Will Boxing give us a Unified Light-Heavyweight King?
By: Armando Paz
The boxing purist has been cynical of the modern boxing system that has four major sanctioning bodies and an additional lineal champion. At times, this means we have a WBC, WBA, IBF, WBO, and even a fifth Ring/Lineal champion. For example, back in 2009 when Manny Pacquiao defeated Ricky Hatton he was given credit for earning a sixth divisional title. This was because Hatton despite not owning one of the major sanctioning titles was still regarded as the Ring/Lineal champion. Although the sport of boxing has plethora of major and minor titles there have been modern attempts to try to coronate one unified champion in a division. Old school boxing fans harp back to the day when there were only eight lineal champions in eight divisions.
In the 1980’s Don King helped bring the sport a unified heavyweight champion by having unification bouts that would result in Mike Tyson becoming the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. Tyson wouldn’t just defeat Trevor Berbick (WBC) and become the youngest heavyweight champion of the world at the age of 20—he also would be the first undisputed heavyweight champion in over a decade which would help restore stability and prestige back to the division. Tyson would defeat James “Bonecrusher” Smith (WBA) and Tony “TNT” Tucker (IBF) via decision to have all three major title trinkets around his waist. As Michael Spinks was still regarded as the Ring/lineal champion after his wins over Larry Holmes; there was still unfinished business for Tyson to prove his undisputed status. Tyson would silence any naysayers by disposing Spinks in 91 seconds. For those who thought Holmes was really still the champion due to being in the receiving end of a dubious split-decision in his rematch with Spinks—Tyson would also silence them by defeating Holmes in four rounds.
Don King would also bring unity to the middleweight division in 2001 when he would have another tournament that would see fighters as Bernard Hopkins, Keith Holmes, Felix Trinidad, and William Joppy square-off than leaving Hopkins as the undisputed kingpin of the division. Showtime also would have a Super Six tournament that would result in Andre Ward remaining as the last man standing and considered by most as the champion of the division despite former IBF champion Lucian Bute not participating in the tournament.
Boxing has another opportunity to give us an undisputed champion in one of the most competitive divisions. The current light-heavyweight division has four champions: Bernard Hopkins (IBF), Adonis Stevenson (WBC), Beibut Shumenov (WBA), and Sergey Kovalev (WBO). All four fighters have expressed interest in unifying titles perhaps with the exception of Stevenson who wants to fight Jean Pascal next in a major domestic Canadian cash-in.
Kovalev (23-0-1 21 KO’s) is regarded along with Golovkin, Matthysse, Provodnikov, and Maidana as one of the biggest punchers in the game today. Unfortunately, the world saw some of that power when his TKO of Roman Simakov in late 2011 would result in the death of that Russian fighter. Many would blame the slow response of the medical team and failure of providing oxygen immediately as contributing factors to the death. Although Kovalev would do plenty of soul searching he would return back to the sport and continue with his knockout ways. In fact, Kovalev would earn four KO wins last years in only 12 rounds of work. Although Kovalev has repeatedly called out Stevenson, it appears that unification match on HBO would need to wait until Stevenson has a likely match with Jean Pascal. As both Hopkins and Shumenov are contracted with HBO through Golden Boy a match with either fighter is unlikely. However, Kovalev is promoted by Main Events and they unlike Top Rank are willing to do business with Golden Boy and Showtime.
Bernard Hopkins (54-6-2 32 KO’s) who now calls himself the “Alien” has already stated he would make easy work of Kovalev. “I would easily beat Kovalev. That would be the easiest fight. That fight, for me, would be just as easy as beating Kelly Pavlik,” stated a confident Hopkins. Hopkins would add, “That fight would be real easy. Less than easy. If not, easier than Pavlik”. Hopkins excellent chin, ring savy, and ability to neutralize a fighter’s greatest weapon may make him the best bet to defeat Kovalev Yet, it would appear that the fighter often referred as the geriatric wonder may take the challenge that Beibut Shumenov offered after his win over Tamas Kovacs last December. .
Beibut Shumenov (14-1 9 KO’s) told me back in 2011 his dream was to unify world titles. I interviewed Shumenov before his match with Danny Santiago and the Kazak fighter would tell me, “Right now, I’m 100-percent focused on Danny Santiago. After this fight, I would love to fight any of the 175-pound world champions on HBO or Showtime. If the other world champions are still not interested in unifying the light heavyweight titles and getting inside the ring with me, I will look at other top contenders like Zsolt Erdei, but my goal is still the same as it has been for the last year, to unify.” It appears Shumenov may finally get a chance to unify with Bernard Hopkins.
The final champion in the mix is Adonis “Superman” Stevenson (23-1 20 KO’s) possibly the last great disciple of legendary Kronks gym trainer Emmanuel Steward. Stevenson despite being known for his great power which resulted in the first round demolition of Chad Dawson also has excellent boxing ability. Although I would slightly favor Kovalev over Stevenson the great boxing skills of Stevenson may give him an opportunity to weaken and soften Kovalev and than get him in the later rounds. However, this can be mitigated by a suspect chin that resulted in a KO loss to Darnell Boone in 200 that was later avenged. Stevenson also has tendency to get impatient and seek that one punch knockout that may result in him getting countered and possibly knocked out by a big puncher as Kovalev.
There is a possible road that can lead to a unified champion in the light heavyweight division. The first part is simpler than the second. As Hopkins and Shumenov are both fighting on Showtime they can unify the IBF and WBA titles. The winner of Stevenson-Pascal could than fight Kovalev to unify the WBC and WBO titles. This would leave only two champions that than could fight to unify all four titles. Although unlikely that HBO and Showtime would work together we have seen them do it before most notably to give us Lewis-Tyson back in 2002. Although there are many obstacles to overcome there is still a possibility that boxing can give us a undisputed champion in the light heavyweight division and please both modern fans and old boxing purists.