Saturday night boxing fans will witness another in a string of heavyweight “championship” fights held this year. Indeed, with four champions who have some recognition there are plenty of title fights to be seen.
Lamon Brewster, 31-2 (27 knockouts), will defend his WBO title against the ever-controversial Andrew Golota, 38-5-1 (31 knockouts). Golota, of course, is fighting in his third successive attempt at capturing a piece of the championship, having fought to a very disputed draw against IBF champion Chris Byrd, and an equally absurd decision loss to WBA champion John Ruiz.
The WBO title has long been seen as a distant cousin to the more well-known IBF, WBC, and WBA monikers (though no more or less worthy). Past champions have included, among others, Ray Mercer, Tommy Morrison, Riddick Bowe, Vitali Klitschko, and Chris Byrd.
No one other than the ratings committee of the WBO, however, really viewed any of the WBO titlists as champions.
All that changed with the emergence of Wladimir Klitschko. The younger of the fighting Klitschkos, Wladimir, an Olympic gold medallists, captured the belt from Chris Byrd. Although the WBO was still lightly regarded, Klitschko reeled off five successful defenses as he marched toward what seemed to be an inevitable showdown with Lennox Lewis.
Wladimir’s fights on HBO and international telecasts positioned him as heir apparent to Lewis. Meanwhile the defenses of the WBO championship gave some new value to the title.
Of course we all know how that all came crashing down as Wladimir’s face crashed into the quick-fists of Corrie Sanders. Sanders became the WBO champion, but quickly discarded the title in favor of a far more lucrative test against Vitali Klitschko for the WBC title vacated by the retired Lennox Lewis.
Wladimir was not finished with the WBO. After a couple of perfunctory wins, he was paired with Brewster for the vacant title.
While Wladimir pounded on Brewster, dominating the early part of the fight, Lamon was able to hang in. Wladimir tired badly and Brewster, plugging along, never quit despite the beating. He officially stopped Wladimir in five rounds, but more importantly he took with him some of the luster Klitschko had given to the WBO belt.
What all this really means for Lamon Brewster and Andrew Golota is that the winner is in the thick of the heavyweight picture. A win guarantees participation in whatever unification series that takes place.
Brewster with previous decision losses to Charles Shufford (L 10, Oct. 21, 2000) and Clifford Etienne (L 10, May 6, 2000), was, until the Klitschko bout, a mere curiosity to most observers and was one fight away from being considered a journeyman.
Golota’s plight is well documented and he too was close to being relegated to the club circuit after his disaster against then-WBC champion Lennox Lewis (KO by 1, Oct. 4, 1997) and a puzzling loss to the rising Michael Grant (KO by 10, Nov. 20, 1999).
Both fighters realize that this chance is really a chance at being positioned for actual big fights. It is probably the very, very, very last chance for Golota given his age, 37, and the fact that there are no new belts to contend for if this attempt fails.
For Brewster, a loss would mean a long-road ahead before getting another big shot. A unification series could tie-up the division for a year and the emergent unified champion could offer only a few defenses a year.
The WBO title will likely once again drop off into obscurity when (and if) the championships are unified. It has indeed served as a good launch pad, but if there is any mercy, we won’t be in the position of having four champions for very long.
Fortunately, the WBO seems to be pushing hard to once again send its title to the back of the line with an upcoming title “eliminator” bout between contender and Lance Whitaker and Luan Krasniqi. Krasniqi, you will undoubtedly remember, is coming off a stellar 12-round draw in defense of his European championship against Timo Hoffmann.
What? You say you don’t know either of them? Welcome to the fascinating ratings of the WBO. Can we presume that if the winner of Brewster-Golota refuses to defend against Whitaker-Krasniqi he will be stripped? We can only hope such a scenario presents itself. Then, the WBO championship will once again remove itself from any credibility it may have garnered.
If only the other alphabets would follow suit.