By: Mikko Salo: The year 2014 saw the heavyweight division gather momentum on different fronts. In Europe, the main market in today`s heavyweight landscape, the Undisputed Champion Wladimir Klitschko fought a 5-round barnburner against top contender Kubrat Pulev. The entertaining HBO-televised match-up proved us once again what kind of a special era in heavyweight boxing we are all witnessing. Klitschko is one of the all-time heavyweight kings and is not about to relinquish his crown.
On the other side of the pond we could also see positive development in the form of The Tournament of America (see State of the Heavyweights column on 8th May 2014). The tournament started off in 2014 with Stiverne vs Arreola II and Jennings vs Perez. The next chapter, Stiverne vs Wilder, is the most anticipated heavyweight match-up on American soil in a long time. It also seems that the prediction in the May column on the possible Klitschko intervention before the end of the tournament is coming true. Talks about a Klitschko vs Jennings clash are on the way.
All in all, in 2014 we saw six match-ups (Klitschko vs Pulev, Povetkin vs Takam, Stiverne vs Arreola II, Fury vs Chisora II, Perez vs Takam, Jennings vs Perez) between current Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (TBRB) or The Ring top 10-rated fighters. The best heavyweights are fighting the best and the division is heading in the right direction.
Once again in State of the Heavyweights: Top Ten Year in Review we will chronicle the campaigns of the heavyweights who at year`s end are rated in the top ten by TBRB and/or The Ring Magazine. We ignore the alphabets.
Undisputed Champion Wladimir Klitschko (63-3, 53 KO), TBRB P4P #5, The Ring P4P #2
The year 2014 saw The Undisputed Champion Wladimir Klitschko continuing his historic dominance of boxing`s glamour division. For starters in April, the 38-year-old Champ dismantled the hapless unrated Australian-based Samoan Alex Leapai in Oberhausen, Germany in five rounds.
Then came the megafight against #1 contender Kubrat Pulev of Bulgaria. The undefeated Pulev had established himself as the best active opponent Klitschko had not faced. The Bulgarian came in with a stellar amateur background and during a fast-rising pro career he had posted two wins over top ten opposition (Dimitrenko in 2012, Thompson in 2013). But on 15th November in O2 World Arena, Hamburg, Germany, Klitschko showed once again who is the boss of the whole fight game. The five-round war ending with the game Pulev flat on his back was an exclamation point the boxing public wanted and got from the Champ.
For 2015 Klitschko has a 25th April date set in Brooklyn`s Barclays Center. This would mean the first Wladimir Klitschko fight in the US in over seven years, the last being a UD 12 win over top ten contender Sultan Ibragimov in Madison Square Garden in February 2008. The US has been a secondary heavyweight market for years but with The Tournament of America and Stiverne vs Wilder gathering fan interest, Klitschko smells the opportunity to finally win over the American fan base. Right now the first move into the US market seems to be to step in while the Tournament of America is still ongoing. The projected opponent is one of the tournament finalists, TBRB #8, The Ring #5 contender Bryant Jennings.
Undisputed #1 Contender Alexander Povetkin (28-1, 20 KO)
After suffering his first career loss in October 2013 at the hands of Wladimir Klitschko, the 2004 Olympic Champion Alexander Povetkin did not lay low and take on journeymen. He actually raised his stock with a strong 2014 campaign including two impressive knockout victories against quality opposition. As a result Povetkin is once again regarded as the undisputed #1 contender for Klitschko`s throne.
For the first time after the Klitschko loss Povetkin stepped in the ring in Luzhniki Sports Palace, Moscow in May. The Russian scored an entertaining 7th-round knockout over Lebanese-German Manuel Charr, whose lone previous loss had come against Vitali Klitschko.
Then Povetkin upped the stakes by facing the TBRB #5 contender Carlos Takam, who had vaulted himself into top ten contention with a strong 2014 showing. The fight was staged in October, once again in Luzhniki, Moscow. Takam started well but Povetkin began taking control as the fight entered the later rounds. The Russian ended matters with a spectacular knockout in the 10th after a war some deemed worthy of fight-of-the-year consideration.
It seems that Povetkin is genuinely aiming to get back in the mix for a rematch with the Champ. The latest considerations seem to involve him facing TBRB #10, The Ring #8 contender Mike Perez for a chance to fight Stiverne vs Wilder winner in case Klitschko vs Jennings comes to fruition and interrupts the Tournament of America.
