Sunday, February 26, 2006

Top 25 Heavyweights (As of March 1, 2006)

By JE Grant

There are some changes in the middle and bottom of the division but in this month and April will see some activity at the top as Rahman - Toney, Byrd - Klitschko and Brewster – Lyakhovich all meet in alphabet title bouts. Something must give. The titleholders are at risk as each of them faces real competition.

In the top 10 Calvin Brock turned what appeared to be a lackluster performance into a crunching knockout of Zuri Lawrence. Still, I think he was not at his best. Danny Williams continued his winning ways on the British Isles beating previously undefeated Matt Skelton in defense of his Commonwealth title. Williams has many detractors in Britain but he has taken down Audley Harrison, Skelton, and of course Mike Tyson --- someone might look at that and suggest that he may have some actual talent. I think he does. Anyone boxing in the top 10 will have trouble with him. I would pick him now against Valuev.

Zuri Lawrence falls out of the top 25 following the loss to Brock and I doubt he will return to form. David Tua and Skelton drop. I’m not sure Tua is all that serious about being a top fighter again. His appearances of late certainly don’t show it.

Sultan Ibragimov is on the rise. His impressive power and toughness are leading some to think he may be headed for a title match soon.

* * *

1. Hasim Rahman, USA– WBC Champion (Last Month #1) His March date with James Toney will prove to be his moment of truth. Winning means riches that he could have only dreamed of just two years ago. A loss means the end of his days as a major factor – the fall would be that dramatic.

2. Lamon Brewster, USA– WBO Champion (Last month #2) Scheduled to face Serguei Lyakhovich in April. Lyakhovich is a solid guy but he hasn’t fought since 2004 – how does that gain him a title shot? Secondly, no site is set. His entertaining come-from-behind knockout of Luan Krasniqi was not seen on American television. Here he is, the most exciting fighter in the division, and the vast majority of the American public couldn’t pick him out of a line-up. He is made for TV in and out of the ring. With this fight to be shown on Showtime, at least some of America will see this gem-in-the-rough. That said, he has to be ready for Lyakhovich – the guy is big and has some skills.

3. Wladimir Klitschko, Ukraine (Last month #3) An April date with Chris Byrd should mean the capturing of a second alphabet belt. After all, he crushed Byrd the last time they met. He is a better boxer, has faster hands, hits way harder, and is much bigger than the titleholder Byrd. However, Byrd has proven resourceful and cagey in defense of his belt. Byrd is as determined and smart as anyone in the game. No one is going to easily push him off the throne. Klitschko will have to stick to his game plan of boxing behind a stiff jab and not allow himself to get swept up in the drama of the event. One thing for certain is that Byrd won’t be intimidated.

4. James Toney, USA (Last month #4) Just as this bout is crucial for Rahman’s future in the sport, it is likewise key to the aging former middleweight titlist Toney. Part of his charm at the higher weight classes thus far is that he has proven able to overcome the odds repeatedly. A loss will burst the bubble. He will bring his A-game. We’ll see if it is enough.

5. Chris Byrd, USA– IBF Champion (Last month #5) Byrd is putting it all on the line by taking on Klitschko. In their first encounter he was never close to being in the fight. Down twice and battered throughout, there was not a hint that any future meeting would end differently. That was in 2000. Much has happened in the intervening years. Byrd is a titleholder with several defenses under his belt. Klitschko has been KO’d twice in spectacular fashion. Byrd will have to dig deep to pull this one out.

6. Calvin Brock, USA (Last month #6) He and Zuri Lawrence were plodding along for five rounds, with Brock maintaining a clear, if uninspiring, lead throughout. What appeared to be headed to a dull, lopsided 10 round decision turned into a stunning one-punch knockout as Brock leveled Lawrence with a single left-hook in round 6. Lawrence remained unconscious for several minutes. As cool an ending as it was, Brock was at times ponderous and, at 231, was a little thick. His ideal weight is likely around 220. It’s time to move up in competition.

7. Samuel Peter, Nigeria (Last month #7) His dullsville win against Robert Hawkins was just his first venture since being outboxed and outfoxed by Wladimir Klitschko. We all know that he must get back on the knockout track to once again secure a spot at the top. He is young. He is strong. All things remain possible.

