Thursday, March 20, 2014

Where Things Stand In The Heavyweight Division So Far In 2014

The Heavyweight division appeared to be approaching what could be considered a new era at the end of 2013. Vitali Klitschko, the three-time World Heavyweight champion who’s third reign as champion as holder of the World Boxing Council (WBC) crown had ended after five years at the helm with the forty-two year old choosing to relinquish his title to focus on running for the presidency of Ukraine.

The move by Klitschko broke the domination of what this observer has called “The Two-Headed Heavyweight Championship Monster” known as the Klitschko brothers that has ruled atop the division of much of the last decade.  With Vitali out of active competition, the sole Klitschko remaining at the top of the division is the Unified IBF/WBO/WBA/IBO champion and younger brother of Vitali, Wladimir Klitschko. 

Some readers may remember the column I wrote toward the end of last year shortly after Vitali Klitschko relinquished the WBC championship.  Although the upcoming rematch between top Heavyweight contenders Bermane Stiverne and Chris Arreola, which is scheduled to take place on May 10th will fill the vacancy of the WBC championship in the division, I brought up the question of what may happen in the long-term future of the division.

Even though it is logical to assume that whomever should emerge out of the Stiverne-Arreola rematch would be on a collision course with Wladimir Klitschko to determine a full undisputed champion as I said last December there have been some interesting things that have happened since the beginning of 2014 and some upcoming encounters, which may take some of the attention away from the assumption that a unification between the Stiverne-Arreola winner and Wladimir Klitschko is inevitable. In regard to Wladimir Klitschko, he will defend his unified world championship against WBO number one contender Alex Leapai on April 26th in Germany.

The winner of that fight theoretically will then be slated to face IBF number one contender Kubrat Pulev. One could assume that a fight between the Klitschko-Leapai winner and Pulev would take place sometime later this year.  This would likely put a potential unification with the WBC champion on the back burner at least in terms of the immediate future.  The question therefore should be what about the rest of the division?

In the last month there have been four fights in the division that were attention grabbing and may in part give an indication as to what might occupy the rest of the division for the remainder of the year.  In February top contenders and former opponents Tyson Fury and Dereck Chisora co-headlined a card in London, England.

On that evening last month both Chisora and Fury were dominant. Fury scoring a fourth round stoppage of Joey Abell and Chisora scoring a one-sided twelve round unanimous decision over Kevin Johnson.  In the days following that card, I commented that even though both Fury and Chisora discussed other potential opposition following their bouts that a rematch between the two made the most sense in my opinion.  

It was announced earlier this week that Fury and Chisora will square off for a second time on July 26th in Manchester, England.  The fight will be an elimination bout as recognized by the World Boxing Organization (WBO) to determine the next mandatory challenger in the governing body’s Heavyweight ratings following Alex Leapai’s upcoming challenge of Wladimir Klitshcko.  

The winner of the Fury-Chisora rematch would seem to be the third fighter in line to face Klitschko should he be successful against both Leapai and Pulev.  Although most would consider Klitschko a clear favorite in those bouts, it is important to remember that anything is possible and anything can happen inside the Boxing ring. It is certainly not out of the realm of possibility that if Klitschko were to lose against either Leapai or Pulev that there would be a rematch clause entitling Klitschko to an immediate rematch. This would seemingly prevent the winner of the Fury-Chisora rematch from getting their mandated title shot for a period of time if an opportunity to face whomever the WBC champion were not available to that winner. In regard to the WBC championship an elimination bout took place on March 15th in Bayamon, Puerto Rico between undefeated Heavyweight contender Deontay Wilder and top contender Malik Scott.

Wilder, who has been on a tear through the Heavyweight division came into the fight having scored thirty knockouts in as many fights. When a fighter begins their career on a knockout streak as Wilder has, questions will be asked with each fight about the fighter’s stamina and the caliber of opposition the fighter has faced.

Although Scott had shown the ability to be competitive against fighters like Dereck Chisora and Vyacheslav Glazkov in his career, Wilder would put an end to the fight quickly. A left hand to the temple followed by a glancing right hand put Scott down for the count at 1:36 of the first round. Even though there were some who booed at the conclusion of this fight citing the glancing right hand that did not land on Scott as he was going down, the left hand that landed just prior to that punch being thrown is what did the damage. As has been the case throughout his career, Wilder showed devastating and sudden power. The type of power that turns heads and generates interest. With the win Wilder now moves himself into position to challenge the winner of the Stiverne-Arreola rematch.

Although there are questions that remain for Deontay Wilder, with each successive knockout he continues to impress. The fact of the matter is that Wilder is knocking out whomever is put in front of him. Even though there are some who might criticize his handlers for the level of opposition, you cannot dispute the power that he has shown nor is it necessarily fair to discredit the level of opposition simply because he has knocked out everyone he has faced.  Just how good Deontay Wilder truly is will be determined as he continues to face the top level of the Heavyweight division.

