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Do We Need a Heavyweight Limit?

BY Steve Kim ON July 12, 2004
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I can see why lower weight fighters are jealous of their heavyweight colleagues. I mean think about it, while a dominant lightweight champion would need to fight numerous times to make several million dollars, a heavyweight champion can take home that much for a single title defense. Even a nominal heavyweight is recognized by the general boxing fan, while a Hall-of-Fame caliber flyweight couldn't cause a single head to turn if his hair was on fire.

Heavyweights are the BMOC- that's big man on campus- in the game of boxing. There the one's everyone else notices, the one people cater to. And more importantly, they make the most money. Yeah sure, you'll have guys like Ray Leonard and Oscar De La Hoya every once in a while, but those guys are definitely the exception and not the rule.

Seriously, when was the last time you heard a heavyweight say," I want to start making welterweight money'? Now, I've always been of the belief that the heavyweight are the least skilled of our prizefighters, but there is still something magical about a heavyweight championship that draws the attention of the public at large. Just see how many headlines a great featherweight bout gets compared to a decent heavyweight tilt. It tells you all you need to know.

As they say, there's boxing, and then there's heavyweight boxing. There is a difference.

And to top it off, these big lugs don't even have to make weight. All they have to do is show up and fight. No cutting weight, no eating ice cubs and rice cakes two weeks before the weigh-in, no diuretics being gulped down to make sure the needle on the scale heads south, none of that. Some guys have all the luck.

But is that being abused by todays generation of heavyweights?

Let me give you some recent examples of what I'm talking about.

Just a couple of weeks ago both Michael Moorer and Lawrence Clay-Bey were in action on Showtime and ESPN2 respectively.

Moorer at one time was a heavyweight titlist who had earned millions of dollars. But in a cliche played out too many times in this sport, he squandered much of it away and still finds himself in a game he never really liked at age 36. On this night in Miami, he would find himself as the proverbial big name, faded, opponent to one Eliseo Castillo. He had a 'punchers chance' and if he should get lucky, he could be at least a fringe player once again.

So what does he do? He shows up at a fat and flabby 251 pounds and loses a ten round decision. Now, I know it's been a full decade since he first won his title against Evander Holyfield, at 214 pounds, in 1994 and people do get older and their metabolisms change, but he is a professional athlete- and one that should have a sense of urgency- shouldn't he have been a little lighter?

But I guess since he's a recognizable name, just showing up was good enough for the promoters.

Clay-Bey, is a guy that doesn't have Moorer's resume but is still a guy who can be a serviceable heavyweight. A 1996 Olympian, he began his rise up the ladder fighting consistently around 230-240. Looking at Clay-Bey, he'll never have that rock-hard, ripped look. Which is fine, this is boxing, not body-building. But as his career was plagued by hand problems which kept him on the sideline, his weight began to balloon. It seemed recently that the only shape he comes into fights now, is round.

Against an over-matched Imamu Mayfield, he would win via knockout. But looking at his physical appearance it didn't leave you with a positive feeling about his performance. It was just four years ago that he was putting on a gallant performance in a losing effort against Cliff Etienne, where he came in at 235.

Is Clay-Bey really better served by having an extra 20 pounds on him?

Then there was the case of Kirk Johnson, who in his last fight against Vitaly Klitschko came in at a not-exactly-svelte, 260-pounds. Just nine months earlier in stopping Lou Savarese in four, he weighted 243. What happened? Why did Johnson suddenly pack on the added weight? It certainly didn't help as he was stopped in two rounds by Klitschko at the Madison Square Garden. During his early run as a pro, Johnson hovered around 220 to 230.

Klitschko seems to have an innate skill at making his opponents come to the dance out of shape. In March of 2003, Corrie Sanders would stun his younger brother Wladimir in two rounds at a weight of 225. Fast forward 13 months, and Sanders was exactly 10 pounds heavier when he would be halted in eight rounds by Vitaly at the Staples Center.

Sanders, who has dreams of one day playing on the seniors golf tour, seemed to have done all his roadwork over 18 holes. In essence, he trained for the heavyweight championship like Phil Mickelson.

I don't think it's a coincidence that neither Johnson or Sanders revealed their upper bodies at the weigh-in. So now the question is, what do you call it? The 'Kirk Johnson Rule' or the 'Corrie Sanders Clause'? Which stipulates that you should never trust a fighter who won't take off their shirts at a weigh-in? Think I'm kidding? How did Oscar De La Hoya perform and look in his last bout against Felix Sturm? I'm telling ya, there's something to this.

There's a common thread to what I just pointed out. One, these guys are all heavyweights, which means that the promoters and television executives will put up with a lot more than they would from say, a flyweight, who doesn't make 112-pounds. To them, heavyweights mean more headlines and bigger ratings. Also, these guys are pretty well-established in one way or the other, maybe they just lost their hunger- or didn't, depending on the way you want to look at it.

And here's the most important thing, and this really applies to Johnson and Sanders, people in boxing always look for a heavyweight champion, whether they want to manage him, promote him, televise him or train him. So what happens is excuses begin to be made for these guys that wouldn't be made for any other fighter. Why? Well, it's a game of survival, forget about being the guy who has the guts to tell the fighter the truth and risk his place in the organization. When money is involved- especially when it's already invested and accounted for- nobody wants to risk not getting in on the possible payout.

Both Johnson and Sanders, either through a huge signing bonus( which Johnson received after signing with Duva Boxing) or staging a big upset( like Sanders), all of a sudden came into lucrative situations and in many respects, cashed out themselves. You don't think this happens? Just look at the weight of one David Tua, who after getting a million dollar signing bonus from the now-extinct America Presents, started to fight north of 240 on a regular basis.

Face it, heavyweights are spoiled, and they always will be. The allure of being involved with a heavyweight champion is so great that the people around them will acquiesce to their whims and demands. On the flip-side, many of these guys just aren't that disciplined.

OK, but what can be done about it? You really can't force guys to work hard- after all, if they don't, at the end of the day the one that's most effected by that is the fighters themselves. And of course, there's no weight limit that heavyweights have to make.

Or is there?

Think about it, if you're a promoter or network and you're investing millions of dollars into an event, don't you have the right to expect two athletes to come into the fight in some semblance of shape? And if you're a fan plunking down your hard earned money to either purchase a ticket or a pay-per-view broadcast, you have the right- to not necessarily expect a great fight, that simply can not be guaranteed- but that the fighters at least come in proper shape. When it's all said and done, that's all any of us can ask for.

So how bout this? A promoter, when he signs a fight, can stipulate that a heavyweight must come within a certain weight or percentage of the weight he was in for his last fight. Or you can take the average of what he's weighed for his last ten fights, round it off, and then put a clause into the bout agreement that the fighter can not come in more than five pounds above that number.

Remember, unlike another other divisions that have a set weight limit, the parameters being set here are from the fighters themselves. And they don't even have to hit a specific number, but come within percentage points of it. You don't think some middleweight who's starving himself and eating once a day wouldn't take that deal?

We really don't expect too much from our heavyweights these days, yet we still give them a lot.

Shouldn't we at least expect them to be a bit professional?

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