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Search for the Next “Great Any Hope”

BY Deon Potgieter ON November 16, 2005
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I’m pretty sure the Vitali Klitschko story is not yet over. There are already reports that he’s said he’ll come back if Lennox Lewis agrees to fight him. There are also rumors emanating out of Canada that Lewis is thinking of returning now that Vitali’s out of the picture. Speculation and wishful thinking are all part of the game,

When he retired from the ring he really had no other option. His choices were to retire as champion or relinquish or be stripped of his title and endure immense pressure to get back in the ring as soon as injuries permit. Only a fool would have chosen the latter two options, and if we have learned anything from Klitschko’s career, he’s no fool and he doesn’t treat fight fans like fools. You’ve got to respect him for that, unlike a few other fighters who cry for respect on a continual basis, but do nothing to earn it.

We are at ground zero with our current crop of champions; if holding a tournament so that they can eliminate each other to find the least mediocre of them will restore some faith in the heavyweight division then let’s do it. It won’t be as grand a spectacle as previous unification tournaments because none of them are in the league of a prime Mike Tyson or Evander Holyfield.

What we need thrown in the unification process is to include a few wild card heavyweights. Some young guns nobody’s heard of who can come in and pull off an upset or two. Looking at our four current champions, odds are we could have a few not-so-surprising surprises.

We all know the majority of the current ratings systems are a farce, so let’s not restrict access to the so called top ten. Why not open the playing field for once and hold a world cup tournament for the heavyweight world title. The current champs all get a free pass to the quarter-finals and every boxing nation in the world sends in an entry. Larger nations more than one.

They all eliminate each other after being randomly matched until we have four. That way we’ll at least get to know the best of the bunch. They then face the current champions in the quarterfinals, the top four go to the semis, and we have a big final in which we crown the “real” heavyweight world champion.

To guarantee audience satisfaction, no split decisions and no controversial decisions allowed. If at 12 rounds we don’t have a clear winner, let’s fight to 15 and continue round for round. It’s about respect and if we only have an elimination featuring four champions who are not seriously rated in the bigger picture of things. What do we hope to achieve? There still won’t necessarily be respect. The winner will just be known as the best out there.

Perhaps I’m being overambitious in believing that there is somebody who can bring back the glory, but there must be. Some have slated Vitali Klitschko as being the start of the end of the division, but I don’t believe that. It’s not one boxer’s fault, even Lennox Lewis, for all his talents and exceptional skill, did harm to the game. Lewis would put on the nice guy face, but never hesitated to use dirty tactics like holding and hitting; he was also one of the most shielded and inaccessible champions we’ve had.

There’s a reason his knockout at the hands of Rahman was met by applause and a standing ovation in South Africa. While he was initially welcomed as a hero, he managed to turn the media and the public against him in his short stay in the country, while Rahman, even though he may have been putting it on, got the nation behind him. Lewis never had the charisma and charm to match the ego he pushed out ahead of him.

Winning a fight doesn’t always make you the favorite – another reason Vitali was welcomed following his gutsy loss to Lewis. It wasn’t just the display of heart and willingness to take on the champion, which won him respect that night. People were hungry for a Lewis alternative and here came an underdog willing to put it on the line to become that alternative.

Unfortunately we’re back where we started. Perhaps the savior of the division is already amongst the current titleholders and if so I’ll be the first to apologize for underrating them. Somehow I doubt I’ll need to.  We need to build the brand again and we can’t do that without good competitive regular fights. Why can’t we have a heavyweight world title fight every three months?

This is by no means a personal attack on the four men holding world title belts. Whatever criticism we throw at them, they’re still the ones who lace up the gloves to fight for our entertainment and at least that is something we must respect. We do however want to be entertained, so if these are our champions they need to raise the bar and bring it to the ring.

The heavyweight champion of the world used to be the most respected title in the world of sport. Why else was Muhammad Ali declared the sportsman of the century? His sporting achievements did not eclipse those of most world record holders and many Olympic athletes, yet he exuded the aura that he could have excelled in any sporting code he chose and he chose boxing, which used to be seen as the toughest sport in the world.

The late legendary South African trainer Allan Toweel once told me: “When you’re the heavyweight champion of the world, everybody knows your name. You’re the number one sportsman in the world.”

Well, these days more people know who David Beckham and Tiger Woods are than the names Rahman, Ruiz, Byrd and Brewster.

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