Another fight that took place in the division on March 15th involved former two-division world champion  Tomasz Adamek and undefeated contender Vyacheslav Glazkov in a fight to determine the number two ranking in the IBF’s Heavyweight ratings. Glazkov fought a near-perfect fight consistently beating Adamek to the punch in a fight that was one-sided that he dominated throughout earning a twelve round unanimous decision.

This fight as much as any was a perfect example of how a fight can be dominated with the use of a consistent jab to set up offense. In this fight Glazkov worked beautifully behind his jab to set up combinations and was brilliant through the first nine rounds of the fight. It seemed as though Glazkov had an answer for anything Adamek threw. The effects of the punishment dished out by Glazkov took an effect on Adamek as the right side of his face gradually swelled including his eye. The always “Game” Adamek never stopped trying to turn the fight in his favor and was able to make a rally in the last three rounds, but it wouldn’t be enough on this night as Glazkov would go on to a convincing decision win.

Glazkov, who came into the fight unbeaten in seventeen fights with a draw against Malik Scott, was considered by some to be an underdog against the vastly more experienced Adamek. The win for Glazkov now puts him into position to face the winner of the fight between the winner of the Klitschko-Leapai fight or Kubrat Pulev. It is also worth noting as of this writing that there remains no mandatory challenger in the World Boxing Association’s (WBA) Heavyweight ratings. It is logical to assume that while Klitschko fulfills his obligations to the IBF and WBO, that the WBA will hold an elimination bout to determine a new mandatory challenger.

It is however, debatable as to when a fight between presumably Klitschko and the WBA top contender would take place. Many will remember that top contender Alexander Povetkin held mandatory status in the WBA ratings for more than two years before he got his opportunity to challenge Klitschko. Unfortunately when there is a unified world champion in the sport where obligations of various governing bodies have to be met by the champion, contenders can sometimes be forced to play the waiting game.

Although the number one ranking in the WBA ratings is currently vacant in the Heavyweight division, number two rated contender Luis Ortiz is remaining active and is scheduled to face longtime contender and former world title challenger Monte Barrett on April 3rd in Indio, California. Depending on the results of that fight it is logical to assume that the victor would be placed in an elimination fight to determine a mandatory status for a title shot down the line.

Along with fighters such as Mike Perez and Bryant Jennings other fighters also remain very much in the mix. Undefeated contender Amir Mansour will defend his United States Boxing Association (USBA) title against former Cruiserweight world champion Steve Cunningham on April 4th. A similarity between Deontay Wilder and Amir Mansour is both have high knockout percentages. Unlike Wilder however, Mansour has gone the distance thus far in his career, most notably against veteran contender Maurice Harris in August of last year.

Mansour is currently rated number thirteen in the world by the International Boxing Federation (IBF) and would appear to be on the verge of facing someone in the top ten. Mansour however, will face a difficult task when he faces the former world champion in Cunningham who is a highly skilled boxer and who is the only fighter to knock Tyson Fury down thus far in his career. As with the case of the other upcoming fights, the winner of this fight could be in position to challenge either Klitschko or the WBC champion at some point.

Although many will assume that all these scenarios and upcoming fights are a formality to an eventual unification clash for the Undisputed Heavyweight Championship of the World, nothing is a sure thing in the sport of Boxing. The one thing that is clear however, is that the remainder of 2014 and into 2015 should be an interesting and perhaps exciting time for the Heavyweight division.

Another interesting storyline to keep in mind as all these scenarios and fights take place is whether Wladimir Klitschko will be able to put himself in an elite group as he comes ever closer to the all-time record for successful title defenses by any world champion in the sport, which was set by Joe Louis who successfully defended the Heavyweight championship an incredible twenty-five times between 1937-1949. Only two fighters Larry Holmes who held the Heavyweight championship from 1978-1985 and Bernard Hopkins who held the Middleweight championship from 1994-2005 have come close to matching that record, each successfully defending their titles twenty times in their respective reigns.

Klitschko currently has fifteen successful defenses in his current reign as champion. A new era may indeed be approaching for the Heavyweight division, but for the Klitschko who remains atop the division, should he come close or even surpass Louis’ record it will be the icing on the cake in what has been a Hall of Fame career. Wladimir along with his brother Vitali are already future Hall of Famer’s, but if Wladimir was to put his name in that elite group along with Louis, Holmes, and Hopkins those who have not given credit nor appreciation for the brothers’ dominance of the Heavyweight division should give both brothers the credit they have rightfully earned as the best fighters of their era in the division.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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