TBRB #2, The Ring #3 Contender Tyson Fury (23-0, 17 KO)
Wladimir Klitschko, David Haye, Deontay Wilder, Chris Arreola, Bermane Stiverne, Dereck Chisora, Lucas Browne, David Price, Roy Jones(!), Anthony Joshua… The list of fighters who Tyson Fury or his camp called out during the last year or so goes on and on. The British giant was indeed again one of the more colorful characters of heavyweight boxing. He also continued his ascension through the contender ranks and in the end of 2014 he looms as a possible challenger for Klitschko in 2015.
Fury´s year began with signing on the dotted line with Frank Warren in January. On 15th February he appeared on a Warren card for the first time, beating journeyman Joey Abell by TKO 4 in Copper Box Arena, London.
After David Haye succumbed to injuries and David Price got knocked out of the market the big British heavyweight showdown for 2014 eventually was the rematch between Tyson Fury and then-TBRB #8 contender Dereck Chisora. The fight was first set for July, but had to be postponed due to Chisora fracturing his hand in sparring. Finally the fight took place in November at London`s ExCel Arena, with Fury notching an easier-than-expected RTD 10 victory over badly-battered Chisora, who had no answer to the big man`s boxing skill and southpaw tactics.
After the convincing victory over Chisora, 2015 looks promising for 26-year-old Tyson Fury. His market value is on the rise and now he actually seems to be willing to mix it up with Wladimir Klitschko when the opportunity comes. My guess is that Fury might get his chance in 2015. Right now Klitschko is interested in getting re-established in the US market but the Champ very well knows the money a showdown with Fury in a big stadium would generate. In the meantime Tyson Fury is slated for a February tune-up in London`s O2 Arena against Romanian-German Christian Hammer (17-3, 10 KO).
The Ring #2, TBRB #3 Contender Bermane Stiverne (24-1-1, 21 KO)
After settling a lawsuit with promoter Don King, Bermane Stiverne had once again a successful one-fight campaign in 2014. You really can`t blame this guy for wearing himself out with a busy fight schedule. The Las Vegas-based Haitian-Canadian has fought once in 2012, once in 2013 and once in 2014. This might be smart though, Stiverne being 36 years old and not getting any younger.
Stiverne`s lone 2014 action in the ring took place in May in USC Galen Center, Los Angeles, The Tournament of America kicking off with Stiverne vs Chris Arreola II. With the explosive 6th-round KO “B Ware” put an exclamation point to his dominance over the Mexican-American slugger. Since then Stiverne`s and Deontay Wilder`s promoters squabbled over details of the Fight #3 of the Tournament of America. Finally, the date was set for January 17th in MGM Grand, Las Vegas.
Stiverne vs Wilder is a make-or-break fight for both fighters and will earn the winner a chance to challenge the Champ in a true superfight the division is yearning for. It is also an important fight for the American boxing media and public who have been crying “Heavyweight division is dead!!” for the last ten years just because there are no legitimate American-based contenders for the Heavyweight Championship. Stiverne vs Wilder will finally provide us that.
TBRB #4, The Ring #4 Contender Kubrat Pulev (20-1, 11 KO)
The rugged Bulgarian who enjoys a superstar status in his home country fought twice in 2014 and his brave encounter with Wladimir Klitschko brought out the best in the all-time great Champ`s arsenal.
Before his shot at the Champ Pulev took a tune-up in April by taking an easy RTD 3 victory against journeyman Ivica Perkovic in Rostock, Germany. Then, after a Klitschko-injury-induced postponement of two months “The Cobra” finally got his big chance in November when he entered the ring with the Heavyweight King in O2 World Arena, Hamburg, Germany. Pulev was clearly determined to not lay down before the Ruler like many other Klitschko opponents. He came out swinging but ended up on the receiving end of crushing right crosses and left hooks from the Ukrainian legend. After the fourth knockdown left Pulev flat on his back in round five we had seen him take Klitschko on with everything he had. It just wasn`t enough against the Champ.
Although the KO defeat to Klitschko caused Pulev to slide a couple of notches in the rankings, the Bulgarian remains in the mix and will be a threat against anyone not named Klitschko. As of now, Pulev doesn`t have a fight scheduled for 2015. Hopefully he follows Povetkin`s footsteps in re-establishing himself against quality opposition in the coming year.