8. Danny Williams, England (Last month #9) With his close win over fellow Brit Matt Skelton, he will again compete for a title against someone. He has cleaned out his British rivals Skelton and Harrison and really has no one left at home to take on for real money. Vitali Klitschko’s complete dominance of Williams is looking better all the time. Williams passes Valuev in this month’s ratings. I think he can take the big guy right now.

9. Nicolay Valuev, Russia – WBA Champion (Last month #8) He will face someone in May. His April date with Owen Beck was scrubbed due to a knee injury to the titlist. Hopefully his promoter will reconsider the opponent for his first defense. Beck may indeed be worthy someday, but he’ll need to string together some significant wins to stake a legitimate claim.

10. John Ruiz, USA (Last month #10) Presumably he is still licking his (psychological) wounds from his decision loss to Valuev. Yes, most observers thought he edged out the Russian giant. No, it wasn’t the worst injustice ever bestowed on mankind. No one knows his plans.

11. Monte Barrett, USA (Last month #11) Nothing on the boards for Barrett. He’ll start dropping in all the ratings soon if he doesn’t return to face some name fighters.

12. Audley Harrison, England (Last month #12) An April bout with Dominick Guinn is an opportunity to get back on track quickly. His recent loss to Danny Williams has undeservedly put him in the also-ran category among his many detractors. Guinn is himself a guy who raised expectations only to dash them with lackluster performances. Harrison must campaign hard and often to get in line for a title chance. Don’t count him out just yet.

13. Sultan Ibragimov, Russia (Last month #15) In December he blasted out Lance Whitaker. Even ringside witness Mike Tyson was impressed. The southpaw Russian powerhouse can shake the foundation of anyone he hits. He needs only to face the bigger names to grow in stature and popularity. This man is a potential belt-wearer – and soon. If I were on his team I would push hard for an all-Russian showdown with Valuev.

14. Oleg Maskaev, Uzbekistan (Last month #14) The WBC’s number one contender has to wait until the number two contender James Toney gets his “mandatory” shot at Rahman. The WBC’s arrogance is almost dazzling. Obviously Maskaev should not be anyone’s number one, but he still has kick in his punches despite pushing 37. He is, however, slow and very vulnerable to counters. Should Rahman emerge victorious against Toney, a rematch with Maskaev will at least prove interesting. The first time the two met, six years ago, the “Big O” blasted Rahman out of the ring enroute to a knockout victory.

15. Shannon Briggs, USA (Last month #16) Keeping busy, the “Cannon” takes on Chris Koval in March. Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of Koval. He has had only one fight of note, a decision loss to prospect Alexander Dimitrenko. What is important for Briggs is that this bout keeps him in the mix. If only he had begun his career with such focus………nevertheless there may be an alphabet shot in his near future.

16. David Tua, New Zealand (Last month #13) His scheduled contest with Javier Mora in Florida didn’t happen. His latest comeback tour has been, charitably, modest. He’s doing nothing lately to indicate he will flatten the top guys.

17. DaVarryl Williamson, USA (Last month #17) Recently signed with Don King. He’s certain to get in the heavyweight rotation.

18. Ray Austin, USA (Last month #18) Since beating Owen Beck and becoming highly rated he’s been silent. At age 35 there is no time like the present to get going.

19. Ruslan Chagaev, Uzbekistan (Last month #20) He will engage in a rare battle of unbeatens against Vladimir Virchis this month. A win in this fight will push him up the ladder.

20. Serguei Lyakhovich, Belarus (Last month #21) He now has the chance of a lifetime by facing Brewster. Fighting the “relentless” one is no easy feat. He’ll have to tap into all of his skills and strength to overcome the division’s most exciting titlist.

21. Matt Skelton, England (Last month #19) His limitations, including a marked lack of speed or boxing skill, finally caught up to him against Williams. He’ll get some more chances but I get the feeling that he’s been fully exposed.

22. Fres Oquendo, USA – (Last month unranked) Finally returned to the ring almost two years since losing to John Ruiz. His choice of opponent, Daniel Bispo, is unimportant for now. The fact that he returned, got in 9 rounds, and stopped his foe is a vital first step in reclaiming a spot in the heavyweight sweepstakes. His team, led by the brilliant Lou DiBella, will continue to afford him opportunities to shine. The ball is in his court.

