Boxing heavyweight division in dire need of fix

Previously published in The Washington Times March 20, 2009 Edition

Once a boxing loyalist, I followed the heavyweight division with a passion from Ali’s years in the 1970’s through Mike (AP Photo/Daniel Maurer)Tyson’s self-implosion in the 90’s.During that time, I was notorious for skipping school and risking jobs when a set of competent heavies were scheduled to go toe-to-toe.

Muhammad Ali, ‘Smoking Joe’ Frazier and ‘Big’ George Foreman were involved in many of those fights that lived up to their names like “Fight of the Century”, “Rumble in the Jungle” and “Thrilla in Manila”.

For a solid decade, from 1968-77, one of those three icons would hold the heavyweight title.

The torch was later handed off to Larry Holmes who many times struggled to find a worthy opponent to fight until a young troubled kid named Mike Tyson emerged under the watchful eye of Cus D’Amato and later took over the sport.

Tyson was billed as “The Baddest Man on the Planet” and for good reason. Many predicted him to top Rocky Marciano’s record of 49-0 but as fate would have it, D’Amato passed away and Tyson strayed on a path of self-destruction, landed in jail and threw away a life of wealth and success.

Since the implosion of Mike Tyson, boxing has been starving for charismatic characters to come along but finds itself stuck with a group of mediocre athletes, none capable of recreating the adrenaline-filled sport.

Once Tyson was fitted for prison garb and Don King continued dominating boxing headlines with criminal investigations, many including myself lost interest in the sport; that is until I ran into a familiar name while visiting the Big Apple over Thanksgiving weekend 2008.

While hanging out in New York’s bustling theater district, I stopped in a Starbucks to check my emails and make a few calls. The man sitting next to me was on his cell phone trying to work out a deal and he snagged my attention when I overheard words like ‘fight card’ and ‘title fight’.

The man was Dino Duva, son of the legendary Lou Duva and the owner of Duva Boxing.

Just weeks earlier on October 11, Vitaly Klitschko (Ukraine) had defeated one of Duva’s heavyweights, Samuel Peter (Nigeria) in a WBC heavyweight title fight. Peter had put his WBC title on the line, a title he earned when he KO’d Oleg Maskaev in the 6th round of a fight in Cancun during March 2008.

After chatting with Duva, my smoldering interest in boxing was suddenly rekindled so I decided to watch the Klitschko/Peter fight and judge for myself if the heavyweight division had regained its ‘punch’.

After a quick Google, I found the bout in its entirety on YouTube, hunkered down with my java, popped on the headset and promised to give boxing’s most recent heavyweight title bout my undivided attention from the opening bell.

Eight boring uneventful rounds later, after breaking my promise and glancing at my watch as often as the screen, Peter refused to come out of his corner, the fight ended in a TKO and the WBC belt belonged to Klitschko.

This uneventful fight put the heavyweight division in perspective. The division is so clearly in disarray, a 37-year-old from Ukraine was able to come off a four-year layoff and easily jab his way to a TKO over the current younger champion.

I was shocked and intrigued by the fact this fight was such a dud; I went back to YouTube and watched every pre and post fight press conference I could find.

In one of the pre-fight press conferences, Duva had promised the world they would be treated to a classic title fight and that his fighter and Klitschko were ready for an all-out brawl. Duva went on to rightfully complain about a majority of the meeting being in German then stated his camp preferred to not be in Europe but are there because they paid the most for the fight.

The post-fight press conference featured Klitschko and his brother, another heavyweight title holder and there is where the fate of the heavyweight division lies. These fighters have charisma, hold titles and are the top heavies in the world.

The only hope for this faltering division may be to hold the fight that according to many sources may never happen, a brawl between the Klitschko brothers, WBC champ Vitali 36-2; (35 -KO) and IBO-IBF-WBO champ Wladimir 52-3 (46 KO).

In the meantime, both Vitali Klitschko and Peter are scheduled to fight in separate bouts this month with Klitschko taking on Cuba’s Juan Gomez for the WBC belt on March 21. If these fighters truly care about their weight class, they will try to redeem the heavyweight division by giving fans what they deserve to see. Heavies willing to partake in slugfests that provide entertaining rounds worthy of a highlight reel.

Currently ranked in the top ten, Peter has an opportunity to revitalize his career and rankings on the charts with a great outing this month. Another lackluster performance by the man they call “The Nigerian Nightmare” may prove fatal to his marketing appeal.

An impressive showing by Vitali in the Gomez fight may create a bigger buzz in the heavyweight division and pressure to set up a bout many boxing fans have dreamed about; a battle between the two Klitschko brothers.

Like “Rumble in the Jungle” and “Thrilla in Manila” this “Fight of the Millennium” between the brothers would certainly deserve a name.

Can it get any more intriguing than to watch two brothers forced to leave their love for each other outside the stadium as they climb into the ring for a heavyweight title fight, slugging it out in an attempt to take the other one’s belt?

Copyright © 2009 – Sports Climax

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