Sunday, October 29, 2006

Top 25 Heavyweights (As of November, 2006)

By JE Grant

In the month of November we will learn a lot about the future of the division. Wladimir Klitschko faces America’s top heavyweight Calvin Brock. Early in the month Serguei Liakhovich takes on one-time lineal champ Shannon Briggs.

Perhaps of greater long-term importance are the bouts that won’t be on television and will gain little notice in the sports media.

A bevy of unbeaten hot prospects will meet in November. Damian Wills will meet Chris Arreola. Former Olympian Jason Estrada will face Travis Walker. How rare is it that young heavyweights with fat unblemished records square off? Such matchmaking is to be commended. The winners of these bouts will exit the ring with far more credentials than they could gain by fighting a dozen palookas.

Potential future star Roman Greenberg meets journeyman Alexei Varakin in Monaco. Greenberg is a likely easy winner there, but what’s important is that after this bout he moves to the U.S. to fight under the promotional banner of Warrior Boxing. Americans will be buzzing about him within a year.

Unfortunately the saga of the formerly great Evander Holyfield continues in November. He is scheduled to take on Fres Oquendo in a bout that will likely spell an embarrassing end for the “Real Deal.” Oquendo is far from being a great fighter but all he has to be is good to beat the 43 year-old version of Evander.

Finally, there’s much buzz about the Australian “Superfighter” tournament that may include many of the top heavyweights and cruiserweight champion O’Neil Bell. The multi-fight format, all to be held in one day, appears to be taking a page from the mixed-martial arts world --- one of the few fighting sports that is exploding with fan recognition. The multi-million dollar payout is almost shocking if it pans out. Let’s hold off making any judgments about its effect on boxing until it unfolds.

Once again, my thanks to Brian Bizzack and Troy Ondrizek heavyweight trackers extraordinaire.

* * *

1. Wladimir Klitschko, Ukraine – IBF Champion (Last month #1) Klitschko is not wasting his time with also-rans. In Calvin Brock he’ll find a tough, undefeated, and smart fighter who can punch. Brock will force Klitschko to be sharp in all departments, power, speed, and boxing ability.

2. Serguei Liakhovich, Belarus – WBO Champion (Last month #2) If he cannot get past Shannon Briggs, his title-winning effort against Brewster will be seen as a mere illusion. Should he win, as expected, he should clamor for a shot at the winner of Klitschko-Brock.

3. Calvin Brock, USA (Last month #3) Brock’s golden opportunity awaits as he meets arguably the best heavyweight in the world in Wladimir Klitschko. Beating Klitschko would mean vast riches. It’s a giant leap for Brock.

4. Samuel Peter, Nigeria (Last month #5 Tie) The WBC never ceases to embarrass the sport. Peter who received a controversial, but fair, decision over Toney with the promise of a mandatory shot at Oleg Maskaev, was presented with a shot to the groin by the WBC which ordered a rematch. Look, Toney already leap-frogged the then-number 1 Maskaev to get a “mandatory” against Hasim Rahman. What gives? Why the special treatment?

5. James Toney, USA (Last month #5 Tie) Yes, we thought he deserved the nod against Peter but no, we do not think the WBC was right to essentially nullify the judgment of the ringside officials for the purpose of giving him another chance at Peter. Sam Peter won the fight in the eyes of the officials at ringside and thus should have received an unhindered shot at Maskaev. (By the way --- we won’t have any more ties in the ratings).

6. Oleg Maskaev, Uzbekistan / USA – WBC Champion (Last month #7) Once he gets past Peter Okhello in a December embarrassment, maybe we can talk about a serious fight. We can’t be surprised that the WBC is allowing this debacle to take place --- and we’ll say that even if Okhello lands a haymaker that ends it all. While Klitschko takes on a proven and undefeated Brock, and Liakhovich battles veteran Briggs, Maskeav chooses to go a very different way. Too bad.

7. Hasim Rahman, USA – (Last Month #8) The “Rock” still retains a number three rating in the WBC which could mean another title shot down the road is not out of the question. Nothing is scheduled.

