Top 25 Heavyweights (As of August, 2006)
August brings a title matchup between Hasim Rahman and Oleg Maskaev. A win by Maskaev --- something we don’t expect --- would have reverberations throughout the sports world. It would represent a complete sweep of alphabet belts by fighters from the former Soviet Union. Many bloggers and posters to boxing websites are in denial about the not-so-subtle power shift. A Rahman win will give hope to those who think it is just a matter of time before Americans once again reclaim the mantle with him serving as the bridge.
Speaking of slowing the eastern European tide, Cleveland’s Ray Austin curtailed the win streak of hard-punching Russian Sultan Ibragimov by scoring what has to be considered a surprise draw. Austin was clever and rugged, climbing off the canvas early to score a later round knockdown of his own. A rematch would be welcomed.
With Wladimir Klitschko presumably lined up for a November defense against Shannon Briggs – a fighter who is better than his critics would suggest – and Rahman against Maskaev, we’re left with disappointments in titlists Serguei Liakhovich and Nicolay Valuev.
Liakhovich is reportedly going to face Kevin McBride. Of course McBride is remembered for stopping a shell of Mike Tyson, but he did nothing before or since that bout to be considered for a world title match. This is not a personal knock on him – he’s a decent journeyman – but he is not an elite fighter and there are many other opponents who have done far more to deserve a shot.
Valuev will again meet an opponent whose recent record does not inspire confidence. At one time Monte Barrett was indeed near the top of the division but he has not won a bout in a long time and his last outing was a loss. It makes us wonder what his promoters really think about his chances against the bigger names of the division.
Shifts below occurred for a few reasons: Danny Williams’ major drop due to his loss to Matt Skelton headlined. Williams appeared to literally eat his way out of a sure-bet title bout. He weighed a whopping 288 and just couldn’t keep up the pace. The strong effort of Ray Austin against Sultan Ibragimov also caused some restructuring. An active David Tua and surging Vladimir Virchis replace Dominick Guinn and Audley Harrison who haven't impressed lately.
A special thanks goes out this month to heavyweight experts Brian Bizzack and Troy Ondrizek who move slyly behind the scenes to give key intelligence reports for this compilation.
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1. Wladimir Klitschko, Ukraine – IBF Champion (Last month #1) The premier heavyweight’s first IBF defense is close to being set. Shannon Briggs will get what is probably his last shot at a heavyweight title. He’s been busy against much lesser opposition and this bout is likely to demonstrate the talent disparity. Still, Briggs can hit and, well, we’ve seen stranger things happen haven’t we?
2. Hasim Rahman, USA – WBC Champion (Last Month #2) Rock’s defense against Oleg Maskaev could very well turn out to be the pivotal heavyweight match of the year. A second loss to the Big “O” means the entire makeup of the division is outside of the American grip with no dominating youngster in the wings. A Rahman victory will require the world community to still come to America’s shores for a chance at the true gold.
3. Serguei Liakhovich, Belarus – WBO Champion (Last month #3) I’m already looking past his August date with Kevin McBride. Once this embarrassment is over maybe we can start thinking about serious opposition.
4. Lamon Brewster, USA (Last month #4) Still in recovery following retinal surgery. We wish the most exciting fighter in the division the best.
5. Calvin Brock, USA (Last month #5) Now a promotional free agent, the “Boxing Banker” is looking for a big money deal. Perhaps he should take a look at his long-time promoter Main Events and realize that the organization was likely as vital to his current success as any move he has made to date. Why mess with a winning formula?
6. Chris Byrd, USA (Last month #6) In the last two editions of this column we suggested Chris should have a go at the cruiserweight belt. Unbelieveably it is now under serious consideration. I, for one, would pay to see Chris against O’Neil Bell.
7. Samuel Peter, Nigeria (Last month #7) His September date with James Toney will prove to be the breakthrough chance he has sought since his loss to Klitschko. A win means an almost certain title shot.
8. James Toney, USA (Last month #8) JT will get his chance to finally secure a win against a legitimately top 10 ranked heavyweight --- something he has yet to accomplish. Don’t bet the house that he’ll slip and counter his way through the powerhouse Sam Peter.