23. Luan Krasniqi, Germany (Last month #22) On-again, off-again fight schedule. Who knows what he has planned? Pretty soon it will turn into “who cares?.”

24. Jameel McCline, USA (Last month #24) A couple recent stay-busy wins will likely garner another chance at a name fighter. He may be past his best.

25. Juan Carlos Gomez, Cuba (living in Germany) (Last month #25) A positive drug test in Germany resulted in a ban there. No word on what he does now.

Others on the fringes in no particular order:

Zuri Lawrence, USA (Last month #23) At age 35, and following a crunching, scary knockout loss to Brock, he might begin considering looking for another line of work. He’s had a tough career.

Alexander Dimitrenko, Ukraine – Still no opponent named for his scheduled April bout. The 20-0 youngster has some tools that need developing if he is to become truly world-class. Hopefully his team is putting some thought into opponent selection.

Joe Mesi, USA – He has a license and will fight in April in Puerto Rico. We’ll all have to reevaluate after a couple of fights.

Chazz Witherspoon, USA – OK I know he’s had only nine fights but the American scene has to have someone who can really go. Maybe, just maybe, this is the future of the division. I’m willing to be dazzled. With the Klitschkos, Brock, and now Witherspoon, college-degreed heavyweights may be the wave of the future. I know that almost all of his opponents sport losing records but he is still in the development phase. Hurry up Chazz the country needs you.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Mosley stops Vargas: Swollen eye shuts down 'Ferocious' Fernando

By JE Grant

LAS VEGAS --- “Sugar” Shane Mosley, 42-4 (36 KOs), La Verne, Calif., 152, scored a tenth round stoppage of fellow former 154 pound titlist Fernando Vargas, 26-3 (22 KOs), Oxnard, Calif., 153 ½, based on a grossly swollen left eye as determined by referee Joe Cortez.

The contest between two of the sport’s stars lived up to the hype of the pay-per-view event – a rarity in the sport today.

As predicted, Mosley started quickly landing sharp right hands in round one. Early in the opening round, in fact, it appeared that a Mosley right caused a small mouse to appear over Vargas’ left eye.

The snapping rights, preceded by peppering left jabs gained the busier and more accurate Mosley the first three stanzas. Although Mosley’s shots did not appear to shake his younger opponent, he had enough zip to keep the bigger man from mounting a sustained attack.

“Ferocious” Fernando’s heavy hands began to land with authority in round four and he was able to push and punch his way to captured the fourth and fifth.

Mosley’s speed began dictating the fight in the sixth. Realizing Vargas was the stronger of the two, Sugar Shane kept distance with jabs mixed with right hands that Vargas could not stop.

In rounds six through nine, Mosley was in charge, though a hustling Vargas may have had the edge in round seven.

Beginning in round seven, the swelling over Vargas’ left eye increased significantly.

Between the ninth and tenth rounds, referee Joe Cortez conferred with the ringside physician and members of the Nevada Athletic Commission.

The content of their discussion became clear when, at 1:22 of the tenth, Cortez stepped between the combatants after Mosley landed near the eye. At the time of the stoppage the eye was essentially closed and had swollen to grapefruit proportions.

Mosley was ahead on two of the three scorecards at the time of the stoppage. JEBoxing scored the bout 87-84 for Mosely through nine rounds.

Both fighters will likely continue their fistic careers with Mosley moving to welterweight.

Clearly Vargas lost much more than a single bout. He is now out of contention for meeting De La Hoya or the alphabet titleholders.

Brock explodes on Lawrence

By JE Grant

LAS VEGAS --- Fighting on the Shane Mosley-Fernando Vargas undercard, heavyweight contender Calvin Brock, 28-0 (22 KOs), Charlotte, 231, uncorked a left-hook that leveled Zuri Lawrence, 20-11-4, 1 NC (0 KOs), Wappinger Falls, NY, at 2:58 of round six in a scheduled 10.

