29.12.03 – By Steve Trellert
16. Dominick Guinn
Of the rising stars in the Heavyweight division it would appear Dominick Guinn might be the most complete fighter out of the batch. He has a good left hook, a potent straight right hand and has performed in a focused and determined manner against bigger men. Additionally he also seems to have a good chin as witnessed in his triumph over Duncan Dokiwari. What gets him here is the latter win as well as his victory over former contender Michael Grant. Despite seemingly having the complete package Guinn lags behind his co-riser Joe Mesi due to an inferior resume. Although Dokiwari is perhaps, in terms of talent, a top 20 Heavyweight, that fighter has as of yet to attain a name win and that has to come into account here. Additionally, Michael Grant was obviously a spent force though arguably still in the top 20 at the time when he defeated him. Although suffering a resume discount in these ratings, he may actually have the goods to make an impact in the top 10. His next scheduled fight is to take place on HBO, which should not only be illuminating but perhaps an opportunity to get there.
15. Kirk Johnson
Of all the fighters on this list the greatest underachiever must be Kirk Johnson. He entered the picture at the same time as David Tua and Hasim Rahman and while they thrust themselves into the thick of the mix, Kirk remained largely on the fringes continuing to fight tomato cans and also-rans. Then in a fight against the highly regarded number three Heavyweight at the time in Oleg Maskaev; he attained an impressive and unexpected knockout victory. Of course any momentum that followed was diminished through inactivity and a less than impressive victory over Larry Donald. Then an opportunity against John Ruiz was wasted through disqualification, and though a win over spent Lou Savarese was viewed as a return to form, his body certainly did not reflect that in a concurrent blowout loss to Vitali Klitschko. Kirk Johnson has always had the natural gifts of a top five fighter, but that has never come to fruition due largely to a questionable mentality. Though the Vitali loss was a serious setback all is not at a loss for Kirk. We know he has the potential to defeat a top ten fighter and therefore to enter the mix as a true contender. There is still time to set things right and end a career in respect, something he would not have right now. Despite two recent high profile losses Johnson remains above those below him through greater accomplishments. Dominick Guinn lacks depth while Whitaker’s big win was over an inferior version of Oleg Maskaev that was already broken by Johnson. Johnson currently resides amongst two other sliding former top ten fighters in Evander Holyfield and Hasim Rahman. Of the three Kirk deserves to be at the back.
14. Joe Mesi
As previously mentioned Mesi’s resume is relatively impressive of late after a series of wins, and the associated vociferous propaganda, against the cold corpses of Bert Cooper and David Izon. The one round successive destruction of Robert Davis and Davarryl Williamson were very impressive despite the defensive liabilities of both fighters. Mesi exploited their weaknesses with the efficiency of a blitzkrieg. Against Williamson many thought Mesi would be exposed but alas these claims proved horribly inaccurate. Joe Mesi’s attributes include potent power, that is underrated, generally good stamina and most importantly ring intelligence. Mesi’s dissection of Davis and Williamson in the ring, and his post-fight comments, indicates he studies his opposition carefully and this must be commended and recognized. In his last fight with Monte Barrett he clearly stepped up in opposition and was in the ring long enough for us to measure him more accurately. In the first six rounds of that fight Mesi was winning decisively landing the bigger and better punches, he even garnered a knockdown. Clearly impressive considering many felt he was nothing more than hype. Nevertheless some concerns also arose that would tend to make many think he is inferior in potential to such rising Heavyweight fighters as Dominick Guinn and Juan Carlos Gomez. Is it the fact that he lost the last four rounds to Barrett and was himself knocked down? I would argue no, the knockdown punch did not seem to really hurt him badly and it also caught him at an odd angle, it probably would have knocked most fighters in that position down. The lack of stamina in those last rounds is also of minimal concerns as he has gone the distance before with ease and in this fight he was likely prematurely fatigued due to the fact that his previous two fights only went one round, this can be corrected with ease. The stamina problem was likely an anomaly. What was of most concern was his reaction after he was knocked down. Upon this event Mesi did not step up to the challenge, he stepped back and basically went into a retreat, now of course most fighters do this temporarily to recover when they are hurt. The problem here is that Mesi did it for the rest of the fight. Was this reaction a one off situation or his standard reaction to adversity? This question cannot be answered until he once again is thrust into this type of situation. His wins over Barrett and Williamson who were both in the top fifteen to twenty-five as well as his undefeated record place him above a Johnson whose superior overall resume has its accolades now fading into the past.