9. Nicolay Valuev, Russia – WBA Champion (Last month #10) The giant Russian is continuing to disappoint in the “champion” department. In October he’ll engage in yet another defense against someone who has recent, clear setbacks when he steps in against Monte Barrett. Sure Barrett has had modest success but he hasn’t captured a victory since February 2005 and he lost his last bout (against Rahman). How does that qualify as title-fight material? Oh, by the way, HBO will air it. Aren’t we all proud?
10. Sultan Ibragimov, Russia (Last month #12) Sultan was fortunate to escape with a draw over the clever and underrated Ray Austin in July. Although we scored the bout in favor of Ibragimov, it literally could have gone either way. One thing that needs to change fast is that Ibragimov must get in better shape. He appeared absolutely pudgy. This isn’t the time to let yourself go Sultan. Tighten up.
11. Ray Austin, USA (Last month #16) So close and yet so far. His draw with Ibragimov at least means he gets another chance and he deserves it. His smart use of his physical attributes makes him a difficult opponent for anyone. His heart makes him a cut above most of the competitors in the game today.
12. John Ruiz, USA (Last month #11) The “Quiet Man” is still ranked number 1 by the WBA. Consider this, he has not won a fight since November 2004 and has done nothing since his December 2005 loss to Nicolay Valuev. You tell me why he rates a “mandatory” title shot.
13. Oleg Maskaev, Uzbekistan (Last month #13) The big chance is finally here. Maskaev seeks to gain a title and, historically, become the fourth current belt-holder from the former Soviet Union. It will prove no small task in taking the measure of an older and wiser Hasim Rahman.
14. Shannon Briggs, USA (Last month #14) The former lineal champion says he will be completely focused in his preparations for Wladimir Klitschko. He was an extra-thick 273 in his last bout. Such a recurrence against Klitschko will spell doom. He has a chance because of his power but he’ll have to be at his best or he’ll get blasted by the faster and sharper hitting Ukrainian.
15. Ruslan Chagaev, Uzbekistan (Last month #15) A credible win over Michael Sprott in July should push “White Tyson” into a meaningful contest soon.
16. DaVarryl Williamson, USA (Last month #17) Nothing on the boards for the 37 year-old. A recent return victory won’t mean much if he doesn’t follow with a win against a ranked contender.
17. Fres Oquendo, USA (Last month #18) Although he fought in May – and didn’t look all that impressive – he has nothing scheduled (as far as we can find). His latest comeback is curiously inconspicuous.
18. Matt Skelton, England (Last month #19) Who would’ve thought the 39 year-old Skelton would be the one headed for a title shot? Just a few months ago he appeared to be on the way to the club show circuit. With his clear win over Danny Williams he will likely be fodder for Valuev. Don’t expect him to win, but at least he’s getting his chance.
19. Jameel McCline, USA (Last month #21) A solid decision win over a tough and able Terry Smith in July showed some juice. He showed good conditioning, but it is still baffling that a 270 pound man can’t hit harder. Nonetheless, with six wins in a row, he rates a top ten shot.
20. Danny Williams, England (Last month #9) So, you’re Danny Williams and you’re a single fight away from Nicolay Valuev and his belt. So, of course you come into your Commonwealth title fight with Matt Skelton at 288 – about 30 pounds overweight – and you huff and puff your way to a decision loss. What were you thinking Danny? Chances at world belts are rare. Don’t expect a call. (Then again, given the WBA titlist’s recent track record, the loss may just jettison Williams into a title shot).
21. Luan Krasniqi, Germany (Last month #20) Lots of talk about a possible bout but nothing is scheduled. He needs to take a page from the Jameel McCline book of staying active.
22. Tony Thompson, USA (Last month #22) At age 34 he’ll have to capitalize on his win over Dominick Guinn in a short period. He does not have the luxury of time.
23. David Tua, New Zealand (Last month unranked) – Tuaman returned in July from a 9-month hiatus to stop Edward Guitierrez. The bout marked Tua’s third bout in the last three years. He’ll to really turn up the volume if he wants another title crack.
24. Vladimir Virchis, Ukraine (Last month unranked) In beating Paolo Vidoz he gained the European title and a bit of redemption since losing to Chagaev.