8. Lamon Brewster, USA (Last month #4) Time continues to work against the injured former titlist.

9. Nicolay Valuev, Russia – WBA Champion (Last month #9) He came and he conquered – sort of. There is no doubt that beating the big guy will prove difficult for anyone. His size, awkwardness and sturdy chin require a solid all-round fighter to beat him. Barrett was a decent heavyweight, but Valuev is just a cut above his level. Look for Valuev to defend against the winner of the Ruiz-Chagaev match in Germany.

10. Sultan Ibragimov, Russia (Last month #10) The tough Russian has big opportunities, most likely is a shot at the winner of Liakhovich-Briggs.

11. Ray Austin, USA (Last month #11) A solid draw with Ibragimov in July and nothing since. What is the 35 year-old “Rainman” waiting for?

12. John Ruiz, USA (Last month #12) He signed with all the right folks to ensure that he has a chance at another title shot. All that stands in his way is Ruslan Chagaev. Ruiz and his handlers may very well have outsmarted themselves. Don’t be surprised to see Ruiz quietly lose and fade away. Always keep in mind, however, that John Ruiz has had more lives than any heavyweight in the game. He may have the last laugh.

13. Shannon Briggs, USA (Last month #13) The “Cannon’s” last best shot comes early in November against Liakhovich. His best shot in the bout will be in the early rounds with explosive punches. If Liakhovich is still there in the middle rounds it could be curtains for Briggs.

14. Ruslan Chagaev, Uzbekistan (Last month #14) Expect the tough Uzbeki to power his way to victory over a hugging John Ruiz in November.

15. DaVarryl Williamson, USA (Last month #15) Rumors have dissipated for possible bout withPrzemyslaw Saleta. It’s wait and see.

16. Fres Oquendo, USA (Last month #16) Fres will likely end the career of former great Evander Holyfield when they meet in November. A win in the bout proves little – and a loss is a total disaster. At this stage Fres is probably a little too quick for the 43 year-old. It won’t be pretty.

17. Matt Skelton, England (Last month #17) A December date with the formerly highly-touted Audley Harrison is likely all that is between him and a world title shot. It’s too close to call.

18. Jameel McCline, USA (Last month #18) Another fighter lured by the prospect of a mega payday in the Superfighter tournament scheduled for December. If this tourney happens McCline has as good a chance as anyone to take it.

19. Danny Williams, England (Last month #19) We fully expect that Danny will next face British champ Scott Gammer. It’s make or break.

20. Luan Krasniqi, Germany (Last month #20) After nearly an eight-month layoff, he’s scheduled to return to action in December against an as yet named opponent (read: palooka).

21. Tony Thompson, USA (Last month #21) A big win on televison against Dominick Guinn in June and nothing since. You’re blowing it kid.

22. David Tua, New Zealand (Last month #22) – Scheduled to return to action against shopworn vet Ross Purritty in November. A win proves little but at least it’s activity.

23. Vladimir Virchis, Ukraine (Last month #23) The EBU titlist will likely have to defend against Sinan Samil Sam early next year. For reasons we can’t figure out, Sam gets shot after shot at big matches.

24. Alexander Dimitrenko, Ukraine (Last month unranked) – The youngster earned his first signficant victory by blasting out fellow giant Gonzalo Omar Basile in Stuttgart in October. The win allows him to crack the top 25. Of course we must be cautious in ascribing great significance to the win. Basile had never ventured out of South America before and had never met anyone remotely close to the class of Dimitrenko. His fat record could have been an illusion --- time will tell.

25. Eddie Chambers, USA (Last month #25) The young Philly star is in the right place to continue his development. At 27-0, the 24 year-old has plenty of time to continue the climb if he has the real stuff within him.

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. Regular readers should also note that I’ve taken off some names that were here in months past who still rate attention. We're highlighting activity and when potentially top fighters have bouts scheduled you’ll likely see them reappear.

