30.04.04 – by Vincent van der Steen: In February 2004 our longstanding heavyweight champion deservedly hung up his gloves. After 18 world championship fights and 15 years of professional prize fighting, it is good to see a fighter that is sensible enough to call it a day before the detrimental effects of prize fighting kick in. However, the day Lennox Lewis decided to hang up his gloves, an era ended and he took the heavyweight lineage with him. As of now, Lewis is the last man to beat the man who beat the man, and so on. The King has died, but who is the new King?
Throughout the last two centuries we have seen champions come and go. Some of them stirred whole nations, some where mediocre at best and some ‘shook up the world’. But when we consider heavyweights, there is only one common denominator and true King…the Don himself. By the time our, in the twilight of his career, reluctant champion decided to hang up his gloves, Don King had already secured two of the three major titles – IBF and WBA – and had an option in Brewster to take the lightly regarded WBO title too. So, in comes April 2004 and us fight fans were presented with something that would never saturate our bloodthirsty appetite…meaningful heavyweight match ups.
Up first was Wladimir ‘Dr. Steelhammer’ Klitchko vs. ‘Relentless’ Lamon Brewster. In a bizarre twist of fate both fighters actually managed to live up to their moniker, though probably not in the manner they both would have expected before the match. Brewster absorbed obscene amounts of punishment and went down in the fourth when Thor´s hammer came crashing from the sky. From that point on, it was clear that Brewster was unrelenting and would not fold as easy as one would have expected beforehand, but by no means had I been prepared to witness what would transpire in the next round.
Wladimir Klitchko looked badly winded, especially after Brewster hit him with a meaningful left hook. The fight was basically over after that, Wladimir looked drained, broken and disillusioned after the fight. His career does not have to be finished now, but to all his fans: ‘he’s a target now’. Heavyweights endowed with ‘the great equaliser’ will not give up that easy from now on. Lamon, on the other hand, now has a title and a view on what could be ‘Brewster’s Millions’. The pawn might have been promoted to a knight, but it will still be the King who determines who he will fight – and like Arthur, King has a lot of champions.
One of them is the unheralded John ‘The Quiet Man’ Ruiz. Generally, Ruiz vs. Oquendo was the least compelling and least anticipated match of the four heavyweight title fights in April. John’s road, like Lamon, had been a long one. Who would have thought that the guy Tua ‘terminated’ in under 20 seconds would have ever blessed us with 4 championship snorefests and a loss to an ex-middleweight champion, only to regain the title in the same sleep-inducing fashion he first won I with. Oquendo’s claim to fame was the shellacking he gave Chris Byrd and his boxing clinic turned ‘Big O’ against Tua.
Oquendo should not have been there, but neither should Ruiz according to most boxing aficionados. Fact remains however, that even boxing’s cure to insomnia, might not be as bad as many of us would expect. He might look awkward, he might enjoy the roughhousing and is dreadfully slow and limited, but he gets the job done. Snore, bore, stare and clinchfests might be a means to a King’s ends, but a prolonged Ruiz-reign probably will not help retain boxing’s wilting and waning fans.
Fan retention has never really been Chris Byrd’s forte either. Byrd plays ‘kie-ka-boo’ or now you see me, now you don’t; not exactly what someone has come to expect from a heavyweight match up. His opponent however, had always been a crowd (dis)pleaser of sorts. Where Byrd does not really fit the general perception of a heavyweight fighter, as far as the masses are concerned Golota does. He has a fragile mental make up and has a ruthless demeanour – fans will for instance never forget moments like the five punch low blow combo he treated Riddick Bowe to, nor will they forgive him for the one round Lewis-debacle.
So after a two year hiatus, King’s new pawn gets another long awaited – though undeserving – shot at the title and personal redemption. Though the fight is perceived as a coming home party for the much maligned Golota, he would ultimately fail to achieve his goal once more. According to most observers an argument could have been made for a draw, though the majority thought that if anyone, it was Golota who had won the IBF title. But much like that other infamous slapper, Ottke, Byrd’s like a phantom: hard to pinpoint, and even harder to decision. Byrd really is a ‘test’. To pass the test you are not only required to do your homework, you are also dependent of someone else’s opinion of your work.
On the other side of the spectrum we have the current hot commodity in the heavyweight division. Where Byrd is nimble and mobile, Vitaly ‘Dr. Ironfist’ Klitchko is stiff and robotic. A bit of a throwback to the fighters of yesteryear in this author’s opinion. His opponent, Corrie Sanders, shocked the whole boxing world a year ago by clinically dispatching the then heir apparent to Lewis’ now vacated throne – Wladimir Klitchko. In contrast to Vitaly, Sanders – a southpaw – is known for his nimble footwork and exceptional hand speed. Sanders is an exceptionally fast fighter with heavy hands, but has always fallen short of glory during his professional boxing career.
Vitaly’s career had been tainted because he retired with injuries when he was defending his WBO title against the current IBF titleholder Chris Byrd in 2000. He cleared his reputation and earned the public’s respect in his gutsy performance against Lewis in Lewis’ last fight in June 2003. It can be argued that he was winning that fight too. Sanders however, did not bring much more to table then what a lot of us had already expected. He brought an exciting moment or two in the early rounds – stunned Klitchko on a couple of occasions, but nothing serious – and was basically cannon fodder till the fight got stopped in the eight.
So now we have four different champions in one division and neither can claim supremacy, nor claim that they bear the of linear champion. One can state that Vitaly Klitchko is the current heavyweight king. He holds the most prestigious belt, aside from the RING, and was the last man to duke it out with the old champion. It is however absurd to suggest that Klitchko vs. Sanders was also for the linear title. That title has to be earned by beating ‘the man’ or by unifying all three of the major titles. Personally, I am not yet sold on proclaiming the RING champion the linear champion either.
This means that the other titleholders theoretically hold a claim on the real championship too, with Byrd being the clear frontrunner amongst them. Byrd holds a victory over Vitaly Klitchko, regardless of the circumstances of the match and holds one of the major titles as well. The same can be said of John Ruiz, aside from the Jones-interim, he has held the WBA title for quite some while. Brewster, however deserving he might be, only seems to be a minor force in the process of crowning the new ‘baddest man on the planet’. Round 1 of the Russian roulette only organised the heavyweight landscape, but far from settled it. Round 2 should give us some, historically and stylistically compelling match ups and provide some more answers.
We already knew the king had died, but who should we hail the new king? Judging the possible match ups, there is a lot of candy to be distributed amongst the kids and their favourite bully. Of the four candybags, Don King currently has three in his pocket. And with four children fighting for all their favourite flavours, it will be very interesting to see who will wake up with a bad case of soar teeth. In all scenario’s, but one in the long run, there is always but one winner…Don King. The King never really died, hail to the King!