Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A Look At The Cruiserweight Division

For Boxing fans when the  Cruiserweight division is discussed it is only natural to discuss the division during perhaps the period of time where it got the most recognition and exposure. The 1980s where the Cruiserweight division was part of the rise of future Hall of Famer Evander Holyfield. Prior to having four separate reigns as a World Heavyweight champion, Holyfield began his career as a Cruiserweight and on July 12, 1986 he would win his first world title defeating WBA Cruiserweight world champion Dwight Muhammad Qawi by fifteen round split decision. 

Many observers, this one included consider that fight to be perhaps the greatest fight in the history of the Cruiserweight division. Following his victory in what was a grueling battle, Holyfield would successfully defend his title four times including a fourth round knockout over Qawi in their rematch in December 1987 and successfully unifying the WBA and IBF Cruiserweight world championships along the way. This would lead Holyfield to his battle against WBC champion Carlos De Leon for the Undisputed Cruiserweight world championship in April 1988. Holyfield would stop De Leon in eight rounds to become the Undisputed Cruiserweight champion of the world.

Following this win however, Holyfield would move up to the Heavyweight division. As Holyfield departed the Cruiserweight division it seemed that the focus of the sport in the United States would largely be elsewhere and as a result the division has never really seemed to get the kind of exposure that it once did when Evander Holyfield was it’s central figure.

Over the years there have been a few memorable fights that brought attention to the Cruiserweights for brief periods of time. Some fans may remember James Toney’s clash in 2003 with Cruiserweight champion Vassily Jirov, which earned acclaim among both Boxing fans and experts alike as one of the best fights of that year and a bout that earned the 2003 Fight Of The Year award from the Boxing Writers Association Of America.

Some may also remember the back and forth battle between longtime Cruiserweight champion Jean-Marc Mormeck and O’Neill Bell in their first encounter in January 2006 or the memorable first battle between Steve Cunningham Tomasz Adamek in 2008. Two fights that much like Toney-Jirov were very competitive and were successful in putting the spotlight on the division here in America. Despite the success those fights were able to have in bringing attention to the Cruiserweight division, the division has continued to struggle for mainstream exposure here in the United States.

The division however, has been able to garner more of a spotlight internationally as fighters such as Mormeck, Cunningham, Marco Huck, Denis Lebedev, and others have been able to establish themselves as stars of the division. One problem the division has had is that much as Evander Holyfield did in the 1980s, some fighters who have been able to have success in the Cruiserweight division in winning world championships have set their sights on attempting to move up in weight to the Heavyweight division to attempt to win a world title as Holyfield was first able to do when he knocked out James “Buster” Douglas for the Unified WBC/WBA/IBF Heavyweight world championship in October 1990. To date only David Haye, who won the unified WBC/WBA Cruiserweight world championship from Jean-Marc Mormeck in November 2007 was able to move up in weight and successfully capture a Heavyweight world championship when he defeated Nikolai Valuev for the WBA Heavyweight world championship in November 2009.

An argument could be made that one reason the division has struggled for long-term exposure is because there is more appeal for fighters who reach the top of the Cruiserweight division to attempt to move up in weight to seek not only world championships, but potentially more lucrative opportunities in the Heavyweight division. James Toney, David Haye, Jean-Marc Mormeck, Steve Cunningham, Tomasz Adamek, and even current Cruiserweight world champion Marco Huck, a fighter widely considered to be the best Cruiserweight in the world all migrated at one time or another to the Heavyweight division.

In the case of Marco Huck however, although he attempted to move up in weight in losing a hard fought twelve round majority decision to top contender Alexander Povetkin, in a fight to determine interim/regular champion status in the WBA’s Heavyweight ratings in February 2012, he has remained in the Cruiserweight division having successfully defended the WBO world championship thirteen times since winning the championship in August 2009. Huck, who tied the record for most successful championship defenses set by former WBO world champion Johnny Nelson, who successfully defended his title thirteen times from March 1999 until September 2006.

Huck will attempt to surpass Nelson when he defends his world championship against undefeated number one contender Krzysztof Glowacki on August 14th. It will not only mark Huck’s attempted fourteenth title defense, but it will also be his debut in the United States as the fight will take place at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on a card televised as part of the Premier Boxing Champions series broadcast by Spike TV. 

The Premier Boxing Champions series, a series that is televised across several different networks on both broadcast and cable television has quickly risen in popularity as it has staged several competitive bouts since its inception earlier this year. One such bout that recently took place was a Cruiserweight fight to determine interim/regular champion status in the WBA’s Cruiserweight ratings between top contender BJ Flores and former WBA Light-Heavyweight world champion Beibut Shumenov on July 25th.

In what was a competitive fight Shumenov was able to score a twelve round unanimous decision over Flores in an encounter that could have gone either way. Now only a few weeks later there will be another top level Cruiserweight bout that will be presented to the American public. It is also worth noting that the division is a growing division as along with Huck, WBC champion Grigory Drozd, WBA champion Denis Lebedev, and IBF champion Yoan Pablo Hernandez currently sit atop the division.

The division also has several top contenders in addition to Shumenov and Flores including Ilunga Makabu, Lateef Kayode, Tony Bellew, Ola Afolabi, and Dmitry Kudryasho just to name a few who could all find themselves in the Cruiserweight championship picture. The Cruiserweights also has an interesting storyline as future Hall of Famer Roy Jones has continued his career in the division and is continuing to attempt to position himself for a possible world title shot down the line. Jones has won his last seven bouts since being stopped by Denis Lebedev in May 2011. In an interesting move Jones has three upcoming fights scheduled in a relatively short period of time for a fighter in the modern era of the sport. Jones is scheduled to face journeyman contender Billy Bailey on August 15th, veteran contender Danny Santiago on August 29th, and veteran contender Tony Moran on September 12th.

Although some would say that Jones is a fighter who is past his prime, it is nevertheless an interesting storyline of a fighter attempting to work his way back into world title contention after winning world championships in the Middleweight, Super-Middleweight, Light-Heavyweight, and Heavyweight divisions.

Whether or not the latest exposure that the Cruiserweight division is receiving in the United States results in the division getting the type of exposure it received in the 1980s as part of the rise of Evander Holyfield remains to be seen. If however, the division continues to be showcased on American television and on the Premier Boxing Champions series, which has received significant attention since its inception and who this week added Fox Sports to the list of networks carrying the series, the better for the long-term growth of not only the sport overall, but just maybe the growth and exposure for the Cruiserweight division here in America as well. In a sport that is constantly subject to criticism and ridicule for its flaws, it is time that the positives of the sport get the attention it deserves.

Why not the Cruiserweight division?

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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