By Tyson Bruce
The State of the Heavyweights:
Best Puncher: Wladimir Klitschko
Best Boxer: Wladimir Klitschko
Most Protected: Deontay Wilder
Is he still around: Oliver McCall
Matchmaker’s Dream: Tyson Fury vs. Deontay Wilder
Best Kept Secret: Lucas Brown
Deserves a title shot: Kubrat Pulev
Most fun to watch: Tomasz Adamek
On the way down: Ruslan Chaguev
Best fight of 2013: Artur Szpilka KO-6 Mike Mollo
The heavyweight championship used to be known as the greatest prize in sports. The championship reigns of Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, and Mike Tyson are the defining symbols of entire eras in boxing history. Not so much anymore. These days the middleweight and welterweight divisions steal most the headlines. However, two important events have beamed a small ray of hope into the wasteland that is the heavyweight division: the announcement that, finally, Vitali Klitschko will vacant the WBC championship that he’s held hostage for over a year and a renewed interest in the former glamour division by HBO.
There are so many things wrong with the heavyweight division that it’s difficult to even know where to begin. However, when you wade through all the muck it can essentially be quantified into three major problems: the utterly dominant reign of the Klitschko brother’s, the lack of talent among American heavyweights, and the decline of major network interest in the division. The most powerful promotional entities in the sport, Golden Boy and Top Rank, have less than a handful of heavyweights in their entire stables.
There are essentially two polarizing points of view regarding the Klitschko brother’s as heavyweight champions. One point of view is that taken by prominent boxing writers like Dan Raefel, who believe that the Klitschko brother’s (specifically Wladimir) are amongst the greatest heavyweights of all time and that the longevity and dominance of their reign makes them sure fire hall of famers and unappreciated masters of their time. The second is that they are the slumlords of an extremely weak generation of heavyweights and that their safety first style of fighting has single handedly ruined boxing’s glory division. The actual truth probably lies somewhere in-between. Their accomplishments must be respected and probably merit hall of fame recognition but it’s true that they are probably the least entertaining heavyweight champions of all time.
Trying to sit through a Wladimir Klitschko fight makes lawn bowling look like a Rambo movie. In fact, his historically dreadful fights against the likes of Sultan Imbragimov and an ancient Hasim Rahman was the incentive for then HBO boss Ross Greenburg’s decision to forgo airing Klitschko fights and began the movement away from the heavyweight division. In his subsequent invites back against David Haye and Alexander Povetkin he boxed reluctantly and they were amongst the most dreadful fights of the year. While he has rock star status in Germany his title defenses in North America are little more than an afterthought to the majority of boxing fans.
The most we can hope for in the Wladimir Klitschko era is that he fights the best and most entertaining heavyweights out there. At the moment that man appears to Kubrat Pulev, a 6-4 Bulgarian heavyweight that has posted three impressive victories against Alexander Dimitrinko, Alexander Ustinov, and Tony Thompson. However, despite Pulev being a mandatory challenger for Wlad’s IBF strap recent speculation indicates that Klitschko will instead fight the lightly regarded Alex Leapai. If this is the case then he will deserve the full wrath of mockery and scorn that will come his way.
With the WBC belt now vacant it has been announced that Cris Arreola and Berman Stivern will rematch for the vacant strap. Klitschko has dubiously been appointed as the champion emeritus, meaning that should he decide to return he would be given an immediate title shot. The rematch is intriguing, as their first bout was a thoroughly entertaining affair in which Stivern knocked down and shattered Arreola’s nose in the second round. If Arreola comes in better condition and gets a chance to fight without a broken nose then we could witness quite the contest between two entertaining, hard hitting, and robust heavyweights.
HBO has shown a renewed interest in the heavyweight division probably in response to the challenge being put forth to its supremacy by rival network Showtime. Showtime and by extension Golden Boy does not have a deep stable of heavyweights and HBO’s Ken Hershman likely sees it as opportunity to seize ground. They televised the “hugathon” between Klitschko and Povetkin, as well as the brutal and as it turned out tragic slugfest between Mike Perez and Magomed Abdusalamov. The network is rewarding Perez’s excellent showing by giving him a televised spot on the Lucian Bute-Jean Pascal card against the little known French heavyweight Carlos Takam. Say what you will about the match-up, but it will definitely be intriguing to see Perez in the ring again. America’s latest heavyweight savior Bryant Jennings will be making his HBO debut against the popular and unbeaten Polish fighter Artur Szpilka. Szpilka, although limited, has a massive following in Poland and was involved in two absolutely thrilling battles against Mike Mollo on ESPN’s Friday Nights Fights. That should be an entertaining battle and you can bet on plenty of Red and White flags in the audience.
The truth about the heavyweight division that no one seems to be talking about is that regardless of the lack of genuinely talented heavyweights there are a lot of fun matchups and entertaining fighters, they just aren’t named Klitschko. I mean who wouldn’t want to see the intriguing but ridiculously protected Deontay Wilder and the arrogant loud-mouthed Tyson Fury beat each other to smithereens? Guys like Cris Arreola and Tomasz Adamek are amongst the most consistently entertaining, if not talented, fighters north of the middleweight division. Matching those two guys against up and coming fighters like Bryant Jennings, Deontay Wilder, Tyson Fury, Lucas Brown, or Mike Perez and I guarantee you will get entertaining fights. Why? Because people love to watch big guys beat each other up—they always have and they always will.
Regardless of boxing’s place within the mainstream culture of sports, this year has been a calendar year for the sport in terms of the quality of boxing cards, the success of PPV (Mayweather-Canelo setting the all time revenue record), and the sheer number of action packed bouts. Showtime boxing analyst Al Bernstein called it the best year of boxing in twenty-five years and few, if any, are more qualified to make such a proclamation as he. So just imagine what potential the sport could have with a healthy and prosperous heavyweight division?