Monday, November 13, 2006

Klitschko: Standing tall above the division

By JE Grant

The speed and power of Wladimir Klitschko, exhibited on the head and shoulders of a previously undefeated American Calvin Brock, put an emphatic end to any talk of a muddled heavyweight picture.

Klitschko provided the convincing performance in the latest series of heavyweight title encounters that featured his fellow belt holders. He is now in a class above the field.

Despite the notion that the division is withering, there has been plenty of knockout action of late.

Starting in August Oleg Maskaev’s delivered a crushing final round knockout of Hasim Rahman, the man seen by some as the top campaigner in the division.

In October, the giant Nicolay Valuev stopped Monte Barrett in 11 rounds in a fight that was not exactly exciting but did end with the Russian pounding Barrett into a heap.

Shannon Briggs added his own bit of drama with a last second knockout of the talented Serguei Liakhovich in Phoenix to win an alphabet belt in November.

It was, however, the talent of Wladimir Klitschko that was the most obvious. He made it clear that whatever his history he has come into his own. The combination of speed, power, and athletic ability – something long recognized – is now combined by something missing in key fights --- resolve.

Calvin Brock presented an odd look and better power than almost all the other top 10 heavyweights. He also entered the ring with the confidence of an undefeated heavyweight. He expected to win.

Klitschko had to use his complete arsenal to put together the punctuating right hand that left Brock on his face and the audience in Madison Square Garden fully aware that they had just witnessed the work of the world’s best heavyweight fighter.

He also proved – though cynics will disagree – that the changing of the guard is now complete. We can say goodbye to the skilled fists of Lennox Lewis with the assurance that the division is now firmly in new and equally skilled hands in the form of Wladimir Klitschko.

There is talk of a tournament to unify the titles but the real question is this: Why worry about it?

Klitschko is clearly at the top and the others should at least go through the motions of forming a line to his throne.

Briggs seems to recognize this reality and to his credit there he was in the Klitschko post-fight presser insisting on a shot. Real heavyweight champions do not have to press for fights because the world is supposed to come to them. Briggs knows who the champion is and he wants a chance.

Yes, it’s true that the alphabet title that Klitschko holds is by itself nothing better than the titles held by Maskaev, Valuev and Briggs.

It is his talent along with the clear willingness to take on only the best available opponent that separates him from the crowd.

It is not all that obvious that any of the other three belt holders really represent the best in the division. Maskaev and Briggs certainly have above average power, but both have been dominated by competition that is, generously, less than world class.

Maskaev has elected to take on the unknown and far below world-class Peter Okhello in the first defense of his belt. The fact that many in the sport will not be surprised by an upset tells us all everything we need to know.

Valuev, though undefeated at 45-0, has handlers that do not believe their charge is the best of the bunch. Defending his title against Owen Beck and Monte Barrett, both fighters with recent and clear losses, does nothing to suggest otherwise.

Of course Shannon Briggs has long been seen as a fighter with plenty of talent but not the drive to be a champion. Before the Liakhovich bout, he could point only to his highly controversial win over a 48 year old George Foreman as a victory over a rated fighter.

Assuming Briggs’ talent level was what many thought it was, he did not capitalize on it until his 53rd fight.

Klitschko has his own baggage but his resume is now replete with rated fighters: Chris Byrd (twice); Jameel McCline; Samuel Peter; Monte Barrett; Axel Schulz; DaVarryl Williamson; Frans Botha; and of course Brock.

None of us will likely forget his blowout loss to Corrie Sanders or his puzzling collapse against Lamon Brewster, but in the full context of a 50-fight career, it is he who stands at the head of the class.

Of course discussions of that class today often begin with a lament for the mythical good old days of heavyweight boxing lore.

At the bottom of this myth, however, is something that is just a bit more sinister.

There is a belief --- spoken but never written --- that because there is no great American heavyweight that no further proof is needed to indicate the sorry state of the division.

After all, American’s have dominated the heavyweights since the dawning of the gloved era. Precious few fighters --- regardless of race or ethnicity --- from countries other than the United States have laid claim to dominance.

The list is short: Tommy Burns; Max Schmeling, Primo Carnera, Ingemar Johannson, and Lennox Lewis have held universal recognition. If we’re generous we could add alphabet title-holders such as Gerrie Coetzee, Vitali Klitschko, and of course one-time Wladimir conqueror Corrie Sanders.

In fact some sports talking heads have resorted to a secondary argument that suggests that America’s best athletes end up in the NBA, NFL or Major League Baseball hence the lack of current American boxing talent.

Such talking heads no doubt see history as having started yesterday. The NBA, NFL, etc… were in full-scale existence in the 1960s right through today.

No one suggested that Muhammad Ali held the heavyweight championship only because Jim Brown was a running back for the Cleveland Browns.