13. Hasim Rahman
Hasim Rahman’s reaction after his loss to John Ruiz essentially sums up his career as a whole. His insistence that he won the fight is indicative of a quality that has both served him as his greatest attribute and greatest Achilles heel. “The Rock’s” supreme confidence allowed him to come back and defeat a dangerous fighter in Corrie Sanders, impress twice against David Tua and most importantly to knockout Lennox Lewis and become the Heavyweight Champion of the World. If anything can be said about Hasim Rahman it’s that the word inferiority complex does not reside in his vocabulary. Of course this very disregard for his opponent has also led to disaster on numerous occasions. He underestimated Oleg Maskaev and was knocked out through the ropes. Against Evander Holyfield in an act of blatant stupidity he chose to play to Evander’s strength and go toe to toe with him when all he had to do was jab like he did against David Tua from the outside. His overconfidence or blatant arrogance made him think he could defeat Holyfield at his own game. Recently against John Ruiz we once again witnessed Hasim’s negligent side come to the fore. In the Ruiz fight he was caught repeatedly by a sneaky right hand and was clearly losing the fight to most observers, except himself. This overconfidence or skewed perception of one’s own performance made him make no adjustments in a fight he had to win. Rahman mistakingly fights the same type of fight from start to finish irrespective of what is occurring in the ring. Rahman therefore learns nothing and just carries on in a routine fashion convinced he could never lose. Although the international commentators were stating that Rahman looked like a “shot” fighter against Ruiz, I beg to differ. This was the same old liability Hasim has had from the start. As a fighter Rahman has decent attributes in a good jab, powerful right hand and perhaps the quickest ability among heavyweights to recover from a big punch as demonstrated against Tua and Sanders. Besides overconfidence Rahman’s liabilities are that his punches lack decisive speed and that though he is good in virtually all departments, he is not great in any either. Rahman is young enough to remain in the picture for a few years yet, but if he is to not become “Has been” Rahman as Lennox Lewis declared, a greater degree of introspection is needed. Rahman is here despite losing 3 of his last 4 fights against top ten opposition due to the fact that his fall is after all from the very top after defeating Lennox Lewis. Additionally, the recent draw against David Tua is worthy of praise (many thought he had won), as is the fact that he defeated or had a draw against two fighters currently above him in these rankings in Corrie Sanders and David Tua.
12. Evander Holyfield
Some may criticize me for having Holyfield this far up this list considering his recent win/loss record of late in addition to his advanced age and recent knockout loss to James Toney. Nevertheless it must be recognized that Evander is here due mostly to the deficiencies of those behind him. Joe Mesi and Dominick Guinn have not defeated a top ten fighter at all never mind of late and Kirk Johnson and Hasim Rahman both had inferior performances to John Ruiz. In Evander’s last fight against Ruiz he received a draw, though many though he inched it out, and after that he upset Hasim Rahman. The successive losses to Chris Byrd and James Toney hurt him but not enough to place him below a man a beat in the Rock and Johnson. Despite this it is more than clear that Evander Holyfield has no business left in the ring if his future health is of concern. He himself stated he would retire if dominated and if Toney’s performance against Evander was not domination, or systematic destruction, what is? He is in some sense similar to Rahman in terms of his lack of introspection except that it resides outside the ring where he cannot make adjustments. This man is probably the best heavyweight of the last fifteen years and yet he continues to be a victim of those very qualities that pushed him to greatness, determination and pride. There are plenty of historical examples of great fighters getting out too late and paying for it with their health after years of wear and tear and yet Evander pays it no heed. If his body is a temple it seems hard to fathom it continuing standing if you take the foundations out and that is a high risk here. Nevertheless, despite the heightened risks if Evander Holyfield continues to fight he will still not be a walkover for most fighters. His experience, toughness and intelligence in the ring may well still be enough to make even a shadow of his former self a difficult opponent in the ring.
