Monday, April 25, 2005

The New Cruiserweight Division

By JE Grant

All cruiserweights fighting today should give a note of thanks to Jean Marc Mormeck and Wayne Braithwaite. The two put on a quality title-fight which led to the first unified champion since the great Evander Holyfield cleaned-up the field.

Mormeck, the winner and now WBC/WBA and Ring Magazine champion, showed that a solid 200-pounder (he weighed officially at 198) could demonstrate competence and not have the look of a fat light-heavweight or freakishly thin giant. At 6’0” he’s rock solid and retains endurance and skills.

The fact is, except for the brief episode that put Evander Holyfield and Dwight Muhammad Qawi in front of us, the cruiserweight division has been widely – and undeservedly – ridiculed.

The first title bout in the division, which until recently was set at a limit of 190-pounds, was between two veteran light-heavyweight campaigners, Marvin Camel and former WBC light-heavweight champion Mate Parlov on Dec. 8, 1979. Their first meeting, as in auspicious as it was, resulted in a draw.

Camel captured the belt Mar. 24, 1980 in a rematch with Parlov with a 15-round decision.

In the years that followed the only stellar names that stood out besides Holyfield and Qawi, was Carlos DeLeon, a three-time champion in the division, power punchers Lee Roy Murphy and S.T. Gordon, and recent “names” Vasily Jirov and James Toney. Except for Toney, not household names but able fighters.

The division, however, caught a bad rap right from the beginning. Part of the problem stemmed from the proliferation of junior and super weight classes, most of which were formed in the 1970's and 80's and had (and have) a diluting effect to the word "champion."

It can be argued that the addition of the cruiserweight division makes the most sense when viewed from the perspective of competition.If we were to accept the removal of the cruiserweight division we would in effect be saying that a 176-pound man would have a real chance to win the heavyweight championship. In view of the increasing size of current champions, witness Vitali Klitschko, such a possibility is remote at best.

Yes, we all know about the successful challenge by a light-heavyweight champion for the heavyweight title, Michael Spinks v. Larry Holmes, and Spinks weighed 200 pounds for the challenge. (For history's sake we should note that Spinks actually weighed 199 pounds but was listed at 200 at the suggestion of Larry Holmes).

And more recently, of course, Roy Jones, 193, captured a piece of the very fractured pie in defeating champion John Ruiz for the WBA title. He certainly would not have been able to do similar magic over the real champion at the time, Lennox Lewis.

But in both instances, the exception proved the rule. Spinks and Jones were all-time greats in the light-heavyweight division. No one --- no one --- would expect that current IBF champion Clinton Woods, WBA champion Fabrice Tiozzo, or WBO champion Zsolt Erdei could do the same.

(The WBC title is vacant due the stripping of Antonio Tarver prior to his bout with then IBF champion Glen Johnson. Of course that whole stripping debacle is a story for another article).

Consider the other great light-heavyweight champions who unsuccessfully challenged for the heavyweight title, such as Billy Conn and Bob Foster, and we can quickly surmise that a division should indeed exist to provide opportunities for gifted 200-pound fighters.

It is true, and hard to swallow, that many of the heavyweight champions of decades past would be hard-pressed to compete with today’s 230-250 pound champions. Had they campaigned today – without the benefit of major gains in nutrition and weight-training – several fighters would likely never have gained a heavyweight title, notably, Tunney, Charles, Marciano, Patterson, or Johannson – and probably more.

In his record 25 title defenses, Joe Louis weighed an average of 203 pounds. Evander Holyfield, often considered a "small" heavyweight, or even a "blown-up" cruiserweight, weighed below that mark only in his first fight as a heavyweight.

The division, now in the hands of France’s Jean Marc Mormeck, a gritty, competent fighter, can gain some prominence if given a chance. He may not have to wait long before facing a North American IBF counterpart or even settle for a unification with Britain’s WBO champion Johnny Nelson.

In May, contenders American O’Neil Bell, 23-1-1 (22 KOs) and Canadian Dale Brown, 33-3-1 (21 KOs) (and already a Mormeck victim), will vie for the IBF crown. This should set up a good opportunity for a future showdown with Mormeck, the man most consider the real champion.

Champs, contenders, and no-talent fighters enter the ring at all weight classes. The cruiserweight division is no different. With the new limit of 200-pounds, a solid man at the top, and some potentially worthwhile bouts in the near-term, the division can take on a prominence it has never been accorded.


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