TBRB #5 Contender Carlos Takam (30-2-1, 23 KO)
Carlos Takam, a French-based Cameroonian, was one of the quiet heavyweight stories of 2014. He worked his way up to top ten contention and gave Alexander Povetkin a run for his money before succumbing to the effective power punching of the Russian standout.
In 2014 Takam took on three opponents who at the time of the fight were ranked in the heavyweight top ten by TBRB. That is something no other fighter did. By going 1-1-1 against tough competition assured him a place in TBRB`s top ten at the end of 2014.
In January Takam was slated as the opponent for then-TBRB #10 contender Mike Perez, who was coming off the ill-fated victory against Russian slugger Magomed Abdusalamov. The Cameroonian traveled to Montreal, Canada to face the Cuban-Irish Perez on the undercard of Pascal vs Bute. Takam gave a very good showing scoring a majority draw, raising his market value considerably.
Next step was to face then-TBRB #5 contender Tony Thompson, who agreed to travel to Levallois-Perret, France for the fight, held in June 2014. Takam earned a hard-fought but clear UD 12 victory and finally vaulted himself into top ten contention.
For a crossroads fight for both men, Carlos Takam traveled to Moscow in October to face by far his most accomplished foe in Alexander Povetkin, who was working his way back into Championship contention. The fight proved to be one of the best heavyweight scraps of the year, both men giving and taking each other`s best shots. Takam had success early on, but Povetkin`s superior boxing skills and toughness began to take over as the fight progressed. The end came in the 10th round with a brutal knockout.
Despite the loss to Povetkin, 34-year-old Takam remains in the mix for good heavyweight confrontations in 2015. As of now, he doesn`t have a fight scheduled.
The Ring #5, TBRB #8 Contender Bryant Jennings (19-0, 10 KO)
For a couple of years now, the 30-year-old Bryant Jennings has been billed as one of the more promising prospects of the dreary American heavyweight landscape. With two quality victories in 2014, he earned a place in both TBRB and The Ring top ten lists.
In January, Jennings took on another previously undefeated fighter in Polish Artur Szpilka in Madison Square Garden Theatre, New York City. In his HBO debut Jennings put on a convincing performance, dominating the bout and ending matters with a TKO in 10th round.
Next came Fight #2 of The Tournament of America against Mike Perez. The fight was first scheduled for May, but Perez`s shoulder injury caused a postponement. The fight eventually landed on the undercard of Golovkin vs Geale in Madison Square Garden in July. In a close fight Jennings scored a split decision and put himself in line to face the winner of Stiverne vs Wilder in the final fight of The Tournament of America.
After Wladimir Klitschko KOed Kubrat Pulev in November, talks began concerning Klitschko`s next opponent. Sensing the buzz Stiverne vs Wilder was creating in the US, Klitschko started to find his way into the US market to prepare for a showdown against Stiverne vs Wilder winner. Enter Bryant Jennings, who already had secured his place in the Tournament of America final. Talks are ongoing, and we might very well see Klitschko vs Jennings in April, the venue being Barclays Center, Brooklyn.
TBRB #6, The Ring #6 Contender Deontay Wilder (32-0, 32 KO)
The rap on Deontay Wilder continues to be his lack of quality opponents, but win or lose, all of that will change in January 2015, when he takes on Bermane Stiverne.
Wilder`s pace slowed down in 2014 as he began waiting for his chances to land a major fight. In March on the undercard of Garcia vs Herrera in Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez, Puerto Rico, Wilder faced Malik Scott, who was by far Wilder`s toughest foe to date, Scott`s only previous loss coming against Dereck Chisora. The fight lasted all of 96 seconds with Scott going down from a looping left jab to the temple.
After Stiverne vs Arreola II the long and arduous negotiations to make Stiverne vs Wilder began. In the meantime Wilder took a stay-busy fight in August, scoring a RTD 4 against Jason Gavern in Carson, California.
Year 2015 will finally reveal to us what 29-year-old olympic medalist Deontay Wilder is made of. On January 17th 2015 he will step to the squared circle against Bermane Stiverne who is an experienced top ten fighter with serious punching power, something none of Wilder`s previous opponents have had in their arsenal. The fight has created much needed interest in the US heavyweight scene and Wladimir Klitschko will be watching closely…
TBRB #7, The Ring #7 Contender Vyacheslav Glazkov (18-0-1, 12 KO)
Vyacheslav Glazkov doesn`t exactly look like a Ukrainian heir apparent to the Klitschko heavyweight throne, but he came on strong in 2014, snatching a place among the heavyweight elite.
