30.09.05 – By James Allan: Less than a year ago Don King was busy telling everybody that he was quite happy to let his fighters take part in a unification tournament, along with Vitali Klitschko, to crown an undisputed heavyweight champion. “I’m willing to gamble all three of my champions,” King said. “Let’s throw Klitschko in there with them and see who comes out on top.. The guy who is left standing will get the respect of the public because he did it with his talent and skill, not because of the manoeuvrability and machinations of the promoters.” Now, 10 months since that quote, not one tournament unification fight has taken place. Instead this week has seen more matches that will still leave the division in its fragmented condition and nobody any wiser as to whom the real champion is.
While this weekend’s fights between James Toney v Dominick Guinn and Chris Byrd v DaVarryl Williamson might turn out to be exciting match up’s, they are not the fights everybody wants to see, nor are they the fights that the division so desperately needs.
Byrd should have fought Wladimir Klitschko a few months back. That is the fight everybody wanted to see and it is the fight that should have taken place. Byrd might argue that Williamson deserved a shot more than Wlad, but it fools nobody. He took it because he sees Williamson as an easier option. Williamson lost to Wlad in five rounds back in 2004 and wins against Oliver McCall and Derrick Jefferson do not make him a legitimate contender, in my opinion.
James Toney is now 37 years old and started his career at Middleweight. While he beat John Ruiz in his last fight for the WBA title, he also tested positive for a banned substance. He can make whatever excuses he likes about not knowing he had taken a banned substance and how it didn’t make any difference to the result of the fight, but the buck has to stop with him. It is his body, he is a professional athlete and he should know what he is putting in it. That six months later he is back fighting again really does show you the mess that the division is in. If he had been a track or field athlete he would have been out of his sport for a minimum two years instead of only not being allowed to fight for the WBA title for two years. The fact is, Toney is entertaining and probably the best actual boxer of all the leading title contenders. This means that he will be allowed to box on, despite positive doping results.
Dominick Guinn fights under the nickname ‘The Southern Disaster’ and that’s exactly what his recent record is. In reality, Guinn has only been put there to make up the numbers. He isn’t a good enough boxer to outpoint Toney and he probably doesn’t hit hard enough to knock him out. Of course in boxing anything can happen, but I’m pretty sure the Las Vegas bookmakers aren’t trembling at the thought of a Guinn victory. In fact they would probably be quite happy about it. Any body that likes a flutter on the fights must surely have marked Toney down as a certain winner in this one.
As far as Ruiz goes, he doesn’t seem to have anything lined up at the moment, and most people seem quite happy about that. He has made a good living from the game, but that doesn’t mean he has been good for the game. He has, in the main, held onto his title by spoiling and holding. Roy Jones and James Toney handed him boxing lessons. Only Toney’s inability to monitor what substances he is taking has allowed Ruiz to still be in the shake up for any proposed tournament. The Brewster v Krasniqi fight only told us what we already knew, that Krasniqi also, is not a legitimate challenger, and the Wladimir Klitschko v Samuel Peter fight while exciting, hasn’t really taken us any further forward either. It proved that Wlad’s chin, while not exactly granite, isn’t pure porcelain either and that Peter can survive against a far better class of fighter than he had faced up until then. Wlad’s back in the hunt for a shot at another title, but Peter isn’t ruled out of it either as he is still young enough to learn from this defeat and to come back a better fighter for it. Two or three victories against decent calibre opposition and who would bet against Peter getting a title shot.
The Vitali Klitschko v Hasim Rahman fight comes across as being the most interesting fight of all the recent Heavyweight activity. But the excitement seems to be generated around whether or not, Rahman can land one big shot on Klitschko and knock him out. In truth, Rahman had his fifteen minutes against Lennox Lewis and then was soundly thrashed in their return fight, since then his record consists of losses to Evander Holyfield, John Ruiz a draw with David Tua and victories over such luminaries as Alfred Cole, Rob Calloway and Kali Meehan. His win over Monte Barrett, while a confidence booster doesn’t put him back at the top of the pile, nor does it prepare him for Klitschko who is heavier, stronger and a better fighter than many give him credit for. In truth, if Rahman wins the only people it will be good for is Rahman himself and Don King, as he will now control all four pieces of the heavyweight title.
That should be the cue for him to launch the long awaited unification tournament, but there will be problems there also. As already mentioned, Toney is banned from fighting for the WBA title for the next two years. If anybody can get round that I’m sure Don can, but it would make the WBA title worth virtually nothing. The belts are mostly gaudy baubles anyway, but for some reason they still seem to have a fascination for fighters, who seem quite willing to fight for whatever belt an organisation makes up. Wladimir Klitshcko should be involved in any tournament that is organised, but would he be willing to give Don King rights to promote any of his future fights. Maybe to get his chance he would but then again maybe he wouldn’t. Would Don be willing to allow him to participate in the tournament knowing that if he won it, he could to all intents and purposes be out of the picture as far as promotional rights are concerned. And all of this conjecture is based around Rahman beating Klitschko.
If Klitschko wins, as I fully expect him to, then he and Wlad have already made it clear that they will never fight each other. Thus meaning that the titles would remain fragmented for the foreseeable future. Of course even if the tournament took place, the titles would eventually break up anyway. The sanctioning bodies are only interested in their own financial well being, not in the good of the sport. But even when the tournament winner was stripped, for whatever reasons, of sections of the title, he would still in the public’s eyes be seen as the true champion with the rest as pretenders no matter what titles they may claim to hold.
What all of this basically adds up to, is that the division is a mess. There are so many different potentialities that can be exploited to the advantage of almost everybody but the fan, who is the person being asked to pay out their money in order to keep the whole business moving. It should never be forgotten, in any sport, that once the fans cease to care, then the sport could soon find itself moving off the back page and into the shadows.
I said in an article a few months ago, that Don King was the only man with the power to clean up the chaotic mess that currently passes for the Heavyweight division and I stand by that statement. The Klitschko’s may not like Don, but they will work with him if they have to in order to secure the big fights. Ali worked with him, Foreman worked with him, Larry Holmes worked with him, Tyson worked with him and Lennox Lewis worked with him. Don produces. Don gets the job done and Don is the only man with enough clout to make the tournament a reality. Vitali is already working with him, after all isn’t Hasim Rahman promoted by Don King. If Vitali gets through this and a unification match up is made with one of the other three champions he will be working with Don again. After all, doesn’t Don hold the promotion rights to John Ruiz, Lamon Brewster and Chris Byrd. He also has promotional rights to James Toney and just about any other viable heavyweight contender that you care to mention.
This unification tournament has to happen. It is vital for the sake of the division, a division that is now so bad that there seems to be a frightening apathy towards it from the general fight fans. In the main, boxing fans aren’t stupid, they can see terrible fights and terrible fighters a mile away, the heavyweight division is now so full of both of these that many fans don’t seem to care who wins this weekend. If what many people say is true, and boxing is only as healthy as its glamour division, then boxing must be in a pretty bad state at the minute. But we all know that that is not true. Boxing is in fact enjoying something of a renaissance at the moment. Good fighters are coming through and good fights are being made in many of the lower divisions. It’s about time the Heavyweight division joined in.