November gave us some clear answers and some fuzzy questions about where the division will go next year.
Wladimir Klitschko separated himself from the rest of the division with a blow out of the talented Calvin Brock. His combination of power, speed, and boxing skills is unmatched in the division. While his chin will always be questioned, it will take a big hitter to even have a chance. No one will outbox him.
Shannon Briggs made the most of his long-awaited shot but just in the nick of time. Far behind in the fight, Briggs stopped Serguei Liakhovich in the waning seconds of the final round. Let’s be honest, neither man looked like a world beater. Lots of posing and not a lot of punching.
Oleg Maskaev will hopefully end his defense against Peter Okhello early enough that it allows him to return to action soon --- against a qualified challenger. It seems that the sanctioning bodies are doing everything in their power to out-stupid each other and the sanctioning of this title bout is this month’s WBC contribution.
In the 25th spot on this list you’ll see the name Alexander Povetkin. Go ahead and throw your stones --- I know it’s risky putting a 9-0 fighter in the top 25. The former Olympic gold medal winner has the ability, if the not the track record, to contend for a top spot soon.
Many thanks to Brian Bizzack and Troy Ondrizek for their early warning systems that alert us all to what’s happening in the division.
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1. Wladimir Klitschko, Ukraine – IBF Champion (Last month #1) The big man left no doubts about who rules the division. The alphabet titles are meaningless in the equation. Knocking out Calvin Brock is a significant milestone in the Manny Steward-induced reclamation of Klitschko’s career. He has power in both hands, speed to burn, and a jab that only a top fighter can work himself through. Look for the other alphabet boys to hide behind their alphabet “mandatories” for some time to come.
2. Samuel Peter, Nigeria (Last month #4) Peter will face James Toney in January following the disgusting WBC’s rematch edict. He should be fighting Maskaev instead. Nonethless, getting past Toney won’t be easy unless he learned from their first meeting. I would urge him to end matters by pressing his power and not trying to figure out the boxing master.
3. James Toney, USA (Last month #5) Sam Peter represents his only obstacle to yet another attempt at heavyweight belt. Will he be a well-conditioned version or the tubby guy who showed up last time? We are hesitant to say this is his last chance should he lose because the WBC is involved but it will prove difficult to advance again given his age. So, it’s now or never……maybe.
4. Oleg Maskaev, Uzbekistan / USA – WBC Champion (Last month #6) The clock is ticking for his showdown with the Peter Okhello. Don’t you feel the tingle? Let’s get this joke over with in a hurry.
5. Nicolay Valuev, Russia – WBA Champion (Last month #9) Scheduled to go against an as yet to be named opponent in January, possibly in Sweden. It looks like his people want to keep him under wraps as long as possible. Don’t expect to see him to show up at a Klitschko press conference – or any press conference – to call out anyone. We’ll just wait and see if he really faces the rugged Ruslan Chagaev, the supposed “mandatory” challenger.
6. Shannon Briggs, USA – WBO Champion (Last month #13) Briggs came into his match with a lot of baggage --- and a lot of extra weight --- and it nearly cost him. But, give him credit, he powered home a knockout and he left the arena with a belt. Many will be skeptical about the length of his title reign, but for now he can celebrate a big win.
7. Serguei Liakhovich, Belarus – (Last month #2) Last month we said that a loss against Shannon Briggs would make his title-winning effort against Brewster seem illusionary. It’s not quite that bad – he was winning going into the last round – but he is now way back in the line for the big dollar matches.
8. Hasim Rahman, USA – (Last Month #7) He figures to gain some big paydays as the former champion. Still rated in everyone’s top ten, he’ll make a substantial amount as a stepping stone. We don’t see him wearing a world title belt again.
9. Sultan Ibragimov, Russia (Last month #10) He’s supposedly now the mandatory for the new titlist Briggs. But, don’t count on it happening just yet. If there’s bigger money to be made look for Briggs to go elsewhere. Oh, and by the way, Briggs is promoted by Don King and Ibragimov is not.
10. Calvin Brock, USA (Last month #3) A loss to Klitschko is no great shame. In fact, Brock may still be the second best heavyweight – we can’t be sure until we see him in action again. He had his moments but he was just a bit short in power, speed, and size.
11. Ray Austin, USA (Last month #11) His July draw with Ibragimov has led to a possible “mandatory” shot for Ibragimov in the WBO. But, presto Austin has suddenly emerged as a “mandatory” in the IBF. Neither fighter really rates a mandatory challenge. Isn’t it just plain silly that two fighters who scored a draw with each other in their last bout are mandatory challengers anywhere?
12. Lamon Brewster, USA (Last month #8) No word on the former titlist. Of course his former title has now changed hands again. Soon, the memory of the exciting Brewster will fade.