11. Mike Tyson
Speaking of shadows we have in Mike Tyson another of the old generation hanging in the picture not out of pride but out of pure financial desperation. Although a declaration of bankruptcy could be referred to his diminished ring ability it is in fact a reflection of his finances. In terms of the latter bankruptcy that is confirmed, in terms of the former perhaps not quite yet despite the protests of many. Yes Mike Tyson has not defeated a top ten fighter since Frank Bruno a decade ago but nonetheless he remains a danger to many opponents despite a shellacking at the hands of Lennox Lewis. Now it may seem abhorrent to many to even think of having Mike Tyson above Evander Holyfield for the dual reasons of inactivity and double jeopardy against Evander Holyfield circa 1996. Have I lost my mind? Am I one of the lingering Tysonistas who cannot let go of 1986 and think if only Kevin Rooney were back in his corner this man would once again be the undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World? Of course not! One of the reason’s he is here is that his resume over recent years has been discounted more than it should. It’s not stellar but relatively decent. Clifford Etienne is not a world-beater but he was a top 20 opponent who was knocked out in the first round. Lou Savarese was in terms of talent probably top 30 at the time and similarly disposed of, along with the referee, and Andrew Golota was undeniably top 15 at the time Tyson fought him and was disposed of early as well. These results are not stellar but decent within the context of the current heavyweight division. Brian Nielson was also a latter top 30 opponent after wins over Jeremy Williams and Tim Witherspoon and Tyson surprisingly showed some stamina and put some good combinations together against what was at least a durable fighter. The Lennox Lewis debacle was just that but it was probably no worse than Michael Grant’s, Frans Botha’s and Hasim Rahman’s last fight with Lewis only that expectations were higher. So what does Mike have left? Probably not much and that is why he is avoiding top ten opposition, he knows he will probably lose to most of the top ten at this point. But unlike Evander this has of yet to be confirmed here. One advantage Tyson has are the last thing to go, overwhelming power and durability. Evander still has the latter, but the former he does not. Of course Mike Tyson has other liabilities such as little temperament for patience if things do not go his way and a lack of hunger but he still remains a dangerous fighter at the very least in the early rounds of a fight. In fact it would probably not be too extreme to say that Mike Tyson may still very well be the most dangerous fighter alive today in the first round. In terms of comparison with Evander Holyfield it seems Iron Mike may just have a little bit more left in the tank than the Real Deal especially when power is considered. Evander wears down via attrition and with ever decreasing spurts of activity in the ring only the slightest marginal advantage at this point goes to Mike Tyson, though in a direct confrontation I would still take Evander as “styles make fights”.
10. Jameel McCline
It is somewhat ironic that Jameel McCline follows Iron Mike as he is probably the most nervous looking Heavyweight fighter in recent memory and a contest between the two would probably have McCline enter the ring in diapers. In his loss against Wladimir Klitschko; Jameel seemed overwhelmed by anxiety and put at heel more by Klitschko’s reputation and his visualization of what Wladimir would do to him rather than what actually occurred. What is interesting is the fact that in those rare instances McCline took chances and was aggressive he was somewhat effective. It was almost as if he would have pressed the issue more Jameel may have had a chance at victory. Despite all of this it must be stated that Jameel has probably been maligned more that he should have. Unlike Andrew Golota, who also suffered anxiety and seemed as though he would be willing to press a nuclear detonation device at some points if it would get him out of the ring, McCline actually responds to pressure and fights at his best under those circumstances. He is, outside of the Klitchko fight, a brave fighter when pressed. Against Mount Whitaker this was the case and when in trouble against Charles Shufford he responded well and did what he had to do. In his recent fight against Cedric Boswell he was likely behind on the cards and needed a knockout in the last two rounds. Once again he gathered himself together and did just that. His upcoming fight with James Toney should be interesting in a sense that it is probably in Toney’s self interest to fight at a pedestrian pace and use his boxing skills to outbox McCline, instead of going in to get a knockout and risk unleashing the part of McCline that can be dangerous. Jameel is here due to an underestimated resume. Despite the loss to Wladimir Klitschko he has two top ten victims including Michael Grant (at the time) and a peak Mount Whitaker. In addition to that we have Boswell, Shufford and the talented, though underachiever, Shannon Briggs. A win over James Toney will throw him back into the title mix.