Brock seemed content to fight on the inside against Lawrence, a heavyweight who, in 35 previous bouts had never scored a stoppage win.

Rounds one through five were virtually identical with both fighters engaging in a plodding give and take almost all of which took place on the inside.

Brock had the clear edge in the bout, landing the harder and more consistent blows.

Lawrence for his part was a willing accomplice in the trenches. Instead of tagging the shorter armed Brock from a distance he stood almost eye-to-eye throughout.

Round six began much as the previous five, but the harder shots of Brock slowed the already ponderous Lawrence. As Zuri’s hands began to drop and his slapping punches became less frequent, the opportunity emerged for Brock to unload.

As the round came close to an end, Brock created separation enabling him to leap in with a left-hook that landed flush on the chin of Lawrence. In an instant Lawrence froze and crumpled to the floor, landing hard on the back of his head.

Referee Jay Nady waved off the fight without a count as Lawrence lay motionless for what seemed like several minutes. Slowly Lawrence came back to consciousness and was able to leave the ring under his own power.

Brock claimed after the bout to want a couple more HBO fights before challenging for a title.

He said that he wants to create more “market share” for his name, clearly showing how he is different than a normal contender. The college graduate “Boxing Banker” is operating in a very business-like manner both in the ring and out.

JEBoxing scored the bout 50-45 through round five.

Vargas – Mosley Prediction: A fight that will take the loser out of the big time forever

By JE Grant

Fernando Vargas, once a hotshot contender – and briefly a beltholder – is making his first significant venture back into the big-time since being whacked into submission by Oscar De La Hoya in 2002. He meets the one-time boxing superstar, and now fellow question mark, Shane Mosley in a Las Vegas ring for no title, a lot of money, and chance to once again compete with the elites of the sport.

Now 28, he should be in the prime of his career – experienced enough to get through the tough spots and young enough to exert through 12 hard rounds.

But many pundits suggest that he is on the slide. At age 22 he beat the seemingly unbeatable Winky Wright and the rugged Ike Quartey in title fights – in his 18th and 19th bouts respectively.

Later in 2000 he was pitted against the phenom Felix “Tito” Trinidad in a unification fight at 154 pounds. The bout proved disastrous. Trinidad chopped him up and disposed of him in the 12th and final round of their Las Vegas showdown.

Less than two years and only three fights later, Oscar De La Hoya, battered his archrival Vargas with a vengeance stopping him in 11 rounds.

That contest, some would suggest, took the fight out of Vargas – a man who, to that point, went for broke in every encounter. He believed in his power. He believed in his strength.

A year later, he began what has been a four-fight win streak that has been anything but spectacular. The fighter who once blazed away with both hands became cautious, methodical, and boring. His legion of fans has continued to follow, but the excitement seems to have waned.

He comes off a clear points win over former alphabet titlist Javier Castillejo but many questions remain as he enters the ring against the former multiple champion Mosley.

Mosley himself has been down as much as up in recent years. A pair of losses to Vernon Forrest at 147 with a win over Oscar De La Hoya sandwiched in between back-to-back losses to Winky Wright at 154 dimmed his star.

Since the Wright losses he reinvented himself at 147 and scored two recent minor league victories. Certainly he has done nothing to distinguish himself or show even glimpses of the boxing greatness of his lightweight and early welterweight years.

That the two could command a pay-per-view event says as much about who they have competed against as it does to how well they fared in big bouts. Facing stars such as De La Hoya, Trinidad, Forrest, and Wright has proven that holding undefeated records or numerous alphabet championships is of lesser importance than meeting – and maybe occasionally beating – the best in the business.

In this bout Mosley will not be able to exceed the limits imposed on his aging and undersized body at 154. He has slowed in recent outings and he has never showed power in the weight class. Vargas’ power at 154 is very real despite his recent decrease in output. His confidence and ruggedness continue to carry him through the late rounds.

Look for Mosley to come out blazing, but throwing one shot at a time looking for the finisher. Vargas made indeed struggle early but his heavy hands will begin to tell the tale beginning in round five. He will land enough body shots and counters to keep Mosley from putting together the kind of sustained attack that is necessary to take Vargas out of his game. Mosley is tough and he will try to the end, but he’ll come up short.

