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20 OCTOBER 2014

 

Cruising For Recognition: The Plight of the Cruiserweights




By Derek Bonnett: Boxing aficionados can all agree on which fighter deserves the distinction of being called the greatest cruiserweight of all time: Evander Holyfield. After that, there’s no clear number two for this division even though some pretty good talent has settled there like Al Cole, Orlin Norris, James Toney, Vassily Jirov, Juan Carlos Gomez, and David Haye. In fact, things have been pretty uncertain about the cruiserweight division from the start or since Marvin Camel drew with Mate Parlov in the inaugural championship bout in December 1979. Since then, the weight limit jumped ten pounds from 190 to 200 in 2003 and forty-three men have held world cruiserweight championships (WBC, WBA, IBF). For almost thirty years, the cruiserweight division has been referred to as a “bastard division”, a “ pit stop on the way to heavyweight”, or simply just “spurious”.

Will these little recognized combatants ever make it into the spotlight?

Well, things have looked up over the past couple of years. Now we have started hearing things like “the cruiserweights are the new heavyweights” thanks to the lack of interest in today’s big men. Unfortunately, talk isn’t enough and, thankfully, the cruiserweights have responded with some pretty good action in return. Jean-Marc Mormeck and O’ Neil Bell did their part in unifying the titles in 2006. David Haye contributed to the cruiserweight cause by scoring sensational KO’s in world title fights with Mormeck and Enzo Maccarinelli in the last 14 months before he moved on to heavyweight. Most recently, Guillermo Jones and Tomasz Adamek substantiated their careers by overcoming the odds to score upsets over capable champions in Firat Arslan and Steve “USS” Cunningham.

At long last, the almost big men of the sport seem ready to step into the light as a division and not just as individuals.

In response to the Adamek-Cunningham title fight in Newark, NJ on December 11, Colin Morgan, in attendance that night with WBA champion Guillermo Jones, described it as the following.

“It was a very entertaining fight. Both fighters were well conditioned,” Morgan said. “Cunningham controlled most of the rounds, but Adamek came on for about thirty seconds at the end of each round finishing strongly. It kept me in my seat and my eyes on the ring . It was a very close fight; the three knock downs hurt Cunningham.”

Morgan added, “It’s what fight fans expect when they buy tickets or turn on their TV. They want to see both fighters giving it their all. The Guillermo Jones-Firat Arslan fight was also a really exciting bout. Guillermo controlled the fight from the beginning. Arslan had his nose broken in the second round, but he just kept going. By round six, he had his lip torn up pretty badly and was still trying. It was a bloodbath. The referee called the fight in the 10th round.”

While Jones and Adamek have done their bit to set themselves apart from the pack, there are plenty of obstacles remaining in the division to keep the attention on the cruisers for longer than the clichéd “one hot minute.” Arslan and Cunningham remain in the world title picture in spite of losing their belts. Giacobbe Fragomeni, Rudolf Kraj, and Matt Godfrey are all fighters who have stepped up to establish themselves as top ten contenders. BJ Flores and Johnathon Banks remain unbeaten. Enzo Maccarinelli, Marco Huck, and Wayne Braithwaite are all rebuilding from title fight defeats. Even Jose Luis Herrera’s wild, television friendly style garners attention. So far, they are all showing a willingness to fight one another and that’s what makes a division popular.

Bret Hallenbeck, manager of Matt Godfrey, was also impressed by the Adamek-Cunningham battle and can’t help but think about future bouts with Adamek or Jones.

“That was a great fight and I think it had a great impact on the cruiserweight division,” Hallenbeck stated. “I know Matt would love to fight Adamek or Jones. I believe that neither fighter has a lot of power. Both are very busy, but make a lot of mistakes. That feeds right into Matt’s style.”

John Scully, Godfrey’s trainer, was equally interested, but made a clear preference for his fighter.

“I actually think Adamek has a style that meshes better with Matt than Guillermo‘s, but you never know. A great fight between any two guys can break out if the right circumstances are there,” Scully reasoned. “I would say that this is the first time in a long time that I have heard this much buzz after a cruiserweight fight, so it definitely is good for us and every other cruiserweight in the world. All the cruiserweights just might owe Adamek and Cunningham a gesture of appreciation.”

They certainly do and one can only hope the cruiserweight buzz, particularly on boxing message boards and chat rooms, continues.

Another factor that just might add some fuel to the cruiserweight combustion is The Contender season four on Versus, which just coincidentally happens to involve the 200-pound class. The cast includes two ESPN familiar faces in Darnell Wilson and Felix Cora Jr. Depending on how the tournament unfolds, casual sports fans might become endeared to these fighters and that type of interest could only help to make some of the better fights in the division a reality.

“I think [The Contender IV] is great. Especially since one of my fighters, Ehinomen Ehikhamenor, is in the competition,” Morgan commented. “Fans should pay more attention to the cruiserweight division. The competition is hot and the original heavyweights were 200 lbs. Cruiserweights should be called heavyweights and the big heavyweights should be called super heavyweights. The heavyweight division right now is lacking some excitement.”

Scully spoke similarly of The Contender season four.

“If there are some entertaining fights on the show, it could definitely raise the profile of the division,” reflected Scully. “I know a lot of the guys on this year’s show; I have actually sparred in the past with several of them and almost all of them are guys who really come to fight, so I think there is a good chance for some very entertaining matches this season.”

With the decline in competition of the once mighty heavyweight, middleweight, junior middleweight, and junior welterweight divisions, there is room in boxing’s spotlight, but more importantly there is the need for other weight classes to step it up. Since the sport has always been kinder to the heavier weight classes when dishing out attention and recognition, the cruiserweights have a real opportunity here.

As of this writing, the rumor mill has Adamek defending his championship against BJ Flores and Jones taking on Jean-Marc Mormeck in early 2009. It’s believed Adamek could possibly be looking at a Cunningham rematch after that. None of this is set in stone, but that’s the good news. It’s all rumor, which means fans are really talking about the cruiserweight division. And the competitors, well, they’re doing the walking.

December 22, 2008


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