25. Monte Barrett, USA (Last month #25) When he meets Nicolay Valuev in October he will have gone 20 long months since his last win. Indeed his last bout was a clear loss to Hasim Rahman. It is starting to seem that the fast track to Big Nick is to demonstrate a great deal of inactivity and some key recent losses. First Owen Beck and now this. What’s next a rematch with John Ruiz? Oops, someone may have heard that.
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 but who still rate attention. We're highlighting activity and when potentially top fighters have bouts scheduled you’ll likely see them reappear:
Dominick Guinn, USA (Last month #23) How does he pickup the pieces? Perhaps a club circuit tour like that of Jameel McCline could restore some confidence. We’re very close to running out of possibilities.
Audley Harrison, England (Last month #24) “A Force” moved back into the win column in June and will have to be very active if he is to ever challenge for a title.
Paolo Vidoz, Italy – For those persistent emailers who pined for the “Titanium Jaw” to be included not only in the top 25 but the top 10 of this list, the once-beaten Vladimir Virchis demonstrated the difference between an above-average journeyman and a potential title contender. Vidoz folded against Virchis in six rounds. This rating business can’t be left to amateurs --- that’s why you won’t see Vidoz in this column next month.
Alexander Dimitrenko, Ukraine –The big youngster moved to 22-0 (13 KOs) with an unsurprising two round stoppage of the usually cruiserweight journeyman Chad Van Sickle. He recently stepped up a notch by defeating Vaughn Bean; we have to wonder why his handlers have gone backward in opponent selection.
Tye Fields, USA – The big man moved to 37-1 with a July stoppage over the hot-and-cold Maurice Harris. It’s time for him to make a move on the top 15 heavyweights.
Joe Mesi, USA – “Baby Joe” was scheduled for an August contest in South Africa but that bout was canceled, according to Mesi’s website, when “the promoter of the event…failed to fulfill his financial obligations.” Hopefully he uses the extra time to get in better shape.
Eddie Chambers, USA – The 24 year-old “Fast” Eddie, now 26-0, is set for a September bout in Philadelphia’s fabled Blue Horizon. No name yet on the opponent. We need to start seeing him on TV.
Chazz Witherspoon, USA – Chazz’ June win over Michael Alexander on Showtime didn’t make anyone tingle. He was clearly overweight, slow, and not all that hard to hit. The smallish Alexander didn’t have the pop to test Witherspoon’s chin. He did show resolve and a willingness to fight hard in the late rounds, but all-round improvement and fitness are required before he moves forward.
Alexander Povetkin, Russia – After only eight bouts, he has audiences buzzing. The former Olympic gold medallist may just be the real thing. Rumors are swirling that he may face ex-Euro champ Paolo Vidoz. This would represent an uptick in competition and any upward movement is good.
Gonzalo Omar Basile, Argentina – The big fella has won 10 fights in 2006 including an eight round decision in July over Mariano Ramon Ocampo (you know him don’t you?). How many fighters stay that busy nowdays? He is 24-1 – with 24 straight wins. We can only hope that he ventures into the land of well-known heavyweights --- soon.
J.D. Chapman, USA – The 23 year-old is now 24-0 (21 KOs) after stopping hapless Chris Lewallen in two rounds in July, his fifth bout of 2006. He’s already scheduled for a September date. Such a determined campaign, coupled with the able corner work of Jeff Mayweather, may smooth off his very rough edges.
Malik Scott, USA – Weighing a career high 255 (19 pounds heavier than his previous outing) Scott moved to 25-0 (10 KOs) with a points victory over Marcus McGhee. The win marks his ninth decision in his last 10 bouts. Perhaps the added weight may have an effect on his power --- but it hasn't so far.
Kevin McBride, Ireland – Look for this to be the last month you see his name on this list. He meets belt-holder Serguei Liakhovich in August. End of story.
Denis Boytsov, Russia – The 20 year-old Russian prodigy picked up an eight-round decision win in July over unknown Edson Caesar Antonio in Germany. It marked the first time in the youngster’s now 16-0 career that he was extended the distance.
Sinan Samil Sam, Germany (via Turkey) – Though consistently overrated by the WBC, Sam is a fairly competent heavyweight. He’s proven rugged but underpowered. Nonetheless he remains a tough trial-horse and a worthy notch on the belt of any aspiring contender.