Alexander Povetkin, Russia – The 9-0 former Olympic gold medal winner is set for a December match in Moscow. Soon, you can expect to see American TV outlets such as HBO and Showtime clamoring for the broadcast rights to this – perhaps the most talented of young heavyweights.

Chris Byrd, USA – Scheduled to participate in the so-called “Superfighter” tournament in Australia in December. We don’t think Chris is thinking about recapturing any titles anytime soon. Of course if he wins the tourney he’ll gain a payday bigger than he ever saw as the heavyweight titlist.

Monte Barrett, USA (Last month #24) “Two Gunz” gave it his best but it just wasn’t close to good enough to take Valuev. He won a couple of rounds but he went wobbly often. The stoppage loss will likely mean no more shots – although in the eyes of the WBA his loss against Rahman was enough to propel him to a title shot with Valuev. Nonetheless, at 35 Barrett’s days as a serious contender are done.

Oliver McCall, USA – Yet another possible participant in the Superfighter tournament. His classic jab will give someone fits. However, at 41 the multiple bout format may prove a stretch.

Joe Mesi, USA – Last fought in September in a four-rounder. Despite being 33-0, and holding some key victories years ago, “Baby Joe” still doesn’t seem on track yet. Eventually he’ll meet a top ten fighter and we’ll find out what he has left.

Chazz Witherspoon, USA – “The Gentleman” stayed busy in October with a three-round stoppage of Earl Ladson (now 12-12-1) to advance his record to 15-0 (9 KOs). The fight was held under the promotional auspices of “Terrible” Tim Witherspoon.

Gonzalo Omar Basile, Argentina – Were all those wins worthy of our notice? His one-round blowout loss to Dimitrenko in a mere 54 seconds obviously makes us wonder. He has a lot of explaining to do – preferably with his fists.

J.D. Chapman, USA – At 25-0, the 23 year-old has a bevy of low-level belts including the Arkansas, NABC, WBC Latino, and IBF/USBA regional titles. Of course none of those belts have much intrinsic meaning, but needless to say that if he keeps winning he’ll get shots at belts that do mean something.

Scott Gammer, England – Successfully defended his British belt against Michael Steeds in October. Don’t be surprised to see a match made with Danny Williams next. A win there and Gammer will be a player.

Denis Boytsov, Russia – The talented 20 year-old is now 16-0 (15 KOs). He has faced modest opposition to date but he seems to have a spark.

Travis Walker, USA – With his November date set with Jason Estrada, Walker has the opportunity to break away from the pack of young American up-and-comers.

Jason Estrada, USA – He meets Travis Walker in November in a rare meeting of two undefeated young talents. The fight will tell us a lot about both men.

Roman Greenberg, England (via Israel) – The talented 24 year-old takes on Russian journeyman Alexei Varakin in November before moving on the United States to fight for Warrior Boxing. He’s already scheduled for a December match. We have a feeling that American fans are going to embrace him soon.

Damian Wills, USA – November will already include a Jason Estrada-Travis Walker matchup of unbeaten and talented American heavyweights. The other big match will be the Damian Wills-Chris Arreola in a battle of unbeatens. Wills is 21-0-1 and coming in off a win over tough guy Cisse Salif while Arreola is 17-0.

Albert Sosnowski, Poland – The 38-1 (23 KOs) Sosnowski is set for a November shot at the most obscure of alphabet titles. It’s hard to gauge his talent given that his best victory is a 2005 six-round decision over a 40 year-old Orlin Norris. His single loss was to Canadian Arthur Cook in 2001.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Dimitrenko blasts Basile, earns world ranking

STUTTGART, Germany --- Heavyweight phenom Alexander Dimitrenko, 23-0 (14 KOs), Ukraine, 249, scored the biggest win of his budding career with a first-round knockout of surging Argentine Gonzalo Omar Basile, 25-2 (12 KOs), 242, according to the German website Hamburg 1, Saturday.

Basile entered the contest riding a 25-fight win streak including 11 victories in 2006. At 6'6" he is just one-inch shorter than fellow big man Dimitrenko.

