Top 25 Heavyweights (As of March 1, 2006)
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.
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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.