Prediction: Vargas by clear decision.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Prediction: Lacy – Calzaghe

By JE Grant

Boxing’s most exciting big-hitter in years, Jeff Lacy, has proven already in his young career that fighting the best fighters in the world is his central ambition. How many young fighters truly seek out the top competition particularly after garnering an alphabet title? Didn’t take long to complete the list huh? I’m not sure a fighter could have more going for him; he’s young, can whack with authority, and has a winning personality that is truly star quality.

So, the fact that he is facing a skilled and speedy 40-0 Joe Calzaghe should come as no surprise. At least from the Lacy end of it that is. Calzaghe on the other hand has, until this very fight, epitomized the worst of the alphabet-drenched world of so-called championship combat. For a span of 17 defenses of a less-than prized WBO belt, he has proven sturdy and fast. He’s also somehow always had a reason not to fight the best the business has to offer. Talked about bouts with Glen Johnson, Roy Jones; Antonio Tarver; Sven Ottke; Bernard Hopkins; Markus Beyer; Eric Lucas; Bruno Girard; and Clinton Woods never materialized. Unfortunately, opponents such as Evans Ashira, a fighter who had but once fought at super-middleweight and had never beaten a top fighter served as the backbone of his title reign.

Nonetheless, this bout is at once Jeff Lacy’s chance to quickly become world famous almost overnight, and Joe Calzaghe’s opportunity to erase years of mounting criticism with one win.

Lacy clearly is the lesser experienced of the two. With half as many professional fights and far fewer rounds completed, “Left Hook” probably has certainly not met an opponent as quick-fisted as Calzaghe. From his southpaw stance, Calzaghe throws relatively wide shots --- his speed thus far has allowed him to survive this obvious weakness.

Despite his 40 fights, Calzaghe has just as certainly never seen the power that Lacy brings. In recent contests, Calzaghe has hit the deck from shots by Kabary Salem and Byron Mitchell neither of whom has the kick of Lacy.

If Calzaghe has one glaring shortcoming that may work against him it is his propensity for shrugging off his considerable skills in order to wage pitched battles. After being belted to the canvas by Mitchell, Calzaghe was somehow able to engage in a do-or-die slugfest that led to a stoppage of the faded Mitchell.

If hurt by Lacy will he resort to such tactics? A one-for-one punch swap figures to favor the heavy handed Lacy.

However, a boxing-minded Calzaghe could push Lacy into zones he has never seen. The awkward angles of the southpaw Calzaghe could keep Lacy out of position. Even at his best, Lacy swings mightily, missing often, and leaving himself vulnerable to counters.

Prediction: Calzaghe will enter the ring with a plan to outbox and outfox the supposedly green Lacy. His early successes of pulling Lacy out of position will embolden the veteran. He will come to believe that he can dominate the youngster. Unfortunately, he will at some point meet the sharp hitting power of Lacy and his knees will falter. Calzaghe will again discover his warrior’s heart and press the attack in rebuttal. Unlike in his off-the-canvas comeback against Mitchell, it will be Calzaghe that gets closed out. The power of Lacy will spell disaster for a daring and proud battler.

Lacy by KO in 5.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Rahman – Toney: A Heavyweight Prediction

By JE Grant

Finally a heavyweight title fight between proven competitors.

With numerous heavyweight titlists possessing a wide variety of levels of talent, Hasim Rahman and James Toney will face-off in an increasingly rare contest of fighters in the heavyweight division who may very well be the best two fighters in their weight class.

Hasim Rahman is a man of enormous physical gifts that include a Sonny Liston-like left hand, strength that would place him on the defensive line of an NFL team, and a finishing right hand that once felled the great Lennox Lewis.

Though thoroughly sculpted, he is also a chameleon, providing a virtuoso performance in one bout, and a mid-ranked club showing in the next.

The fit, hard version of Rahman chases opponents with a laser left jab that breaks an opponent’s will. That same focused Rahman climbs off the canvas and hunts down his tormentor and puts him away.

The other Rahman is a flabby and disinterested battler, slow to the attack and hesitant to counter.

In either case, Rahman’s one clear weakness has been a chin that has let him down against opponents great and not-so-great.