No one even thought that Lyle Alzado would have dominated Larry Holmes had it not been for his selection to play for the Denver Broncos.

The difference, of course, is that with the opening of the east following the fall of the Berlin Wall, athletes from eastern European countries who were culturally guided to sports and desperate to partake in the spoils available in the capitalist world have finally made the transition from amateur to professional status.

Klitschko, Maskaev, Valuev and the recently deposed Liakhovich quite possibly represent only the tip of what is to come.

Young fighters toiling in current obscurity will likely become well-known worldwide with names such as Dennis Boytsov; Alexander Dimitrenko; Alexander Povetkin; Albert Sosnowski; Ruslan Chagaev; and Vladimir Virchis to name just a few are on the march.

For now, suffice it to say that Wladimir Klitschko is king, whatever his country of origin.

The dispute is over.

24 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just finished watching the fight and couldn't stop laughing - Lennox Lewis kept saying Vitali Klitschko and then correcting himslef saying Wladimir Klitschko. It happened a bit too often (three times) not to be a Freudian slip, in my opinion.

Meke

3:52 AM  
Blogger JE Boxing said...

As an announcer, Lennox is a good fighter...........

5:14 AM  
Anonymous the cruiserweight (bizzy) said...

Good read J.E. However, I in fact DO think that many of America's best athletes are ending up in basketball & football. Why? Sadly, Boxing has become a 'fringe sport'. Why so? Well, the emergence of football & basketball, and...The alphabet soup. Yep. They have had a widespread effect on the sport and it's coverage, in many ways not really commonly thought of. I shall expound a bit more on this later...

Meke - One of my favorite Lennox remarks as a commentator was the following..."Yes Max. Alot of different basketball players play basketball..." (WTF? LOL! Yes, he really said this!)

1:11 PM  
Anonymous the cruiserweight (bizzy) said...

As far as Vlad K. goes, I agree; the time to be "hypercritical" of this guy should cease. Here are a few simple reasons why...

1996 Gold Medal Winner

47-3 W/42 Ko's as a pro

This is the THIRD straightlegit top-10 guy he has defeated in the last year (Peter, Byrd, Brock) As crazy as it sounds...You could almost make a case for this guy being fighter of the year, or a runner-up!

Yes, Vlad is "vulnerable but formidable" as I like to say, but I think it's more of the latter than the former!

1:54 PM  
Anonymous the cruiserweight (bizzy) said...

As far as Vlad K. goes, I agree; the time to be "hypercritical" of this hvy should cease, or at the very least wane. Here are a few simple reasons why...

1996 Gold Medal Winner

47-3 W/42 Ko's as a pro

This is the THIRD straight legit top-10 guy he hasn't beaten in the last year. (Peter, Byrd, Brock) As crazy as it sounds -- you could almost make a case for this guy being fighter of the year, or a runner-up!

Yes, while I like to refer to Klitschko as "Vulnerable yet formidable", it is more the latter than the former I believe!

1:58 PM  
Anonymous the cruiserweight (bizzy) said...

BTW - Sorry about the "double-posts". (I've been having computer problems lately. I think I should scan this bad-boy...)

1:59 PM  
Blogger JE Boxing said...

And..........the list of other top 10 guys he's met throughout his career is unequalled in the division.

1:59 PM  
Blogger JE Boxing said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:59 PM  
Anonymous the cruiserweight (bizzy) said...

Vlad is rumoured to be in "serious discussions" for a March or April fight against Maskaev. Well...I hope I'm wrong, but I doubt unification happens in 2007. 2008? Perhaps.

* J.E - The proverbial "lucky punch" aside, I think Vlad would just annihalate Maskaev. Inside four rounds, and possibly even the first. Same with Briggs (Although I expect a healthy Sergei to beat him in a rematch.) Valuev? I think he is much better than Valuev, and would beat him, but Valuev is kind of the "wild card" in the bunch.

7:25 PM  
Blogger JE Boxing said...

I seriously doubt Maskaev will ever step in the ring with Klitschko. Maskaev is soooooooooooo slow and soooooooooo easy to hit. He wouldn't last 3 rounds and Dennis Rappaport knows it. If he were to take the bout it would only be for a huge payday. It would be his last day as champion of any kind.

7:34 PM  
Anonymous the cruiserweight (bizzy) said...

Agreed. I actually think his overall skills have improved a bit, but he is VERY slow and does not have a very good chin either.

8:18 PM  
Blogger JE Boxing said...

The truth is I like the Big O and admire what he has achieved. But, none of that will help him one bit against someone who is faster, bigger, and very likely hits harder.

1:57 PM  
Anonymous Mr. Toney said...

James Toney will knock him the F--- out

2:19 PM  
Anonymous the cruiserweight (bizzy) said...