Glazkov scored the biggest win of his career in March 2014, by clearly outpointing faded former Cruiserweight Champion and longtime top ten heavyweight contender Tomasz Adamek on a card staged in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. With the victory Glazkov pretty much ended the Polish warrior`s long run at the upper echelon of light heavyweight, cruiserweight and heavyweight ranks.
The rest of the year saw the 30-year-old Ukrainian in the ring twice, both times against American trial horses. In August he scored a MD 10 win over Derrick Rossy in Bethlehem and in November on the Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City undercard of Kovalev vs Hopkins he TKOed Darnell Wilson in the 7th round.
Glazkov`s 2015 will start in March with a very interesting match-up against fellow top ten contender and former cruiserweight standout Steve Cunningham. The men will touch gloves in Bell Centre, Montreal on the same card with Kovalev vs Pascal.
The Ring #8, TBRB #10 Contender Mike Perez (20-1-1, 12 KO)
The Cuban-Irish Perez fought twice in 2014, both against very tough opponents who currently are ranked in the top ten by TBRB. In January Perez settled to a draw with the rugged Cameroonian Carlos Takam in Bell Centre, Montreal on the undercard of Pascal vs Bute. In July he entered the Madison Square Garden ring for a crossroads fight with American heavyweight hope Bryant Jennings in Fight #2 of The Tournament of America, on the undercard of Golovkin vs Geale. A split decision loss left Perez`s career in somewhat of a limbo but keeps the 29-year-old in the heavyweight mix for the near future.
In December it was first published that Perez had started co-operating with accomplished trainer Robert Garcia. In the end of December news came out that a clash between Perez and #1 contender Alexander Povetkin was in play depending on the outcome of the Klitschko vs Jennings negotiations. If Klitschko vs Jennings gets made, then the winner of Povetkin vs Perez would face the winner of Stiverne vs Wilder.
TBRB #9 Contender Steve Cunningham (28-6, 13 KO)
The former cruiserweight standout Steve Cunningham has found it tough in the heavyweight ranks. He has been willing to fight top contenders but so far hasn`t fared well despite game efforts. In 2014 Cunningham emerged victorious from both of his contests and earned a top ten ranking from TBRB at year`s end.
In April 38-year-old Cunningham took on a crossroads fight in facing Amir Mansour, a previously undefeated knockout puncher. The fight, staged in Liacouras Center in Cunningham`s hometown Philadelphia ended with Cunningham on top with a UD 10 victory despite hitting the floor twice in the 5th round.
In October Cunningham took on another undefeated, although inexperienced fighter in Natu Visinia, again in Philadelphia. After a RTD 7 victory Cunningham was ready for some top ten action again. He is now slated to face fellow top ten contender, undefeated Ukrainian Vyacheslav Glazkov in Montreal on the undercard of March light heavyweight showdown Kovalev vs Pascal.
The Ring #9 Contender Chris Arreola (35-4, 31 KO)
The Mexican-American slugger entered the ring in May 2014, trying to get even with Bermane Stiverne who had thoroughly schooled him in April 2013. He didn`t get his revenge. In the ring of USC Galen Center, Los Angeles Arreola suffered a 6th round TKO loss in the opening fight of The Tournament of America. The loss probably has ended Arreola`s chances to land fights of big significance, in the future he will be viewed more as a quality gatekeeper.
After the Stiverne defeat Arreola didn`t fight in 2014. He was scheduled to return to the ring in December on a card staged in Temecula, California. An opponent was never announced and Arreola eventually withdrew, citing a lingering elbow injury.
As of now, Arreola hasn`t got a fight scheduled. Some talk has surfaced on him fighting 46-year-old former light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver in early 2015.
The Ring #10 Contender Ruslan Chagaev (33-2-1, 20 KO)
The Uzbek veterans`s best days are clearly behind him, but he keeps plodding along and The Ring seems willing to keep him in the top ten mix. The 36-year-old who in 2009 fought Wladimir Klitschko for the vacant Ring Magazine Heavyweight Championship, fought once in 2014. The opponent was Fres Oquendo, the place was Ahmat Arena, Grozny, Russia and the score a MD 12 win for Chagaev.
Chagaev was slated to face Cuban Luis Ortiz in early 2015, but Ortiz failed a drug test and was disqualified. Chagaev`s camp is in search for a new opponent.
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January 2, 2015