In his run-up to capturing the undisputed title from Lewis, we saw Rahman exemplify his range of traits good and bad.

Despite top conditioning and focus, he was destroyed by Oleg Maskaev.

He was nearly finished against a brutal punching Corrie Sanders yet climbed back to punch out the puncher.

We saw the other version of Rahman in the years after losing the title. His apparent disinterest against Evander Holyfield allowed the aging warrior to rush to an early lead and win a technical decision when a freakish lump on Rahman’s forehead caused their fight to go to the scorecards early.

His fatness allowed David Tua to escape with a draw and John Ruiz to win a very real decision in a title fight.

Following the Ruiz loss it seems Rahman made a decision to gain control of his body and mind and emerge from a slump that made many feel that his days as a real contender were over.

Six wins in his last six fights, with progressively better conditioning, has given the world notice that Rahman is at least trying to realize the gifts that were so clear early in his career.

His steamrolling jab helped him crush the tough Kali Meehan and his overall strength powered him past legitimate top ten contender Monte Barrett (in a dreadfully dull meeting).

James Toney will surely test Rahman’s considerable talents, conditioning, and focus in ways the big man has not likely faced.

Sure Rahman has seen big hitters like Lewis, Sanders, and Maskaev, but nowhere in his considerable resume will anyone find as clever and resourceful an opponent as Toney.

Just as sure as Rahman’s natural talents, is Toney’s collection of skills and abilities that defies a body that looks like anything but a work of art.

He does share some odd ups and downs in his many fights in many weight classes. In seven wins as the IBF title holder he defeated the likes of speedster Michael Nunn and future light-heavyweight titlist Reggie Johnson, and hall-of-famer Michael McCallum. He also captured a dubious win over David Tiberi in a fight in which he looked like anything but a future heavyweight king.

Four wins in super-middleweight title fights led to a meeting with Roy Jones Jr. Of course at that weight and that stage of Jones career, no one, not even the master craftsman Toney, could match Junior’s talent. No one.

His decision loss should not have been, however, the beginning of what became a downward spiral. As his weight increased, a series of lackluster wins over club fighters, twin losses to Montell Griffin, and a loss to the less-than-stellar Drake Thadzi seemed to relegate the aging former titlist to the list of also-rans.

But something happened to “Lights Out” following the loss to Thadzi. Eleven wins led to a contest with an undefeated, former Olympic gold medallist, and heavily favored Vassily Jirov for Jirov’s cruiserweight belt.

In an epic give-and-take battle, Toney used a mix of skills, toughness, and grit to surpass the powerful champion through twelve rounds to capture yet another title.

Of course his tenure in the division was short-lived. He immediately lusted for heavyweight gold.

Pitted against ancient Evander Holyfield, he stopped the former champ in brutal fashion. A second win in the division against Rydell Booker propelled the one-time middleweight titlist into a heavyweight title bout against the unpopular crown wearer John Ruiz.

Throughout their twelve-round contest, Toney out-speeded, out-gunned, out-boxed, and just plain out-fought the “Quiet Man.” It was no contest.

Unfortunately for Toney, it really turned out to be a “no contest” as he was stripped of his new belt and suspended from the ring following a positive test result for steroids.

Undeterred, Toney returned to the win column with a decision over one-time prospect Dominick Guinn that reestablished his claim to a high rating.

While there is considerable debate about how he suddenly became the WBC’s “mandatory” challenger (despite not being the number one contender) he will likely enter the ring a favorite to lift the belt from Rahman. Many will point to his skills and his adaptability. Many will point to the lethargic effort of Rahman against Barrett (ignoring his total dominance in the bout). Many will say Toney is just too good.

This fight will not be about a mastery of the finer points of the game. It will be about power, something Rahman has in abundance. The clouding effect of Toney’s trash talking and bluster won’t be enough to deny the titlist.

Using a classic jab, jab, right hand attack, a consistent and focused Rahman will keep Toney on the ropes and on his heels. Although Toney has proven a distinct ability to fight going backward, he will not get his sharp combinations in often enough to stop the powerful Rahman. As for power, Toney at heavyweight just doesn't have it.

