One of the more interesting storylines of the year 2016 thus far in regard to Boxing’s Heavyweight division was the recent announcement that the World Boxing Association (WBA) would begin a tournament concept of sorts with the goal of determining one champion in it’s Heavyweight ratings after having a system where there is one world champion and two contenders who had designation as having interim/regular champion status in it’s ratings for several years. The fighters involved in this tournament concept include unified WBO/WBA/IBO Heavyweight world champion Tyson Fury, former longtime unified world champion Wladimir Klitschko, Luis Ortiz, Alexander Ustinov, former WBA world champion Ruslan Chagaev, Lucas Browne, and Fres Oquendo.
On Saturday two Heavyweight bouts will take place that could have an impact on not only the tournament concept that the WBA has laid out, but also its ratings. In the first of the two Heavyweight bouts, former world champion Ruslan Chagaev will take on undefeated contender Lucas Browne in a bout where Chagaev’s designation as one of two fighters with interim/regular champion status in the WBA’s ratings will be at stake in a fight that will take place in Grozny, Russia.
Chagaev, who became a world champion with an upset victory over Nikolay Valuev in April 2007 has faced many of the top contenders and former world champions of the Heavyweight division in the last decade. Although Chagaev never officially lost his title in the ring, he was stopped in 2009 at the hands of then unified world champion Wladimir Klitschko in what was the first loss of his career. Following a decision loss to top contender Alexander Povetkin in 2011, Chagaev has been undefeated and has won seven straight fights including earning interim/regular champion status in a controversial decision victory over Fres Oquendo in July 2014.
Chagaev will enter into this fight with a record of 34-2-1, with 21 Knockouts. Standing across the ring from the former world champion will be undefeated WBA number two rated contender Lucas Browne. Browne, a knockout artist will enter into this fight with a record of 23-0, with 20 Knockouts and has stopped his last two opponents inside the distance.
This fight, much like the second Heavyweight encounter taking place on Saturday seems to be a battle in this observer’s eyes of a knockout artist versus an opponent with significant experience against top level opposition. Although the biggest win on Browne’s resume was a twelve round unanimous decision over a faded former multi-division world champion in James Toney in April 2013, he has not faced much in the way of top contenders, despite his being rated number two in the WBA’s Heavyweight ratings. Chagaev is clearly the more experienced of the two fighters heading into this fight. The question that I have as this fight approaches is whether or not Browne, a fighter with an 86% career knockout percentage will attempt to jump on Chagaev from the outset.
Chagaev has pulled off more than one upset in his career and has earned some close decisions off of his ability to gradually outwork his opposition over the course of a fight. Although Chagaev is coming off of a first round knockout win in his last fight over Francesco Pianeta in July of last year, this observer believes that it is logical to assume that he will look to extend Browne into the middle and late rounds of this fight. If Browne is indeed intending on testing the former world champion out of the gate, it will be interesting to see if Chagaev will attempt to wear Browne down and gradually increase his punch output as the fight progresses. On Friday, the two fighters weighed in officially for the bout and quite frankly the weights between the two were nearly identical as Chagaev weighed in at 248lbs. and Browne weighed in one pound heavier at 249lbs.
The winner of this fight will be slated to face Fres Oquendo at a date to be determined. The second Heavyweight encounter that will take place on Saturday will involve a battle between undefeated knockout artist Luis Ortiz and former multi-time world title challenger Tony Thompson in Washington, D.C.
Ortiz, who will enter the fight with a record of 24-0, with 21 Knockouts is coming off of a seventh round stoppage over former world title challenger Bryant Jennings in December of last year. Ortiz however, as the second fighter designated as having interim/regular champion status in the WBA’s Heavyweight ratings will not have that designation at stake when he faces Thompson as the WBA stated earlier this week in part of their reasoning for not sanctioning the bout being that Thompson, who will enter the fight with a record of 40-6, with 27 Knockouts has lost three of his last five fights.
Although Ortiz’ designation of having interim/regular champion status will not be at stake officially in this fight, this observer believes that if he were to lose to Thompson, a fighter currently not rated in the top fifteen in the WBA ratings, the WBA will remove Ortiz’ designation, despite the fact that they have not officially sanctioned this fight.
Much like Lucas Browne, Ortiz is a knockout artist who has a career knockout percentage of over 80%. Unlike Browne however, Ortiz has faced a recent world title challenger in Bryant Jennings and was tested by him before ultimately stopping Jennings in the seventh round. As is the case with Ruslan Chagaev, Tony Thompson although not being able to win a world title thus far in his career has a significant experience edge in this fight being a longtime contender in the division for several years.
The question going into this fight in my eyes centers on what the forty-four year old Thompson has left to offer. Even though Thompson has pulled off more than one upset his career and to his credit challenged Wladimir Klitschko twice for the unified Heavyweight world championship, one has to wonder if Thompson’s age as well as the wear and tear of a long career will be a factor in this fight.
Despite being on the losing end of three of his last five bouts, Thompson has only been stopped by one man and that was in his two losses to Wladimir Klitschko. Thompson has shown in the past that he can get up from a knockdown and go on to win a fight as he did in his second of two wins over former prospect David Price in July 2013.
The weigh-in for this fight that was held on Friday did somewhat surprise this observer as Thompson came in over twenty-one pounds heavier than Ortiz weighing in at 263lbs. to Ortiz’ 242lbs. Whether or not this will have an impact on the fight remains to be seen. Much as will be the case when Chagaev faces Browne, I believe that Tony Thompson’s fight plan will be to attempt to extend Ortiz into the middle and late rounds of the fight. It will be interesting to see if Thompson intends on using his weight advantage if the fight is fought on the inside where he could possibly clinch, hold, and lean on Ortiz if the opportunity presents itself.
Much as I question whether Lucas Browne will attempt to jump on Ruslan Chagaev from the outset in their fight, I have the same question with regard to how Luis Ortiz will approach this fight against Tony Thompson. Although Thompson’s significant experience should not be dismissed or ignored by anyone, especially Luis Ortiz, a fighter of Thompson’s age and having lost three of his last five fights may give the impression to some that he is a fighter in decline and it will be interesting to see if Ortiz attempts to impose his will on Thompson early in the fight.
It is logical to assume that Thompson will have to weather some of Ortiz’ power at some point in this fight and this observer believes when that happens we will find out how much Tony Thompson has left to give as a fighter. If Thompson can withstand the punching power over Ortiz and manage to get into the fight it would not surprise me based on past history if this turns out to be more competitive than some might expect. It is clear however, that although Thompson has pulled off more than one upset in his career, this could be his last chance at competing near the top level of the Heavyweight division. As has been the case periodically throughout his career, Thompson has nothing to lose and everything to gain should he win this fight. Should Ortiz be successful in this fight against Tony Thompson, he is slated to face Alexander Ustinov at a date to be determined as part of the WBA Heavyweight tournament concept. It will be interesting to see if Thompson is victorious if the WBA will enter him into their tournament concept being that he will have defeated one of the fighters participating in it.
What both fights on Saturday present is an element of intrigue and it will be interesting to see who emerges victorious in these two fights and furthermore the potential impact these bouts will have on not only the WBA’s Heavyweight ratings and tournament concept, but potentially the rest of the division as well. It certainly has the ingredients of what could be an entertaining day of Boxing.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”