By Matthew Hurley: When I sat down this past Friday night to watch a come-backing Samuel Peter take on rising contender Eddie Chambers I didn’t know quite what to expect. After Peter’s terrible showing against Vitali Klitschko in which he retired on his stool after eight pathetic rounds I was hoping the ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ would buckle down and try to regroup. But reports of a dismal training camp proved true and Peter weighed in at a career high 265 pounds. So much for trying to get back to where you once belonged. Peter’s lack of focus and, in my estimation, lack of respect for the sport and its fans has become academic in the heavyweight division. Even Chambers, in what should have been enough to get him completely on target – a headlining gig on ESPN against a name opponent – came in overweight. He won a majority decision but I found nothing of value in the performance and it left me wondering if following any of these heavyweights is worth my while.
There are so many wonderful fighters plying their trade in the lower weight divisions to enjoy and some of them are on the cusp of being all time great boxers. Actually some of them may already be there. Manny Pacquiao, Juan Manuel Marquez and certainly the aging but seemingly ageless Bernard Hopkins will walk into the hall of fame with no apologies. Other fighters such as Israel Vazquez, Rafael Marquez, Miguel Cotto, Paul Williams, Ricky Hatton, Vic Darchinyan to the diminutive but supremely gifted Ivan Calderon reflect a professionalism that has led them to the inner circle of fan favorites. And there’s more, Kelly Pavlik, Arthur Abraham, Andre Berto, Edwin Valero and Tomaz Adamek provide endless thrills but somehow, for some reason, the heavyweight division and it’s lack of coherence continues to frustrate fans and media alike to the point of diminishing all that the aforementioned fighters have accomplished. The shadow of the heavyweight division still looms large over the sport in general no matter how inept it is. With no heavyweight figurehead, boxing has suffered and so many great fights and fighters in the lighter weight divisions have flown under the radar of many former boxing fans who believe that boxing is on its death bed. This current crop of heavyweights has a lot to answer for.
Perhaps a ban, or at least a boycott, of the heavyweight division would change that general perception and a fight like the thrilling Tomaz Adamek – Steve Cunningham cruiserweight championship would have received more notice. Or maybe not. Many hardcore boxing fans I’ve spoken to, to a person, say they don’t care about mainstream media coverage for their sport. The operative word being “their”. They’ve come to accept that boxing has lost much of it’s appeal to casual sports fans so they wave it all off and embrace the sport more tightly because they feel it belongs to a select but vocal and dedicated contingent now. It belongs to them. To hell with what anyone else thinks.
But it’s hard not to lament the glory days of the 1980s and early 90s when fighters like Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran, Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield commanded newspaper and television coverage. Also, excessive pay-per-views in a withering economy has further alienated many people – although, as of late, that egregious money marketing scheme has been reduced to only true events such as the upcoming Manny Pacquiao – Ricky Hatton junior welterweight tussle in May.
But mainstream media attention in your area newspapers really doesn’t mean all that much anymore anyway when one considers all of the papers that are folding. Print media is, sadly, becoming a dying industry. With the Internet providing daily updates many of the sports magazines, for example, are dated the second they hit the newsstand. Countless boxing magazines have folded because the news they provided was over a month old. Only The Ring Magazine has kept current by dedicating many sections to retrospectives, profiling up-and-comers, book reviews, wonderful photography and continuing to allow longtime respected columnists like Jeff Ryan and Ivan Goldman vent their spleens.
A few months ago I wrote a column about attending a Mixed Martial Arts pay-per-view event at a local bar. The question I had for the sell-out crowd was – do you follow boxing? The vast majority of people I spoke with all had a variation on the same theme: “I don’t know who the fighters or the champions are,” “Boxing died when Tyson fell apart,” “Who the hell is the heavyweight champion? Isn’t there like six of them?”
The most recent question someone asked me, and all I could do was sigh and nod, was, “Aren’t two of the heavyweight champions brothers? And they won’t fight each other!?! Give me a break!”
Give me a break indeed.
Whatever you think of Wladimir and Vital Klitschko one thing is undeniable (unless you’re their mother), the two of them sitting atop the heavyweight rubble and smiling lovingly at each other is as big a problem this division faces as the ineptitude of a gelatinous Samuel Peter. On top of that, one of the Brothers Grimm fights tentatively and often tediously, albeit behind sound technical skills, while the other attempts to engage behind an awkward, aesthetically displeasing style. Vitali’s recent victory over Juan Carlos Gomez on ESPN was not highlight reel stuff. He may have a heavy right hand and he may fight with a worthy heart but his fights often resemble schoolyard bully sessions. Wladimir still fights in that straight up European style but at least he’s athletic and, when matched easily, can produce something pleasing to watch. Present him with a bit of difficulty, however, and his eyes get wide and he becomes skittish – all six foot six inches and 250 pounds of him. To realize that these two behemoths are the best that the division has to offer is enough to explain why no one seems to really care about who wears the crown of what was once the most coveted prize in all of sports.
And then there was Peter. Samuel Peter and his gut! What happened to this guy? How can a fighter become so complacent so quickly? Oh, wait, I forgot about David Tua earlier this decade. And then there were all those heavyweights in the early eighties encapsulated by the aptly named Tony Tubbs. So this has happened before. The American heavyweight being touted as, possibly, the next big thing, Chris Arreola, just keeps getting bigger and bigger. And he’s not even considered a top ten heavyweight yet, but Big Bad Wladdy is considering him as an opponent.
The possible infusion of electricity into this moribund division came in November of 2008 when former undisputed cruiserweight champion David Haye knocked out Monte Barrett in the fifth round in just his second fight against a heavyweight. Haye, whatever your reservations may be, at least seems to want to put up or shut up. The guy is explosive, combative and arrogant to the point where you wonder if he understands his limitations better than all those who criticize him and may know how to protect them when his title shot comes.
But so what if his chin is a little shaky, he’s somewhat undersized in this era of enormo-heavyweights and he’s a bit too willing to get into a firefight. Isn’t that just what the doctor ordered? Quite frankly, David Haye may just crash and burn before he even has the chance to wrap one of those belts around his waist, but at least he brings a brash attitude to the table. His June 20th date with Wladimir Klitschko is still tentative but if Klitschko truly wants to gain the respect of a boxing public still unsure of him after all these years of up and down performances then he should chuck his belts if mandatory defenses preclude him from fighting this guy and call Haye out.
This fight should have been signed already and, ironically, even though Haye represents Wladimir’s sternest challenge he could also be his easiest. Haye could conceivably walk straight into one of Klitschko’s perfectly thrown straight right hands and hit the canvas before his British fans are even on their second pint.
Then again Wladimir’s own shaky chin could fail him yet again. And it would surprise no one.
That’s what heavyweight boxing needs – something compelling. Until this fight is a done deal and they enter the ring with the intent of putting on a show to make for exciting viewing we will be subjected to more of the same. And who in their right mind wants that? In fact, the next time I see an overweight, unmotivated heavyweight from my ringside seat or at home on television I’ll walk away. I’ve seen enough. I don’t need to see anymore.