As Rahman closes with Toney he will destroy him. Toney will finally age in this bout. He won’t be able to keep the crunching drumbeat of Rahman’s jab from landing with authority and he will wilt down the stretch. Toney’s chin is as good as anyone in the game but he won’t have a place to hide.

Prediction: Rahman by KO in 9.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Top 25 Heavyweights (As of February 1, 2006)

As expected there aren’t many changes this month due to the low number of bouts in January.

One troubling development is the proposed Nicolay Valuez – Owen Beck WBA title bout. Beck is a good prospect but he went 0-2 in 2005 and only recently scored a ho-hum 8-round decision over a relative unknown. Can’t the new titlist do better than this? Don’t get me wrong, Beck may actually win. Valuev, is not King Kong even though he can stand eye-to-eye with the mythical character. There are just too many other possibilities that should be explored first.

March may prove the big month this year. Rahman – Toney will stir some interest because both are talented fighters actually deserving of top ten ratings. It is rare nowadays to see two real top ten heavyweights in the ring at the same time.

Key names in action this month, Calvin Brock against Zuri Lawrence, Shannon Briggs continuing his club tour, and former top ten campaigner Fres Oquendo.
* * *

1. Hasim Rahman, USA– WBC Champion (Last Month #1) His March showdown with James Toney will provide some clarity for the division. Toney is now widely seen as the great guru of the sport. Toney’s campaign as a heavyweight, however, is not all that special. We’ll find out if he can really take the big man punch of a true heavyweight hitter in the form of Rahman.

2. Lamon Brewster, USA– WBO Champion (Last month #2) No name has emerged as Brewster’s next victim. Obviously the money fight would be with Wladimir Klitschko but it would also mean a return to Germany. This guy would be huge if he fought on US network TV. Huge.

3. Wladimir Klitschko, Ukraine (Last month #3) The boxing blogs are filled with rumors of an April date with Chris Byrd. Klitschko is the so-called mandatory to Byrd. The contest is undoubtedly Team Klitschko’s best hope for another belt. There’s no reason to think Klitschko won’t whack Byrd around again and take his belt.

4. James Toney, USA (Last month #4) No one can say that Toney is taking the easy route to heavyweight riches. He clearly fears no one. Rahman has power that Toney has never seen so this will prove a major test. If only the other contenders had Toney’s desire to meet the best in the business…

5. Chris Byrd, USA– IBF Champion (Last month #5) The clock is running on the boxing career of Chris Byrd. He wants money and respect. Meeting and beating Klitschko would accomplish both. It’s a tall order.

6. Calvin Brock, USA (Last month #6) Brock figures to race past Zuri Lawrence in February and move quickly into a title situation. The “Banker” has talent but he hasn’t yet faced the big hitters. It has to happen soon.

7. Samuel Peter, Nigeria (Last month #7) After a less-than-impressive victory over Robert Hawkins, Peter needs a big bout to showcase his considerable power. He can get back into real contention just by keeping busy.

8. Nicolay Valuev, Russia – WBA Champion (Last month #8) Okay, he captured a title, he picked up some public interest (due mostly to his enormous stature), and had a chance to get some big paydays. Instead there are reports that his considering a defense against Jamaican Owen “What the Heck” Beck. Who? Beck, a prospect at best, was 0-2 in 2005. Last month he climbed back into the win column with an 8-round decision over Darnell Wilson. Not exactly inspiring stuff, huh? Alright Nick, what’s it going to be? Are you going to go for the brass ring or are you going to simply ride the merry-go-round of “mandatories” and also-rans. He can probably fight second and third tier types in Germany forever. It's time to put up or shut up big guy.

9. Danny Williams, England (Last month #9) He is making the most of his resurrecting win over Audley Harrison by facing Matt Skelton in February. Lots of British intrigue. More importantly, lots of paying British fans. A win here and he’ll get another title go.

10. John Ruiz, USA (Last month #10) Something tells me that he will get another chance at a belt. Look, I’m not all that excited about such a prospect but he has a way of hanging around and getting some wins. I suspect Rahman would like to gain some revenge down the line. Please, no hate mail for suggesting this.

11. Monte Barrett, USA (Last month #11) He seems to have dropped off the planet following his August loss to Rahman. Where are you Monte?

