sure there are guys out there that are salivating to fight him but he has earned the right to be selective, I suppose.
5. Roy Jones Jr.
Activity: In his only heavyweight fight of the year, he beat John Ruiz to become WBA champion. He also fought Antonio Tarver for the Light Heavyweight Title and won a decision. Once again, many would dispute the result.
Outlook: He will be very selective in whom he fights at heavyweight. He wants Tyson but who knows if Tyson is available. He is going to be stripped of his heavyweight crown unless he moves back into the division soon.
Analysis: He fought a champion(carefully selected to suit his style) and beat him. It was good exposure for the division but does he have a future as a heavyweight? In my opinion, he will not fight a Lewis or Klitschko but maybe he will prove me wrong.
6. John Ruiz
Activity: He lost his strap to Roy Jones Jr. and reemerged to become “champ in waiting” by beating Hasim Rahman. If Jones Jr. doesn’t reappear at the major weight soon, Ruiz will be probably be declared the champion again.
Outlook: He didn’t knock anyone over with his performance in 2003 and his fighting style doesn’t sparkle but he’s still around. He may fight Jones again for the WBA strap or be declared the champion outright but he will probably get a major test from someone in the top 15 in 2004.
Analysis: He lost to Jones Jr. but won a decision against Rahman to become interim champ. Not an impressive year but he redeemed his career just a notch with his Rahman win.
7. David Tua
Activity: The “Tuaman” drew in his only fight of the year versus Hasim Rahman. The result was disputable to say the least. Tua also suffered a break with his management/trainer structure this year.
Outlook: He will be trying to rebuild his ledger in 2004 but maybe hindered early in the year by management and trainer problems as well as some lagging injuries.
Analysis: He didn’t fight but one time this year. He looked lackluster in that fight. He’s a solid top 10 guy but he has had too many setbacks this year in and out of the ring.
8. Wladimir Klitschko
Activity: He lost his crown to Corrie Sanders but came back to beat Fabio Moli and Dannell Nicholson. The man that many had already pegged as the heir apparent to Lennox Lewis took a major stumble when he lost to Sanders.
Outlook: He has some hurdles to leap before he will be regarded as highly as he was at the end of 2002. He may get Corrie Sanders in a rematch but he should continue to take on name guys to rebuild his reputation. He is not done as some have suggested but he does have something to prove in the coming year.
Analysis: He had what many viewed as an easy defense of his title versus Corrie Sanders turn into a nightmare. His comeback wins do not salvage the year for him.
9. James Toney
Activity: He fought once at heavyweight and was victorious versus Evander Holyfield. He also claimed cruiserweight gold by defeating Vasilli Jirov in a fight of the year candidate. He has made a declaration to continue his campaign and heavyweight.
Outlook: 2004 will open for “Lights Out” with a fight versus Jameel McCline. His style and size may make him an easy target for some heavyweights but in that same vein it is a style that many will struggle with. He’s exciting for the division and could prove himself this year.
Analysis: He had one fight at heavyweight and looked good. He needs more work and a couple more quality wins to move much higher.
10. Fres Oquendo
Activity: In his only fight of the year, he clashed with Chris Byrd. The fight was ruled in Byrd’s favor but Oquendo gained just as much from the loss as he would have from a win. He proved he could handle a difficult style and impressed many within the division.
Outlook: Whether he gets Byrd in a rematch or goes in another direction he can bolster his position in 2004 by taking a big fight or just by being more active.
Analysis: He looked good versus a “champion” and gave much hope for his future.
This is what I believe to be the top 10 guys in the division. I’m sure that there will be much debate but that is just fine with me! Next week, I will hand out hardware for the past year. I would like for these to be a reader’s choice so I am asking for you to submit a vote for the below categories. Deadline for votes is Friday January 2. HAPPY NEW YEAR
Please send votes to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Heavyweight Fight of the Year:
Heavyweight Comeback of the Year:
Most Improved Heavyweight Fighter of the Year:
Worst heavyweight fight of the year: