Thursday, March 30, 2006

Top 25 Heavyweights (As of April, 2006)

By JE Grant

Most meaningful parts of the list below will change dramatically by the end of this month. Byrd meets Klitschko; Brewster faces Lyakhovich; plus Peter, Harrison, Skelton, and Krasniqi are all busy.

It’s clear that 2006 will not bring us a definitive and unified world champion in the heavyweight division. However, this division is not nearly as dreadful as it is being portrayed. There are youngsters on the way who show promise and the veterans at the top are active --- though this four-way split of belts is troublesome. Some of the bloggers of the world wonder why we should care so much about the heavyweight division given the highly talented champions in the lower weight classes. The plain fact is that with a heavyweight champion who is widely popular the entire sport is taken to a higher level. Titlists in all the weight classes benefit by the increased visibility of the sport.

The title split dilutes the possiblity of one man emerging as the obvious focal point. I list Rahman as number 1 but it could easily be Brewster, Klitschko or Byrd who belong there. There is only one way to know and that is through head-to-head competition. Some of that will be settled in April.

One thing to keep in mind, the four titlists are not necessarily the four best fighters in the division. Nicolay Valuev, though better than many of his critics will admit, is not one of the four best fighters in the division.

Also keep in mind that the sanctioning bodies have little interest in unifications. If a titlist wants to keep his single belt he must pay big in the form of sanctioning fees. A unified champion can afford to jettison one or more of his belts and still be seen as the true champion. That causes a couple of things to happen: 1. The sanctioning body has to vacate the title, which often delays getting fed from sanctioning fees, and 2. The new, usually lesser known, titlist has a lesser number of dollars to share with the sanctioning body because the really big cash is going to the man everyone else is calling “champ.” Case in point: Jermain Taylor. No one outside the IBF ratings committee (and a few Arthur Abraham fans in Germany) recognize anyone but Taylor as the world middleweight champion. Abraham is widely seen for what he really is – a good, solid contender, but not a champion.

* * *

1. Hasim Rahman, USA– WBC Champion (Last Month #1) Okay fight fans you can end the email stream of the “Toney will destroy Rahman” variety. The Rock won every facet of their meeting only to have it end in a goofy Atlantic City draw (not especially surprising). Rahman was far too much for Toney to handle – that’s clear – but his weaknesses were just as clear for all to see. Toney bounced counter rights off Rahman’s chin. Fortunately Toney can’t crack an egg at heavyweight. The “Rock” was also vulnerable to followup left-hooks, but Toney could usually throw only one punch at a time. You can bet the rest of the division was watching. Rahman better make a gazillion dollars his next time out – it may be his last big payday. So why is he number one? His seven fights since fatting his way through a loss to John Ruiz and a controversial draw with David Tua, have included wins over two ranked fighters and the dubious draw with Toney – a fighter widely lauded as the king-in-waiting. A fit and hard Rahman is going to be tough for anyone to take out.

2. Lamon Brewster, USA– WBO Champion (Last month #2) A win against Lyakhovich will allow him to participate in some semblence of a unification. A loss puts him in the back of the line for a while.

3. Wladimir Klitschko, Ukraine (Last month #3) If ever there was a crossroads fight, his title shot at Byrd is it. A loss almost undoubtedly would mean that he will join his brother in retirement. A win means he will have pay-per-view dollars (or Euros) floating his way in the tens of millions. He destroyed Byrd in their first meeting but that was a long time ago. At his best, this would not be a high hurdle. Who knows if he’ll show up with all the confidence necessary to capture victory. You can bet that Byrd won’t be the least bit affected by the location, the name, or the hype. Time to answer the lingering questions Wlad.

4. Chris Byrd, USA– IBF Champion (Last month #5) April is THE big month for Byrd. A win against Klitschko – against the odds I suspect – means he will finally realize some tremendous paydays as some of the other titlists seek to unify the division. He is a man who has defied the odds before.

5. Calvin Brock, USA (Last month #6) He returns in June against tough Timor Ibragimov. Okay Calvin, now you’re talking. My suspicion is that Brock has the goods. This fight can prove it.

6. Samuel Peter, Nigeria (Last month #7) If you want to know how big a chance Wladimir Klitschko took by fighting Peter just look at how all the other so-called elite of the division are doing everything they can to avoid the big hitter. Peter faces journeyman 7-footer Julius “Towering Inferno” Long in April. Keeping active will prove his key to a second chance at a big name.

7. James Toney, USA (Last month #4) I’ll say it: James Toney is done being a significant force in the heavyweight division. We’ve passed the mirage. Some will whine that he should not drop in the rankings after scoring a draw with the number one man. Unfortunately for them I actually saw the fight. Although he was once more skilled than guys like Rahman, it seems size really does matter. Toney landed right hands with all his might but when he hit a true, in-shape big man he had zero effect --- and Rahman does not have the best chin in the division. Toney will continue and he will win some lesser fights. He’ll even get another title shot. He will not, however, gain a belt in the division. No one should forget that as a heavyweight he is now 3-0-1 with 1 no-contest (following a positive steroid test) and not a single win against a top ten heavyweight. Also worth noting is that his only stoppage win came over the 40-something Evander Holyfield.

8. Danny Williams, England (Last month #8) Not sure why, but he has apparently signed to have another go at Matt Skelton. What does he have to prove with such a match? Maybe the money is big. In any case he has to be on at least one of the belt holders’ shortlist.

9. Nicolay Valuev, Russia – WBA Champion (Last month #9) He’s likely to defend his portion of the alphabet title in June in Germany. He has more talent than the American pundits might believe. American television outlets will pickup on the clear drawing power of this giant someday if he can hold onto the belt for a while. That is a big question mark.

10. John Ruiz, USA (Last month #10) He’s waiting for what he hopes is a decision by the WBA to order a rematch with Valuev. Don’t be surprised by just such an outcome. Ruiz has lost his title before, only to have it returned without a fight. If that can happen anything can.

11. Audley Harrison, England (Last month #12) I’m astonished by how many detractors this man attracts. A single loss and his anti-fans are ready to throw him under the bus. His upcoming April date with Dominick Guinn represents, if nothing else, his willingness to get right back in there with someone who can be competitive.

12. Sultan Ibragimov, Russia (Last month #13) With his cousin Timor striking gold with an upcoming match with highly ranked Calvin Brock, it can’t be too long before this more acclaimed slugger gets his chance at a name in the top ten.

13. Oleg Maskaev, Uzbekistan (Last month #14) The Big O is licking his chops. He saw those right hands connecting over and over on the chin of Rahman and he wants his shot. The WBC says that no WBC heavyweight title fight can occur without Maskaev in it. Don’t bet on it. He was the number one contender only to see the then- number five Toney leap-frog him for a “mandatory” shot. Don’t be surprised if an “emergency” meeting is convened and a Toney-Rahman rematch is ordered. Maskaev is way past his best days but unlike Toney he can hit with power and he sent Rahman into the first row in their first meeting before. The money and the easier fight for Rahman is Toney.

14. Shannon Briggs, USA (Last month #15) He stopped Dickie Ryan to capture a boatload of meaningless trinket belts. More importantly, he remains the busiest heavyweight contender on the scene. He’s due for an important fight.

15. Monte Barrett, USA (Last month #11) He’s beginning the slow descent in the ratings by being inactive since his decision loss to Hasim Rahman.

16. Ruslan Chagaev, Uzbekistan (Last month #19) Chagaev won a majority 12-round decision over the previously undefeated Vladimir Virchis. The win represents a significant jump in competition. His record to date includes a group largely made up of American journeymen. Now is the time for him to step up to a highly-ranked foe.

17. David Tua, New Zealand (Last month #16) He has apparently stalled in his latest comeback tour. He last fought in October and nothing is scheduled. What are you waiting for Tuaman?

18. DaVarryl Williamson, USA (Last month #17) He has nothing on the boards since signing with Don King. No one apparently knows what’s next for “Touch of Sleep.”

19. Ray Austin, USA (Last month #18) Ray you are squandering the chance at the big time you gave yourself by beating Owen Beck and getting a high rating (at least in the eyes of one of the sanctioning bodies). That win was six months ago. At 35 you can’t wait too much longer.

20. Serguei Lyakhovich, Belarus (Last month #20) By the time some of you read this you’ll know if he is suddenly a major player on the heavyweight world stage.

21. Matt Skelton, England (Last month #21) Returns to action in April against stay-busy opponent Armenian Suren Kalachyan and is already signed to face Williams in a July rematch. He has a lot on the line and is very fortunate to get Williams again so soon. Better not overlook Kalachyan.

22. Fres Oquendo, USA (Last month #22) Sure to be back in action soon after a recent win that followed a long layoff. He will get a big chance again. It’s just a matter of time.

23. Luan Krasniqi, Germany (Last month #23) Scheduled to take on American David Bostice in April. It looks like he’s going back to the club circuit in order to regain a major ranking. Did he not learn anything from his drubbing at the hands of Brewster? If you want to be the best, you have to fight the best.

24. Jameel McCline, USA (Last month #24) Three wins in the last five months since his embarrassing decision loss to Zuri Lawrence. He also has a bout scheduled against club circuit king Rob Calloway in April. It’s true that none of the opponents in this current campaign are remotely close to being rated fighters, but keeping a full schedule will ensure that the big man gets at least one more major payday.

25. Juan Carlos Gomez, Cuba (living in Germany) (Last month #25) He has apparently been released from his Universum contract – don’t know who wants to touch him right now.

Prospects, fringe contenders, and others who need mentioning listed in no particular order. Don’t read the fact that they are listed here as an indication a ranking is imminent:

Joe Mesi, USA – He will likely gain his 30th win, with no losses, on April Fool’s Day following a two-year enforced layoff. A brain injury is nothing to fool with but it is apparent that he understands the risks involved.

Chazz Witherspoon, USA – The youngster moved to 10-0 in March. If he really has the goods inside the ropes he will be world famous. Now is the time to be an American heavyweight with real talent.

Roman Greenburg, Israel – I don’t know if this guy can fight or not but he has moved to 22-0 (15 KOs) with a win over Alex Vassilev in March. He hasn’t beaten anyone you likely know so we’ll just have to keep an eye on the 23 year old for now.

Alexander Dimitrenko, Ukraine –He goes from fighting Vaughn Bean in a bout that represented an upgrade in opponent to an April date with 35 year old Fernely Feliz. Why the downturn? Does his management team have some doubts?

Jean Francois Bergeron, Canada – This guy is 23-0 against a slew of also-rans. He’s also 32 years old. Where has he been hiding? Who knows what he can do?

Timor Ibragimov, Uzbekistan – The cousin of the more accomplished Sultan, this undefeated fighter goes from fighting Kenny Craven in March to Calvin Brock in June. Talk about a major jump in competition. A win would give him a title shot on a platter. A loss means a quick return to anyonimty.

Tye Fields, USA – How can a giant (6’9”) battler with a 36-1 (33 KOs) record, riding a 19 fight win streak, be so invisible?

John Chapman, USA – This big (6’6”) 23 year old Arkansan moved to 21-0 (19 KOs) with a win on the Shannon Briggs undercard in March. He has yet to meet anyone you’ve ever seen in action.

Malik Scott, USA – Now 24-0, this 25 year-old is moving along. He doesn’t appear to be a big hitter. He has only one knockout in his last nine fights.

Gonzalo Omar Basile, Argentina – Another big man (6’6”) on a win streak (18 since a loss in his debut). If he ever leaves Argentina or at least faces someone known to the outside world we’ll find out if he can compete.

16 Comments:

Anonymous the cruiserweight said...

Good stuff JE.My routine is to first do a quick scan,and then go back with a fine-tooth comb,read it in it's entirity,and then comment.Upon first glance,everything seems reasonable (as always.)I still don't quite get (or agree) with Rahman at #1,and I don't think he beat Toney by that much for that matter,but he has been active,and is without a doubt top-5.So it's not completely 'outrageous' or unreasonable.(That's the main point as far as I'm concerned folks.I may or may not agree with them entirely,but unlike the woefully incompetent and disgracefully corrupt 'sanctioning bodies',they are fair and reasonable.) I'll be back...:)

P.S-"Gonzalo Omar Basile"??? JE--Congradulations!You have just succeeded in doing the nearly-unthinkable!Making reference to an obscure hvy (with a good record) that I have NEVER heard of!(Not an easy task folks!) WOW!

(LOL!)

8:15 PM  
Anonymous the cruiserweight said...

BTW-There really is no 'number 1 hvy' right now anyways...:-(

8:41 PM  
Anonymous the cruiserweight said...

Solid job JE.For some reason,one of the first thoughts that struck me as I was reading through your comments was this;ther appears-on the surface-to be some BAD management and career decisions on the part of some of these guys.I'm referring to guys who will (quite frankly) never be a world champions,or collect 8-figure paydays,but guys who have blown the opportunity to earn solid 6-figure type paydays and maybe build a solid 'egg-nest' for themselves.Guys like Ray Austin (What's he waiting for? He's 35!) Kevin Mcbride (Nothing more than a good club-fighter/journeymen I know.But christ almighty he could have capitalised on the victory over an admittedly washed-up Tyson!He appears to have blown his window of opportunity by possibly playing 'too cute'.) Jean Bergeron (Can somebody PLEASE explain the deal here? This guy is not a 'world-beater',but not a bum either.He's undefeated,but his career has gone NOWHERE.And he's no 'spring-chicken' anymore either.Why hasn't this guy ever made at least a 6-figure payday? David Tua (Well,what can you say here.I know he's had management issues,but it appears to me as if this guy just doesn't really want to fight.I think he would rather eat quite frankly.) Juan Carlos Gomez (Horribly mismanaged,and a shameful waste of talent.To put it bluntly though,I have been hearing stories from some seemingly reliable sources about his insatiable appetitite for the bottle,the 'Columbian Cola',and women for YEARS,and it appears as though that there may indeed be something to that.I wonder if that guy-when he's in his 40's or 50's-will just be saying..."What if".)

2:21 AM  
Anonymous the cruiserweight said...

Also JE--if you sense Brock has 'the goods',I sense that perhaps you (and we!) may have lowered our standard a bit in regards to that term.Brock strikes me as a solid,good all-around boxer,but I recall using that same term about a few guys named Holyfield,Lewis,Bowe,Tyson,and even a big 'awkwardly skilled' guy named (Vitali) Klitschko.

JE...I hesitate to use that same phrase with the 30+ and 'ordinary' Brock! (lol)

:-)

2:28 AM  
Blogger JE Boxing said...

All good comments. I don't think I've lowered the bar Brock. In fact I'm lowering my level of enthusiasm. Whereas before I thought he was a sure bet, I'm now saying that I "suspect" he has the goods. A few more plain Jane performances and I might be saying, "I once thought he could fight." The Ibragimov fight could tell us something.

5:57 AM  
Blogger orltroy said...

Okay JE, I have been following Basille for a couple of fioghts now and he is indeed the best Argentinian heavyweight out there. That means absolutely nothing. Remember a 22-0 Luciano Zolyone, and the 6 seconds it took Briggs to Knock him out, plus the 10 seconds for the ref to count him out? Anyways, I feel thet Timor will shock us and Brock, just a hunch though. Once again, you know my complaints in regards to Peter, and Tua, and Harrison. But, time will tell for all heavyweights. And cruiser is right, what a horribly mis-managed division period. That is the root of it's problems.

11:22 AM  
Blogger orltroy said...

Oh, btw, checkout FNF tonight. Hopefully they will air Kevin Johnson versus Robert Hawkins. Johnson is 26 and 8-0-1. His one draw came at the hands of Timor Ibragimov. And that was like Johnson's 4th career fight. Johnson, just might be someone to definitely keep an eye on.

11:27 AM  
Anonymous the cruiserweight said...

A belated thanks for the 'heads-up' on Johnson Troy.I have some brief comments about him up above,but in short--I DO think that he may be one to at least keep an eye on.

BTW-A four-round draw against Timor Ibragimov in your fourth pro fight is CERTAINLY nothing to be ashamed about.Good grief...Ibragimov had LOADS more amateur experience than Johnson...

5:35 PM  
Anonymous the cruiserweight said...

(I'm assuming Johnson's size and fast jab were what primarily earned him a draw in that fight.Because Timor is certainly a more fundamentally sound boxer.)

5:41 PM  
Blogger JE Boxing said...

Cruiser -- It's hard to gauge what happened against Ibragimov because it was only a 4 rounder. A slow start by either fighter can easily lead to a draw. I'd like to see them have a 10 round go at it.

6:30 PM  
Anonymous the cruiserweight said...

True JE.My thoughts exactly.I wouldn't expect or suggest any 'drastic' step-up in competition for Johnson at this point though.I would keep him in against 'C-level' competition,expose him to a myriad of different looks and styles,and hopefully continue to develop his skills and get some substantial improvement in return.I think he's at least a year away from 'good' opposition,and at least two years from 'top' level challenges.

7:16 PM  
Anonymous the cruiserweight said...

P.S-Hopefully he at least stays ACTIVE.

(Are you listening Malik Scott?)

:-)

7:19 PM  
Anonymous the cruiserweight said...

Well...This thing is going to certainly require a bit of 'tweaking' in May! Your choice of Rahman at #1 clearly has more validity now (in light of the Toney win and Brewster loss) than it did in February or March.But as I more or less predicted (I bat/bet well over .500,in case you haven't heard/read by now,LOL) Sergei has inserted the proverbial 'monkey wrench' into the equation.I think he should take a very deserved 'QUANTAM LEAP' all the way up to #3,while the winner of Wlad-Byrd (likely Vlad) assumes the #2 spot.As for Brewster--I don't think I would put him any lower than #4 or #5 for May.

:-)

3:02 AM  
Blogger JE Boxing said...

Tweaking??? How about overhaul. :)I think you've got it about right. Some other things to think about: Mesi is back in action. Skelton fought. Harrison fights in April. Of course with Byrd-Klitschko coming there is much that could change as a consequence. Ray Austin also fought again. Etc.......

5:18 AM  
Blogger curlygc said...

I guess you gotta get Sergei Liakovich in those rankings now, right? Anyway, I just can't see Rahman as #1. He was incredibly unimpressive against Toney in AC a couple week back. I think his time is up, and he's going to drop out of the rankings completely as the HW division takes shape over the next year.

8:58 AM  
Blogger JE Boxing said...

Curlygc - You mean I have to push Lyakhovich higher -- he is number 20 this month. I will likely leave Rahman as number 1. I'm not sure anyone will ever look good against Toney. He's slick and slippery. We'll see how the Byrd-Klitschko bouts goes before making a final call for the next rankings.

2:12 PM  

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