Saturday, February 26, 2005

Hopkins is King

By JE Grant

After 20 title defenses, including crushing wins over Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad, Bernard Hopkins can rightfully proclaim that he is the current King of the Ring.

Hopkins is a fighter that a promoter would not envisage. Although he is clearly very smart, and possesses far more business acumen than anyone credits with, he does not possess the "wonder-boy" charm of Ray Leonard or De La Hoya. He isn't a devastating puncher. He doesn't dance. He hasn't needed to climb off the canvas to eke out a victory. In short, he's no crowd-pleaser.

What he does, and does so well, is win convincingly. And he does it with astonishing consistency. Not that anyone would have thought he would one day hold a title for 10 years --- especially after losing his very first fight. He also failed to impress in his first venture into a major fight when he dropped a decision to Roy Jones. It wasn't an embarrassing loss but he sure didn't look like the "Executioner."

Since that time he has accumulated title belts, money, and respect by simply being the best fighter in the game. Going into his title defense against Trinidad, he was actually the underdog. Trinidad, unbeaten at the time and himself considered a top pound-for-pound champion, was to be too young, too strong and too skilled for an aging Hopkins. As we all know now, Hopkins was dominant in the bout, stopping Trinidad convincingly. His victory over De La Hoya was equally devastating.

Just as fellow 20 title defense champion Larry Holmes proved a couple of decades ago, it ultimately paid to be better than everyone else; it paid to fight only to win, not look good; and it paid to have absolute faith in his own abilities.

State of Heavyweight Boxing

By JE Grant

Today's crop of heavyweight boxers are poised to rise to a credible level. The current "champions," Vitali Klitschko (WBC); Chris Byrd (IBF); John Ruiz (WBA); and Lamon Brewster (WBO) can only be described at this point as contenders. Hopefully, this muddle will be cleared with some kind of tournament.

Klitschko appears to be the best of the lot but it will take wins over Byrd (especially since Klitschko's infamous "no-mas" in their WBO bout) and the others to close the loop. Such a closing of the loop is problematic when we add the name of Wladimir Klitschko to the mix -- as he is likely the next contender for Byrd's title. A W. Klitschko victory would certainly mean that no complete unification would take place inasmuch as the brothers Klitschko will never fight one another. Klitschko next faces perhaps the number two man in the division today, former champion Hasim Rahman. This is no give-me. An upset is possible, but Rahman's chin may let him down again.

Byrd is a capable, light-hitting, smallish stylist. He is not quite as slippery as he was just a few years ago. More importantly, he has recently retained his title with a highly questionable win over Fres Oquendo, and an equally debatable draw with Andrew Golota. Don't be surprised if W. Klitschko once again pounds on Byrd in a mismatch.

John Ruiz is every promoter's nightmare. He does enough to win but his bouts are incredibly hard to watch. He mauls, he holds, he does everything he can to lull an audience to sleep. I agree with him on one point, however, we need one champion. Fortunately, if his proposed bout with James Toney comes to fruition, that one champion won't be a guy named Ruiz.

Finally, Lamon Brewster gets into the mix only because of his victory over W. Klitschko. His first title defense, a 12-round fiasco over unheralded and only semi-talented Kali Meehan, left no one with the feeling that he will be the future of the division. He has to do better in his upcoming defense against Andrew Golota or he'll be a former champion in short order.
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