The heavyweight division has always been the premier division in boxing as casual fans flock to the spectacle of very big men hitting each other really, really hard. The next couple of months should give fans a whole lot to get excited about as the big boys trade leather in several meaningful bouts that are either confirmed or in the works. Hopefully these higher-end fights will provide some clarity to an often muddled division.
In the first part of two articles, let’s take a look at the titleholders and what lies ahead for them. The second part will focus on the contenders and pretenders who are in a position to determine their immediate destinies.
For starters, the big battle between consensus champion Vitali Klitschko and former champ Hasim Rahman looks to settle sometime around the middle of June. The fight was scheduled to take place April 30th at Madison Square Garden in New York but has been pushed back due to very “Klitschko-esque” injury – this one being an injured thigh “suffered” while jogging. Still, so long as a worthy challenger like Rahman (40-5-1) gets his shot at the WBC champion, it could be worth the wait. Rahman possess one of the best jabs in the division and could sink Klitschko’s battleship with one or two accurate right hands. Vitali (35-2) is not the swiftest of foot and his punches often take a long time, both chronologically and geographically, to reach their destination. Rahman’s lightning struck an ill-prepared Lennox Lewis once. Perhaps The Rock has another bolt in the bag. Talk is that the fight will eventually land on the 18th of June.
With the April 30th date at Madison Square Garden now available, WBA heavyweight hug-n-hold artist John Ruiz is making noise about his bout with James Toney being the perfect filler. Ruiz (41-5-1) would certainly love the exposure and payday that the venue and television would bring, but one has to wonder if the fight fans of New York are really gluttons enough to watch another John Ruiz bout. Having barely shown the capacity to endure Ruiz’s last two fights – first a snooze-fest with Fres Oquendo that was as bad as most feared it could be, then a typical foul-fest against Andrew Golota – one has to wonder if the locals will open up their wallets for another night of pugilism headlined by John Ruiz. Toney (68-4-2) finds himself in the thick of things by gaining enough weight to call himself a “heavyweight” and comes in undefeated (2-0) in the division off victories over former cruiserweights Evander Holyfield and Rydell Booker. While the date and venue have yet to be settled, all reports are that this bout had been agreed upon in principle.
Fresh off two controversial decisions, a draw versus IBF ruler Chris Byrd and a suspect loss to WBA titleholder Ruiz, Andrew Golota gets his third consecutive shot at a title when he challenges WBO champ Lamon Brewster in Chicago on HBO. Brewster (31-2) may be the weakest link in the heavyweight division. He won his title when Wladimir Klitschko collapsed, and then successfully defended it by split decision against former sparring partner Kali Meehan. Meehan was abruptly erased from the heavyweight picture in twelve minutes by Hasim Rahman, who beat and battered the Aussie until his corner could tolerate the pitch-and-catch exhibition no longer. Meehan caught everything Rahman threw at his body and face. By deduction, it seems that Brewster hasn’t really ever beaten anyone worthy of a title. We will find out if Andrew Golota (38-5-1) is that man.
Left out of the mix thus far is Chris Byrd with his IBF belt. It seems that Monte Barrett, fresh off his appearance on “The Price Is Right,” is the most likely to be asked to “come on down” as the next contestant to try to put an end to Byrd’s run as IBF heavyweight champion, a reign that started with his 2002 victory over Evander Holyfield for the vacant title. Byrd (38-2-1) has successfully defended the belt against Fres Oquendo, Andrew Golota, and most recently Jameel McCline. Monte Barrett is certainly deserving of a shot, having knocked off top contenders who had been thought to be worthy of title opportunities if they made it past Barrett. “Two Gunz” Barrett nearly handed Joe Mesi his first professional loss and then took the “O” from the records of Dominick Guinn and Own Beck. People have finally recognized that Barrett (31-3) might be the one deserving of an opportunity, rather than merely serving as the gatekeeper to the division’s penthouse. Nothing has been made of this bout, but Byrd certainly needs a partner, as each of the other heavyweight champions have their dance cards filled. Barrett seems to be both the most worthy and logical man to fill that void.
Next up is a look at the fighters who are about to find out if they really are on the fringe of contention or not.
READ PART 2 of this series, as Joey Knish continues to examine the current state of the heavyweight division.