9. James Toney
Ranking James Toney is difficult in that you have to consider certain variables. Do you take the win over Vassily Jirov into account in this assessment? Probably not. Although he absolutely decimated Evander Holyfield to an extend no other has done (Even Riddick Bowe in their third fight was knocked down by Evander) was he simply demolishing an old man and so therefore should be heavily discounted? If so then why was Chris Byrd given so much in the way of accolades for his win over Evander? Despite all these considerations its clear that James should be given a top ten ranking for defeating a top ten fighter, which Evander still was at the time, decisively. How high is another question and perhaps it is best to err on the side of conservatism in this case and place him marginally in the top ten until Toney proves something in the way of depth at this level against a top ten fighter closer to his prime. That will occur in his next opponent Jameel McCline and a victory here would take Toney into the top 5. In ascertaining his talents it can be stated that James Toney is a magnificent fighter. His combination punching is outstanding, his defensive talents one of the best in the division, he knows how to evade punches even when standing directly in front of his opponent, not quite as good as Chris Byrd but probably a close second to him. Additional positive attributes include a good chin and fairly good speed and supreme ring intelligence. They only semi-weakness besides advancing age is that his one punch power at the heavyweight level is suspect. Like his last opponent in Evander Holyfield he appears to be more of an attrition based offensive fighter who wears his opponents down systematically over time. Expect James Toney to be a serious contender at Heavyweight for the next two years or whenever age kicks in. I placed Toney ahead of McCline as his win over a top ten is recent, while McCline’s last similar circumstance was a loss and his wins in this regard fairly distant now. One could argue a one-shot deserves less than depth here but either way the two fighters are close and an argument either way would be justified.
8. Fres Oquendo
Unlike James Toney, Fres Oquendo has an impressive pedigree at this level. In his last fight against Chris Byrd; Fres seems to have been robbed of a decision by the judges who must have been scoring the fight based on the same criteria as synchronized swimming. The only way one can justify Oquendo not winning that fight was to punish him for his lack of respect for aesthetics. Fres Oquendo has one of the most awkward styles in Heavyweight history; it was so awkward that it even confused the highly intelligent ring technician in Chris Byrd. Some will argue Oquendo should be given full credit as if that fight was a victory and ranked higher, while others will argue they could have seen how Byrd could have possibly won if you gave him all of the close rounds. I think the best decision is to rank him somewhere in between, not giving him full kudos for a victory but perhaps a kind of half victory as such, this could be derided with some justification but at this point it seems hard to regard it any other way. In addition to the Byrd fight Oquendo has wins over Mo Harris, David Izon, Obed Sullivan, Duncan Dokiwari as well as upsetting the Clifford Etienne bandwagon at its peak. The only clear cut loss on his resume was a fight against David Tua where he was dominating it with his jab and effectively following a gameplan until getting caught by a right-hand. Despite the loss, Oquendo gained more legitimacy from that defeat as a true contender than any of his previous victories as he demonstrated he could compete at the top level. In terms of ability he is difficult to measure. At times he looks horribly crude in throwing wild and almost amateurish hooks as he did against Mo Harris, and at other times he looked relatively refined as against Izon and Tua. By all appearances he seems to know whom he can be crude against and get away with it and whom he cannot. Oquendo is somewhat of an enigma and it is hard to tell exactly how good he really is even after witnessing so many of his fights. Nevertheless one conclusion can certainly be made; he is an awkward and difficult fighter to defeat, much more so than people tend to suspect. Similar to his Puerto Rican compatriot John Ruiz, he appears innocuous and yet somehow is effective in the ring despite perceived limitations. At this time it looks as though Fres Oquendo is being lined up to fight Ruiz in a fight that aesthetically should be about as pleasing as watching paint dry. Most would probably give Ruiz the edge just for having a greater degree of experience but who knows with Fres Oquendo.
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