You hear and read almost everyone connected to boxing say it. Whether it be from the media, the fans, or the boxers, you have heard it over and over and over. “The Heavyweight division is a weak era now.”
But that notion is false. Believe it or not, the heavyweight division today is as strong as ever. Perhaps even stronger than ever. But it’s the perception of the heavyweight division which is flawed. Much of the criticism of the Klitschko Brothers dominance comes from America which is not accustomed with or very comfortable with the fact that two Ukrainian doctors are currently reigning supreme as the dominant rulers of professional boxing’s most important and glamorous division.
We have heard many highly respected voices diminish the Klitschkos, such as Larry Holmes, James Toney, Floyd Mayweather, Teddy Atlas, Don King, even Bert Sugar who has stated that Primo Carnera would knock out Wladimir Klitschko.
The same things were said when Larry Holmes, Joe Louis, Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis dominated. “Oh, it’s a weak era.” Joe Louis was said to have beaten a different bum every month. I look at it this way: Joe Louis was so good, so magnificently dominant, that he made most all of his opposition appear to be bums.
Larry Holmes was a similarly high-caliber champion. He was so exceptionally dominant and head and shoulders above all the competition that he made Lorenzo Zanon, Leroy Jones, Mike Weaver, Tex Cobb, Ossie Ocasio, Alfredo Evangelista look vastly inferior. There is no difference from those fighters to Arturo Godoy, Max Baer, Billy Conn, Frans Botha, Henry Cooper, David Tua, Tony Galento, Ron Lyle, Cleveland Williams, Chris Byrd, etc. You catch my drift?
Ray Austin and Tony Thompson and Sultan Ibragimov are the equivalent of Phil Jackson, Marvis Frazier, Zora Folley and Ernie Terrell. The Klitschko Brothers are dominating exactly like Ali, Tyson, Lewis, Louis and Jack Johnson did but in their very own unique ways.
The KO 3 of Cleveland Williams by Ali is often credited as his greatest performance in the ring. 5-1 underdog Williams was 33 years old in that fight. Two years earlier Williams had been shot in his abdominal area, the bullet never removed. Williams underwent four operations and lost almost 60 pounds, before somewhat regaining his strength by the time he challenged Ali. “I died three times on that operating table,” said Williams. So Ali basically beat a dead-man walking. Imagine if the Klitschkos beat such a handicapped challenger?
Lennox Lewis was another great heavyweight champion who was not accepted or appreciated until the end of his career. “They” said Lewis was just the fortunate recipient of having come around when it was a weak era of heavyweights. But after he knocked out Hasim Rahman in the rematch and halted Mike Tyson in Memphis, Lewis began to gain the approval of the sporting public and is now considered to be an all-time great.
Right now, a factor that does still haunt the Klitschko public image in the U.S. is their losses. Wladimir looked far from extraordinary in his defeat to Corrie Sanders and the last round of the match vs. Lamon Brewster. Vitali, despite his warrior heroics vs. Lennox Lewis, is still not forgiven by some for how he retired in the Chris Byrd fight with the torn rotator cuff injury. But both Klitschkos recovered from those devastating losses and actually became much stronger forces. They got up when they were down and overcame massive adversity. They learned from and improved themselves. “A champion is someone who gets up when he can’t,” Jack Dempsey once said.
Few boxing people will remember that Jack Dempsey was knocked out in the first round of his 33rd pro fight by Jim Flynn in Murray, Utah in 1917. Two years later ‘The Manassa Mauler’ was heavyweight champion. Not many recall that Jack Johnson was stopped twice before he became champ, by Klondike Haynes and Joe Choynski. You don’t hear those names ever mentioned. But whenever anyone debates the Klitschkos, it’s automatic you will hear Brewster, Sanders, Purrity, and Byrd’s name enter the discussion at some point. Dempsey and Johnson obviously gained and learned and became much better from their losses, as did the Klitschkos.
Also, the fact that during the Klitschko reign, there has always been a nagging second-rater wearing one of the world title belts who refused to attempt to unify the titles with the Klitschkos. So this takes away some from the credibility of the Klitschko’s domination. During Vitali’s first WBC reign it was Byrd and Ruiz, both promoted by Don King. King knew both Byrd and Ruiz would have no chance vs. Vitali and so unification was never seriously negotiated. Now we have the giant Nikolay Valuev who is also being protected by his promoters Sauerland and King from being obliterated by either Klitschko. Valuev’s promoters pretend to the media to have interest in unification, but behind closed doors, block it because they want multiple options on future Klitschko fights. Because they know full well their man Valuev would be slaughtered and their heavyweight meal ticket would be in the waste bin.
On top of that, another factor that also mars the Klitschko Brothers to some degree in America, is that they are not outspoken or highly colorful personalities and their public images in America are interpreted by Joe Sportsfan as rather vanilla and bland. Even when Chris Byrd ducked Wladimir for over a year, Wladimir never spoke badly about Byrd, he just waited for his time and took care of business. Now David Haye, after slandering Wladimir as a lousy champ in the press last year, is refusing repeated chances to sign a contract to get in the ring with Wladimir in June. Haye is clearly reluctant because he knows he failed to psyche out Dr. Steelhammer and totally underestimated Wladimir’s confidence. But you won’t hear Wladimir go to the media and tell the truth about Haye’s backing down, he will likely keep quiet and diplomatically move on to the next challenger.
Boxing is never in a weak era. The best are always the best. Everyone should know boxing is a brutal sport and no one gets to the top by luck or taking shortcuts. If it were so easy Shaq or Ray Lewis would jump right in there and get to the top 10 in a year or two. The problem is that the American heavyweights have been passed by the Easter Europeans who, because of better coaching, a more determined work ethic, are now the superior heavyweight gladiators.
“It’s all about hunger and desire,” said former WBO champ Sultan Ibragimov. “There once was a good deal of great (American) champions because they were hungry and they really wanted to work hard and to give it all for the titles. It’s quite different now. Americans have become lazy. They don’t want to try hard for a not so big amount of money. We Russians are much hungrier. That’s the difference.”
But the American public can’t see it that way for whatever reason. Lazily and ignorantly the American boxing fans and media just say, Oh, it’s just a weak era.
I have a question: How come they never say it’s weak era for Tiger Woods, Rafael Nadal, The Williams sisters, Usain Bolt? (send replies to [email protected]).
One last comment to consider. The renowned writer Maya Angelou once wrote about the night Joe Louis defeated Jim Braddock to win the world Heavyweight title. “…a night when Joe Louis had proved that we were the strongest people in the world.” It would be interesting to hear Maya Angelou’s fair-minded commentary of the Klitschko Brothers and the current heavyweight division, wouldn’t it?