What Isn’t Wrong With The Heavyweight Division?


29.07.05 – By Wray Edwards: Almost nothing is the short answer. First-of-all a quick look at statistics might be in order. Some of us were required to take a course in statistics as a course prerequisite. One of the most elementary concepts in that discipline is the “bell-shaped curve”. The physical size of adult humans in the population of this planet ranges in height from about three feet to eight feet, and from about forty pounds to one thousand pounds in weight, if you are to believe the tabloids. Naturally, the extremes are small in number as their physical characteristics significantly depart from the norm. Politics aside, the Heavyweight Division will, most probably, be doomed to mediocre action most of the time, from now on, while waiting for one of those rare guys like Ali, and rarer still, a Frazier to compliment his appearance.

If one looks at the number of people available between one hundred and thirty and one hundred and sixty in the world, it is they who constitute the largest pool of human talent. With variations from nation-to-nation due to nutrition and genetic differences the average size of a person falls into that category.. How many guys are there at Straw-weight in general, and who want to be boxers in specific? How many big guys are there, in general, who also want to be boxers? It seems reasonable to conclude that because there are just fewer really big humans than medium-sized humans the talent pool is much smaller.

So it is naturally rare that an Ali, a Louis, a Lewis, a Fraizer, a Holmes or (take your pick) comes on the scene. Also, there are fewer contemporary talents to provide each other with credible and exciting challenges. The skill set required to be a good boxer is also more common in the middle weights. Fast hands, fast feet, reflexes, and endurance; just the pure physics of core temperature, respiration, lactic acid and other factors favor the middleweights for action, excitement and recovery rates.

What we have is just a few really big guys with even a modicum of natural ability and will. In the middle weights there are many, many more candidates in the population. The big ones can play basketball, football and other big guy sports, leaving tennis, soccer and boxing to medium-sized humans. There are very few really big men in the U.S. who go into boxing. That is probably due to present economic demographics. Other sports are safer and pay more. The last fifty years has seen a major shift in big, strong, fast men moving to football and basketball as the number of teams has increased.

Just put in a tape of a good lightweight fight and then switch to a heavyweight tape; it’s like watching instant replay slo-mos most of the time. There is a human bias for size at present. “Would you like to biggie that order?” is a common question. “Bigger is better”, “Size matters” and so on (ladies would agree). That’s ok until real combat action in a boxing ring is the order of the day. Then the word “lumbering” rears its ugly head (no pun intended). There are neural velocity limits when it comes to getting messages from the brain to hands and feet which are so far away, not to mention the physical inertia of the more massive limbs.

As nutrition and general public health has improved, big guys like Bird, Howie Long, Yao, Bol, Ming, Nevitt, Jabbar (dated my ex-girlfriend), O’neal, Randy Johnson, Magic, A. Harrison, Jordan, and many others, have better co-ordination, quickness and agility than the first, freakish plodders who came into national sports with little to recommend them other than sheer size. Recent examples of big men with potential in boxing such as Valuev, the Klitschkos, Lewis, and Golota, have been derisively compared to Primo Carnera who was not all that bad. Not sure even his mother loved that face though.

The inertial limits to moving those big limbs (mentioned above) into action, especially when it comes to the need for fast reflexes, become more and more evident with increased size and bulk. Heavyweights can generally fight later in life because their end of the sport favors power more than agility, and power lasts later in life than quickness. The heavies are the purveyors of the one-punch-knockout. Long-armed, slow-moving dreadnaughts who launch fight-ending bombs.

Some heavyweight fights are action-packed, but they are few and far between. Just watching many tapes of HD encounters from the last sixty years, one finds many of the encounters to be examples of attrition with way less action than in the lower weight divisions. Fights like the Thrilla in Manilla”, Ali-Chuvalo, are still fought with punch-rates which result from big guys gathering energy and waiting for an opening to launch a big, expensive bomb. Recent flaps over metabolic anomalies during HD prize fights are evidence that huge bodies are prone to be problematic. Back in the fifties and sixties drag-racers got on a multi-engine kick for a while. Tommy Ivo’s Buick-powered units were challenged by Mickey Thompson’s racers and a whole era was born.

The logic was that if one engine was good, then two are better. The problem was that they did not take into consideration two basic principles of performance. First: KISS (keep it simple stupid) because if you double the parts, you double the number of things that can go wrong. This writer was amazed at the NASA decision to fly a space vehicle which required the simultaneous, mission-critical performance of four separate vehicles temporarily bolted together. There’s nothing simple about a really big boxer (the author resists a quip here).

Second: economies of scale are dependent on the laws of diminishing returns with any increase in size of a bio-physical system. Very tall buildings, and the attendant engineering compromises which have to be made for them to work properly, demonstrate economies of scale in an inanimate object. Really big organisms like the dinosaurs painted themselves into an evolutionary corner where they lost survival flexibility should conditions change. Really big boxers fall prey to ergonomic and metabolic realities which limit their options. From the rata-tat-tat of the bantams, through the whacks of the middles to the KABOOMS! of the heavies there is a lot of variety.

Wlad, Golota, Vitali and other large boxers do show really great combinations, and put in awesome rounds of boxing from time-to-time, but not with the dependable consistency of the lower weights. It’s sometimes like watching the chaos of a demolition derby, whereas the lower weights are more like Formula One. Big guys just aren’t zippy. The most you can say about most of their fights is “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.” Occasionally that’s really impressive.

There is little reason to lament the paucity of talent and excitement in the HD. It is a natural result of the bio-physics and statistical norms of the human form. Rather than complaining and hoping for a new HD hero, why not just concentrate on the really fabulous cadres of super-talented fighters in the middle weights? If a new series of exciting heroes should emerge in the HD then that will be fun. Don’t hold your breath.