Heavyweight Picks and Pans For 2012
by Johnny Walker
Over the next few days, we’ll be running our choices for the best and worst of boxing’s much maligned but still very much alive heavyweight division for 2012.
Today, we pick the fighter of the year.
HEAVYWEIGHT FIGHTER OF THE YEAR: KUBRAT PULEV
“Kubrat who?,” I can hear some of you saying. Well, you won’t be saying that for much longer.
Of all the top tier heavyweights this year, it was talented Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev (17-0, 9 KOs) who made the most progression. He took out the durable Brit Michael Sprott, then faced giant Ukrainian-born German Alexander Dimitrenko for the European heavyweight title. Dimitrenko’s sole loss going into the fight was a majority decision dropped to slick American Eddie Chambers in 2009, but Pulev gave him a thorough beating, with six-foot-seven-inch tall Dimitrenko going down and counted out from a stiff Pulev jab, no less, at the end of round eleven.
Pulev then went on to humiliate another giant, the nearly six-foot-eight inch tall undefeated Russian Alexander Ustinov, giving him a convincing beating that resulted in the bloodied challenger surrendering after a quick flurry from Pulev put him down early in round eleven.
With these dominant wins over bigger men, Pulev, himself no midget at nearly six-foot-five inches tall, has thus prepared himself well for the eventual task of facing one of the world champion Klitschko brothers. Pulev’s not a showy fighter (he saves that for his life outside of the ring –he is known as a prankster and dates sexy Bulgarian pop diva Andrea), but, with his extensive amateur experience, he is as solid as they come, his greatest strength perhaps being his ability to remain patient and calm no matter what the situation is in the ring. Unlike many others who make the journey, Pulev truly looks at home when he steps into the squared circle.
Look for Kubrat Pulev to continue his rise to the top in 2013.
HEAVYWEIGHT FIGHTER OF THE YEAR, RUNNER UP: WLADIMIR KLITSCHKO
The true world champion continued to smash all comers in 2012, and Wlad would have topped this list had he been able to find some better competition.
In retrospect, the Klitschko camp’s decision to award to title shot to Jean Marc Mormeck–a former cruiserweight who had already been knocked out by David Haye and who needed a hometown gift to get by Timur Ibragimov–counted against the champion, as the resulting fight was as big a mismatch as it seemed on paper. It’s not a stretch to say that Michael Sprott would have put up much more of a fight than the Frenchman did. It strains credulity to say that Mormeck was the best optional defense the K2 camp could come up with.
Wlad then did his job in a mandated rematch against hapless American Tony Thompson, who really looked as if he wished he were eating donuts back home instead of eating punches in Switzerland. Thompson provided far less in the way of resistance than he did in 2008 during the first match between the two men, perhaps as a result of the fact that was now 40 years old instead of 36, the champion’s current age.
Finally, Klitschko dominated a very game challenger in Polish giant Mariusz Wach. But though the inexperienced but tough-as-nails Wach took a tremendous beating from Wladimir, he still managed to mark up the champion’s face, which actually looked worse than the challenger’s at the end of the fight. And Wach also managed to rock Klitschko with a big right hand at the end of round five that had the shaken champion holding on. Alas, it was too late in the round for Wach to fully capitalize, and the opportunity was lost forever. Try as he might, however, the champion could not stop Wach with his best punches landing flush, could not even knock him down, and he had to settle for a wide UD win.
Maybe because of all this, there was some sour grapes in the Klitschko camp following the fight, as dandified K2 impressario Bernd Boente later decided to accuse Wach of failing a drug test, enraging Wach and his camp who said they had heard nothing about the supposed failed test from *any* official sources. There was also a question raised over one of Wach’s gloves, which Vitali Klitschko found inadequate in an inspection prior to the fight. After threats of legal action from Wach’s camp should any further accusations be made, things now have gone quiet on that front.
Boxing Insider’s Quebec correspondent Hans Olson says his first-place vote still would have gone to Wlad: “Three dominant defenses (albeit against not-so-amazing competition)…but dominant nonetheless. I’d rate Thompson and Wach a slight notch above Ustinov and Dimitrenko…the beatdown of Mormeck is about on par with Pulev’s Sprott win.
“However, I think Wlad, being the man in the division, gets the nod.”
Fair enough, Hans. We’ll agree to disagree.