13. Ruslan Chagaev, Uzbekistan (Last month #14) Welcome to the big leagues. The November decision win over Der Huggmeister John Ruiz in Germany means the Uzbeki is supposed to be next in line for Valuev. Don’t believe it until you see them climbing through the ropes.
14. John Ruiz, USA (Last month #12) Another split decision, another loss. Ruslan Chagaev squeeks past the “Quiet Man” to quietly proceed to a match with Valuev. Always keep in mind that weird things have happened in the past when Ruiz has lost – let’s not count him out of the picture until he announces his retirement and then wait for six months.
15. DaVarryl Williamson, USA (Last month #15) Nothing scheduled. He last fought in May, beating previously undefeated Mike Mollo, but hasn’t capitalized on the win.
16. Matt Skelton, England (Last month #17) Though not highly rated by the alphabets, if he can defeat Audley Harrison in December do not be surprised to see him in some kind of title fight. British audiences are big.
17. Jameel McCline, USA (Last month #18) The consistent campaigner has to be disappointed that Superfighter fell by the wayside. He had a real chance at the big money. Time to regroup and make a final push in the twilight of his career.
18 Danny Williams, England (Last month #19) Last we heard he was looking for a British title shot against Scott Gammer.
19. David Tua, New Zealand (Last month #22) – A rusty version of the Tuaman took seven rounds to dispose of last ditch sub Maurice Wheeler (now 10-9-1). Tua fought only twice in 2006. He’ll have to step up the pace and competition if he really wants another go at the top.
20. Luan Krasniqi, Germany (Last month #20) A knee injury forced a cancellation of his December return.
21. Tony Thompson, USA (Last month #21) Yet another big American who scored a substantial victory – for him it was a June win over Dominick Guinn – and then had a period of inactivity. I don’t get it.
22. Vladimir Virchis, Ukraine (Last month #23) Scheduled to defend his EBU title in January against journeyman Russian Dennis Bakhtov. At age 33, he needs to pick up the competition level soon.
23 Alexander Dimitrenko, Ukraine (Last month #24) – Oddly, he blew out Gonzalo Omar Basile in one round in October but was extended 12 full rounds against journeyman Billy Zumbrun in a stay-busy fight in November. While the scores were thoroughly lopsided, decision victories over fighters at the club level make us wonder about his power.
24. Eddie Chambers, USA (Last month #25) Recent sparring with the best heavyweight in the world, Wladimir Klitshcko, will surely help in his rise to top ten status.
25. Alexander Povetkin, Russia (Last month unranked) – We’re obviously going out on a limb by putting in a 9-0 fighter in the top 25. Povetkin may just be that good. Of course in facing journeyman Imanu Mayfield he’s not going to thoroughly inspire the boxing world. What should inspire us about this former Olympic gold medal winner is an abundance of talent in all facets of the game. He’ll emerge soon enough as a top ten performer.
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.
Fres Oquendo, USA (Last month #16) Oquendo gave away his last opportunity by standing around and doing soooooooooooo little against Holyfield. Some ringside observers thought Oquendo did enough to eke out the decision but no one left convinced that he did so with emphasis. You can’t lose to a 44 year-old shell of a former champion and expect to go anywhere. Fres is out.
Evander Holyfield, USA – Okay, some will say that since he beat a rated fighter that he deserves to be rated once again. All the fight with Oquendo proved is that neither man belongs in the ring with the top fighters of the division. The qualities of slow and easy to hit are a potentially lethal combination. Please don’t let him near Klitschko.
Chris Byrd, USA – I’ve received many emails wondering why Chris is out of the top 25. Had he elected to continue campaigning in the division he would certainly rate a slot in the top 25 – but he has stated his intention to go to the cruiserweight division. He’ll also participate in the so-called “Superfighter” tournament if and when it ever occurs.
Travis Walker, USA – “Freight Train” Walker, 22-0-1, captured a majority decision over fellow unbeaten former Olympian Jason Estrada in November. The unusual meeting of two young heavyweights served as a significant venue for both. Walker is now primed to face a rated fighter, though he still has much to prove. Solid win.
Roman Greenberg, England (via Israel) – A knockout win over Alexei Varakin in November precedes his move to America. He’s already scheduled for a December date in Florida.
Chris Arreola, USA – Arreola scored a big win by stopping fellow unbeaten Damian Wills on the undercard of Floyd Mayweather – Carlos Baldomir. Now 18-0 (16 KOs), you can expect to see him in a significant bout soon.
Albert Sosnowski, Poland – The Pole moved to 39-1 (23 KOs) beating Lawrence Tauasa in South Africa to win an obscure alphabet belt.
Oleg Platov, Ukraine – The Belgium-based 23 year-old pounded out a 12-round split vote over the former WBO titlist, 41 year-old Henry Akinwande in Germany. It’s hard to know how much this win tells us given the advanced age of Akinwande, but it represents clearing a hurdle that is a requirement of an up-and-coming potential contender. Platov moves to 23-1 (19 KOs).