By Johnny Walker
It’s become a truism, a stale cliché that is repeated in zombie-like rote fashion by too many lazy boxing scribes in North America.
“The heavyweight division stinks.”
However, while mainstream boxing writers have been busy repeating such sentiments week after week, a funny thing has taken place: the heavyweight division suddenly smells like roses, having at long last come back to life!
After a false start earlier this year when Odlanier Solis’s slothful lifestyle caught up to him in a first-round collapse against Vitali Klitschko, the division now has a strong line-up of five interesting fights to lead-off the second half of 2011.
Leading off is the showdown– finally!—between England’s David Haye (25-1-0) and the Ukrainian superstar Wladimir Klitschko (55-3-0) on July 2 in Hamburg, Germany. There’s not much left to say that hasn’t been said 1000 times already in the last two years about this matchup. Haye has been at his trash-talking best – or worst, depending on your point of view – in the lead-up to this bout, while Klitschko has been unusually relaxed and jocular, putting Haye on edge. Will the WBA heavyweight champion Haye go all out in his attempt to unseat The Ring-recognized heavyweight champion of the world? Or will he simply cash out with a max payday, before retiring this October? One thing is for sure: it’s all on the line for Klitschko in this fight. A loss to Haye would undo much of the good Wladimir has accomplished in the last six years, and give his many North American and British critics immense satisfaction. A dominating win, however, leaves Wlad alone with brother Vitali at the top of the heavyweight mountain.
On July 23 in London’s Wembley Arena, two Brits, the wonderfully-named Tyson Fury (14-0-0) and Dereck “Del Boy” Chisora (also 14-0-0), meet in a battle in of up and coming British heavyweights for the British heavyweight title. Fury has made a name for himself as quite a trash talker, but his trash talk also includes a very good sense of humor, unlike the often spiteful verbiage his countryman David Haye is known for. At 6’9” tall and only 23 years of age, the giant Fury has steadily improved and gotten himself into much better shape: he used a superior jab (he’s been working with Wladimir Klitschko and his trainer Manny Steward) last time out to stop decent opposition in previously undefeated Marcelo Luiz Nascimento, and has since been goading and taunting current British heavyweight champ Chisora in public at every opportunity. For his part, Chisora has twice seen title fights with Wladimir Klitschko fall though in recent months, and he must channel his frustration against Fury and not look past him, which will be a difficult assignment. The winner of this fight looks to be set for a title shot against one of the world champions in the near future.
In the “last chance” category, on August 13, we have the rematch between New Zealand’s David “Tuamanator” Tua (52-3-2) and New York’s Monte “Two Gunz” Barrett (34-9-2). When these two ageing veterans met last summer in Atlantic City, what was supposed to be a showcase for Tua’s comeback instead turned into a war, as Barrett refused to play along with his assigned victim role. Instead, Barrett got himself into tremendous shape and battled Tua all night long in an exciting bout, with “Two Gunz” even flooring the Tuamanator for the first time in his long career in the final round. Many ringside observers, including this reporter, thought Barrett deserved the win, but the judges’ decision was a controversial draw. Tua has since gone the distance with journeyman Demetrice King, and there are whispers that the much-vaunted Tua power is no longer there. As Tua himself admits, anything less than a spectacular win over Barrett this time means his boxing career is probably over.
Another intriguing matchup occurs on August 27, as Robert “The Nordic Nightmare” Helenius of Finland (15-0-0) takes on native Belarusian Siarhei “The White Wolf” Liakhovich. Helenius, only 27, has some of the heaviest hands the heavyweight division has seen in some time (so much so that Lamon Brewster accused him of using loaded gloves). Helenius crushed the tough Samuel Peter last time out, and will be looking to further cement his burgeoning rep as the man who could emerge at the top of the heavyweight heap in a post-Klitschko era. As for Liakhovich, he featured in one of the best heavyweight fights of the last decade in a win over Lamon Brewster, but thanks to injuries and mismanagement, his career has stalled since that 2006 fight. Now managed by Kathy Duva’s Main Events promotions, Liakhovich will be looking to regain lost momentum against Helenius.
Finally, in Wroclaw, Poland on September 10, the WBC Heavyweight Championship is on the line as the current champ, Dr. Ironfist aka Vitali Klitschko (42-2-0), battles Polish challenger Tomasz “Goral” Adamek (44-1-0). Vitali is the older, tougher, and meaner of the Klitschko brothers, and as such, he gets more respect in North American boxing circles than does the more laid-back Wladimir. While some have claimed Vitali is slowing down (he’ll be 40 by the time of this fight), the evidence just doesn’t support this notion. In his last test before the aforementioned easy win over the pitiful Solis, Vitali totally dismantled and destroyed Shannon “The Cannon” Briggs, who had gotten himself into superb shape for the fight. Briggs ended up getting several operations in a two-week hospital stay after the fight, but Vitali was still frustrated that he didn’t get the stoppage (in truth, the fight should have been called by the end of round seven).
Adamek is the number four heavyweight in the world, and well-deserving of this fight, but his recent wins over the likes of journeymen Kevin McBride and Michael Grant (in which he was staggered badly in the final round and had to hang on) haven’t convinced many that former cruiserweight kingpin Adamek has what it takes to defeat the iron-chinned giant Vitali. But Adamek is a true warrior and will be sure to bring a maximum effort in front of the Polish fans.
Hopefully, this surge of good heavyweight action augurs well for the division – maybe some commentators will even take notice and stop bashing the heavyweights.
Ah well, a guy can dream, can’t he?