Amen JE. My sentiments exactly. Like I said -- Oleg would more or less have to hope and pray he lands the home run punch early, or somehow weathers the storm and 'outlasts' Vlad, and Vlad has one of his mysterious 'collapses'. Both are possible -- but HIGHLY unlikely. I would make "The Big O" a BIG underdog here!

* Like you said though, I highly doubt the fight happens. Unless perhaps OM and camp make MILLIONS, and they just 'cash in'...

4:26 PM  
Anonymous the cruiserweight (bizzy) said...

Aside from a unification fight which would be for the good of Boxing and the division, the two fights I would most like to see Vlad contest in early 2007? Lamon Brewster, or the winner of Peter-Toney 2. If Peter wins -- I wouldn't mind seeing a rematch! If Toney wins -- I don't care what anyone says, 5'10", 38 yrs.old, overweight, whatever...The guy is a legit top-contender, and deserves it.

8:20 PM  
Blogger JE Boxing said...

For Toney, Klitschko is his worst nightmare. A big man who can actually box AND hit. Klitschko leaves no way out for Toney because the big man's sole failing is a suspect chin --- not something the feather-fisted Toney can exploit.

8:24 PM  
Anonymous the cruiserweight (bizzy) said...

Well, that...And possible stamina questions/issues J.E. I agree though; I would make Toney the prohibitive underdog there. I think he would be outboxed, and then blasted out.

(Sorry "Mr.Toney". You know I still think you would be the greatest cruiserweight in the world...;-)

9:03 PM  
Anonymous the cruiserweight (bizzy) said...

JE - I understand the general point you are making here, but the NFL and NBA were not exactly "flourishing" in the 60's. Boxing and baseball - however - WERE. Boxing is no longer flourishing in AMERICA J.E, despite some occasionally good PPV numbers you may see.

More to come...(Big College football day, and I have to make a Guinness run...;-)

* Look out. After a few of those -- I turn into a real genius (sic?) JE. (LOL)

1:01 PM  
Blogger JE Boxing said...

One of the posters on ESB implied that the emergence of the eastern Europeans is merely a function of a dearth of Americans. He wouldn't even acknowledge that before the fall of the Berlin Wall that fighters were allowed to compete as professionals. One thing to consider is that virtually every champion before the fall of the wall did not have to EVER compete with eastern bloc fighters.

1:22 PM  
Anonymous the cruiserweight (bizzy) said...

Yeah, that's not true at all. (What that guy said.) Well, it's at best a half-truth, and possibly a combination of the two. I mean, these eastern bloc hvy's are good. I haven't seen any I would call GREAT yet, but they are good solid fighters.

Cheers! *Cracks a stout*

:)

1:34 PM  
Anonymous the cruiserweight (bizzy) said...

...Christ, what about the Cubans? (And I ain't talkin cigars) I don't know just HOW good Stevenson & Savon would have been as pros, but I guarantee you they would have made a little noise. (And possibly more.)

1:57 PM  
Blogger JE Boxing said...

No doubt we'll see another redistribution if Cuba is ever free.

7:20 PM  
Anonymous the cruiserweight (bizzy) said...

J.E - Although I'm not sure if you got into Boxing at an extremely young age like myself (I started watching in the mid/late 70's, and was born in 72') but you are a bit older than me. What is your opinion of Stevenson, as far as pro potential goes? (I imagine alot of probably would have depended upon what type of trainer he had. I also heard the guy was a VERY heavy drinker. As a matter of fact, word has it he lives like a king in Cuba, and is a 24/7 drunk nowadays. Not a very friendly one from what I hear either.) As far as Savon goes -- I think he would have undoubtedly made a good pro, but not a great one. He was certainly a great amateur though. Among other things, he would have had to have added about at least 10 or 20 pounds. I don't think that would have been much of a problem with his height, frame, and body type though. He may not have been a (legit) world champ, but no doubt he would have been a contender I.M.O.

* Sidenote - What a horrible waste of talent with Juan Carlos Gomez, J.E. This guy could be the world's best 200-pounder, or a legit top-contender at hvy. But it may be too late. Horribly mismanaged, and VERY questionable work hobaits. (The guy practically lived on Whiskey, women, and Columbian Cola.)

BTW - I honestly don't remeber much about Stevenson. Just the few brief clips that I've seen, and what I've read.

12:58 AM  
Blogger JE Boxing said...

Stevenson was a big right hand hitter. His power was in the same league as Foreman's --- yes, that big. He wasn't exceptionally fast but he was accurate and always confident in his ability to score the KO. I think he would've competed for the title and may very well have won it -- against anyone. The one major thing we can't know is how he would've contended with 10, 12, or 15 rounds. Undoubtedly he was the greatest amateur heavyweight of all time.

6:03 AM  

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