Not known for exceptional power, many figured Basile would test Dimitrenko's skill because the young Ukrainian could not rely on his usual physical advantages.

Uncharacteristically, Dimitrenko caught his opponent early, forcing a stoppage at 54 seconds of the opener, according to Hamburg 1.

The win will likely lift the 24 year-old into the legitimate top 25 of the heavyweight division.

Basile, 32, who had never fought outside South America before this bout will likely be seen either as an unworthy heavyweight with a padded record or as the latest victim of an ever-improving young superstar.

Only future bouts can determine the significance of this bout.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Briggs gets one more chance to shoot his big guns

By JE Grant

When Shannon “The Cannon” Briggs enters the ring November 4th to vie for a version of the heavyweight title against Serguei Liakhovich, he will carry with him the baggage not only of his 34 years or his 52 fights, but just as importantly lots of thoughts of what might have been.

Briggs, 47-4-1 (41 KOs), started his career as a trim 20 year-old with lightning fast hands and a end-it-right-away style that made him an appealing draw. Combined with obvious physical attributed, Briggs was (an is) a colorful and interesting speaker.

As he rose through the inevitable club fights many took notice of his talents on many levels. His athleticism had many talking of much bigger and better things.

Unfortunately, his rise through the club circuit was not a progressive one. Today we can browse his early record and find many opponents he faced who possessed not mediocre records but losing records. According to it wasn’t until his 16th fight that he met an opponent with a winning slate.

While almost every rising star has a record sprinkled with such opposition, it was apparent when Briggs faced the then-15-0-2 Darroll Wilson that he had not developed skills sufficient to extract himself from trouble. The three-round stoppage loss to Wilson served as a notification that to achieve truly world-class status, something had to change.

Briggs’ style to that point was one of front-running. Using his overwhelming speed and power early, most of his opponents simply could not cope. Wilson proved that the way to Briggs’ heart was withstanding the early onslaught and then pounding away on what was left of the depleted “Cannon.”

Four club fights after Wilson, Briggs was matched with George Foreman. Though Big George had been stripped of his WBA and IBF belts, he was still considered the lineal champion.

Briggs against started quickly and put some lumps on Foreman. The much older Foreman proved sturdy and not only weathered the storm but by most accounts did enough to deserve the win. Briggs, however, seemed as surprised as anyone when the decision was announced that he was the winner of a majority 12-round decision.

As controversial as the decision was, Briggs was nevertheless considered the lineal champion and he was quickly signed for a match in 1998 with the Lennox Lewis, then-WBC titlist and by far the best heavyweight in the world.

Once again, Briggs started fast, clipping Lewis early and appearing to wobble him. The early success turned out to be a mere flash as the bigger and better Lewis chopped-up Briggs throughout. And, once again, when Briggs was hurt – and down – he did not have the experience to draw on that his 31 fights to that point should have afforded him. Too many palookas, not enough stiff opposition.

Lewis dropped Briggs three times enroute to a brutal fifth-round stoppage.

Since that time, Briggs lost tough decisions to journeyman Sedreck Fields and the rated Jameel McCline. He also fought to a draw with Frans Botha.

Briggs has not lost since the McCline decision in 2002. His record since that time is 11-0 with 11 KOs. Charitably, it can be said that all of the 11 wins were against journeyman. The only recognizable name is Ray Mercer – though it was a 44 year-old version.

Another significant problem for Briggs is a skyrocketing weight gain. He started his career at 205. He fought Foreman at 227. He fought his last fight, against Chris Koval, at a whopping 273.

Nonetheless Briggs is a solid hitter and thus has a chance to pull something out, particularly if he does it early.

PREDICTION: Briggs will pull out all the stops for an early knockout. Despite the claims of many that he will arrive at the 250 pound range, it is unlikely that he has developed a sufficient gas tank to go the distance and pull out a victory. Even while winning of late, his overall speed is noticeably far less than what it was just a few years ago. He’s never been all that difficult to hit and Liakhovich will exploit that shortcoming. Liakhovich possesses solid skills and an educated jab. Look for him to land it early and take Briggs out of his bull rushing tactics. As the early rounds go past with Liakhovich still on his feet, Briggs will fade noticeably. Liakhovich will begin landing combinations to the head of Briggs. The older, slower, heavier Briggs, like his younger version, will not have enough answers to pass the test.