12. Audley Harrison, England (Last month #12) He’s in negotiations to face Scott Gammer on the Skelton-Williams undercard. Gammer is undefeated but he hasn’t beaten anyone you’ve heard except former fringe also-ran Julian Frances (who is only one fight above .500).

13. David Tua, New Zealand (Last month #13This month he’ll take on Javier Mora in Florida. It is amazing what stay-busy fights can do for a former top contender. He’s being given a lot of credit for these victories but his performances have been lackluster.

14. Oleg Maskaev, Uzbekistan (Last month #15) Now here is a puzzler. The WBC recently mandated a title shot for James Toney. Interestingly, however, if you look at the WBC today you’ll see the name Oleg Maskaev as the number one contender but he is the one waiting for the shot. Figure that one out and get back to me. He’s supposedly next in line to take on the winner of the Rahman-Toney bout. Keep your fingers crossed Oleg.

15. Sultan Ibragimov, Russia (Last month #16) Last month I caught a lot of grief by not listing him higher than number 16. Recent wins over Lance Whitaker and Zuri Lawrence are enough for all of us to take notice, Whitaker and Lawrence are hardly the stuff of legend. Nevertheless this man is a red-hot prospect. A couple of key wins and he’ll contest for a belt.

16. Shannon Briggs, USA (Last month #17) The former lineal champion is now on a 9-fight win streak. He last fought in December and he’s climbing in again in February. He has the right idea. He’s forcing his way into the title picture through sheer volume of fights. I sure would like to seem him against top guy --- but in the mean time business is brisk.

17. DaVarryl Williamson, USA (Last month #14) He’s apparently fit to fight and is openly calling out Valuev. Who isn’t? My advice to “Touch of Sleep” is to get back in the ring soon. The model he should follow is that of Shannon Briggs: fight often, fight everywhere, fight anyone.

18. Ray Austin, USA (Last month #19) It must feel strange for Ray. In his last bout he beat Owen Beck, but it now appears Beck may get a shot at a belt. What the heck?

19. Matt Skelton, England (Last month #20) Danny Williams represents a giant hurdle. If Matt can clear it he will be in the big money.

20. Ruslan Chagaev, Uzbekistan (Last month #21) Following a clear win over club king Rob Calloway in January, he scheduled to take on fellow undefeated Vladimir Virchis in March.

21. Serguei Lyakhovich, Belarus (Last month #18) Injuries have plagued him – he had no fights in 2005. He’ll fall by the wayside if he doesn’t back in soon.

22. Luan Krasniqi, Germany (Last month #23) Strangely, he can get right back into title contention with a win in March.

23. Zuri Lawrence, USA (Last month #24) He’ll take his light-touch style in against a legit top-ten Brock. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a heavyweight with 35 fights under his belts with ZERO knockouts.

24. Jameel McCline, USA (Last month #25) He stopped 42 year-old Dan Ward in January. Obviously he’s attended the Shannon Briggs school of staying active. But come on, Ward has now dropped 11 of his last 12 fights. You can do a little better than that Jameel.

25. Juan Carlos Gomez, Cuba (living in Germany) (Last month #22) Banned in Germany for a positive drug test, rumors are that he’ll move to another country to resume his nearly broken career.

Others on the fringes in no particular order:

Malik Scott, USA – Scott moved to 25-0, defeating Kendrick Releford on the Gatti-Damgaard undercard. He’s not known as an exciting fighter, but sometimes that speaks more about his level of opposition than his talent. If he continues to win and steps up his opposition he’ll make his own excitement.

Owen Beck, Jamaica – Who could’ve known that a win over Darnell Wilson would propel him into the title picture. I guess going 0-2 in 2005 wasn’t such a hindrance to his career prospects after all.

Fres Oquendo, USA – After a very long layoff, he’s scheduled to return February 16th in Chicago against Courage Tshabalala. With Lou DiBella now as his promoter he’ll get attention from a proven backer.

Alexander Dimitrenko, Ukraine – Scheduled for an April date against a yet to be named opponent. He’s going in the right direction. If his next opponent is in Vaughn Bean’s league we will know they are serious about moving him along.
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