Liakhovich by KO in 9.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Valuev: The giant goes west

By JE Grant

Nicolay Valuev, the 7-footer weighed in at a whopping 328 Thursday in preparation for the second defense of his share of the heavyweight title at the Allstate Arena in the Chicago suburb of Rosemont.

His opponent, the affable and mildly talented Monte Barrett, himself no small fellow at 6’3” and 223 pounds (yes, that’s 105 fewer pounds than Valuev), appeared confident and less than impressed by the giant once dubbed “The Beast from the East.”

While 328 is the heaviest of Valuev’s career, it is just a few pounds from his normal 320-ish. Fitness won’t be an issue for either fighter.

Naturally the size of the titlist and the size differential between him and his opponent is the only real draw for this bout.

Valuev has beaten able fighters such as John Ruiz and Larry Donald to amass his record of 44-0 (32 KOs) including 1 NC. In both bouts, however, the decisions were of the very disputed variety.

American fans have not yet witnessed the big man’s game and many may be surprised to see some incongruities.

Despite his appearance, the “Russian Giant,” as he is now being called, is agile. Working steadily behind a better than average jab, Valuev forces his opponents to work hard throughout the contest to avoid him.

One would think that the enormous span of his jab and his ability and willingness to use it would keep his foes at bay. Most of his better opposition, most notably Donald, has proven able to get under or around the jab on numerous occasions to land a variety of punches.

More confounding, however, is the fact that even with 320-plus pounds behind his blows, Valuev has only slightly above-average power. George Foreman won’t be forgotten by watching him.

His most unsurprising shortcoming is a lack of speed, thus the loophole available to most of his potential opponent to make up for the tremendous size difference.

The speed deficit has resulted in his being clocked with heavy shots from several opponents. No one has shown an ability to dent his rock-solid chin to date.

Since signing away a slice of his promotional pie to Don King, the blueprint for his title reign that is emerging is fighting King-related fighters who sit on the fringes of the ranked members of the division.

In his first title defense, Valuev scored a three-round knockout of Owen Beck, a fighter who had lost two of his preceding three fights (including a stoppage loss to Barrett). Beck, like Barrett, had above average skills but no history of being able to rise above the crowd.

The enigmatic 35 year-old New Yorker Barrett, 31-4 (17 KOs), has always shown talent if not an ability to move to the elite level of the division. Despite solid wins over the likes of fringe contenders such as Beck and Dominck Guinn as well as over-the-hill ex-champs Tim Witherspoon and Greg Page, Barrett has come up short in the breakout bouts.

Close losses to Lance Whitaker and Joe Mesi showed that he belonged in the same ring as the big guys but that he couldn’t get past the lower part of the top ten.

A blowout loss to Wladimir Klitschko (Barrett was down five times before being stopped in seven rounds) and a clear points loss to Hasim Rahman demonstrated the truly elite level was just beyond his grasp.

Since that August 2005 loss to Rahman, “Two Gunz” has not had any fights. For a 35 year-old fighter this is an interesting path to a title shot.

With above average boxing ability and very average power, he enters the ring against Valuev a decided underdog.

PREDICTION: Valuev will seek to establish his long jab as Barrett tries to weave away from it and land counters. He has the capability to get in quick shots against the available chin of the big man. The interesting question to be answered is whether he can get past that jab often enough to make it interesting. Valuev will force the action throughout and test Barrett’s resolve and ability shake off the ring rust accumulated over the last 14 months. Look for Valuev to outwork Barrett and land early and often on the smaller, lighter-hitting challenger. Barrett will not likely produce enough volume to take Valuev out of his game. Valuev will rack up round after round without seriously hurting Barrett. Valuev by easy 12-round decision.
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