It is almost passé to bemoan the state of the heavyweight division, but this past weekend showed that boxing’s glamour division is on life support.
On a night that found the IBF slice of the heavyweight pie up for grabs, the eyes of the boxing world were clearly focused on Tampa, Florida for the third act of the Tarver-Jones trilogy. The title fight between Chris Byrd and DaVarryl Williamson, which fell in stark contrast on the thirtieth anniversary of the “Thrilla in Manila,” hardly registered a blip on the boxing radar screen.
The fighters came out positioning and looking to counterpunch, more content to play patty-cake than to fight. After having sparred numerous rounds with one another, the familiarity of styles made for such a boring bout that a chorus of boos could be heard throughout the fight.
The action was so slow that referee Vic Drakulich twice had to intervene and encourage the contestants to start throwing punches. His advice unheeded, the Executive Director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, Mark Ratner, paid a visit to both corners to ask if either of the fighters were hurt.
One can’t imagine Marciano, Ali, Tyson or Holyfield having to be asked to do the very thing they were in the ring being paid to d0 – throw punches.
Underscoring the plight of the division was the fact that the bout was on the undercard of a main event featuring James Toney, a fat former middleweight (albeit a very capable heavyweight given the current crop of contenders), and Dominick Guinn, a fighter who had won only one of his previous four fights.
Boxing pundits assert the division needs a savior, and, until his loss to Wladimir Klitschko, many had crowned Sam Peter as the next in line. Because of his knockout power, Peter was labeled the next Mike Tyson. But despite the savagery that he once sold, the sport doesn’t need another Tyson blowing through a bunch of nobody’s, has-beens and never-weres to catapult it back into the media spotlight. It doesn’t need attention brought upon it by the antics of the combatants outside the ring. It needs drama inside the ring.
Considering the current lack of heavyweight talent and charisma, it is unlikely these messiahs will come any time soon. The average age of the top ten heavyweights is nearly 33 years old, and the first one, Vitali Klitschko, doesn’t appear on The Ring magazine’s pound-for-pound list until slot number twenty-seven.
The passive fan would be hard put to name two of the four current heavyweight champions, with Klitschko being the most recognizable. A good showing against an out of shape Lennox Lewis won him the title of true heavyweight champion in the minds of many. Since that fight in June of 2003, however, he has had only 3 fights, with injuries keeping him and, for the most part, the division out of the spotlight.
No, a champion with a Ph.D. in philosophy and an accent isn’t as sexy as a champion with a police record. It is savagery that sells and knockouts that the casual fan wants to see.
But the heavyweight division doesn’t need a great fighter to save it, it needs great fights. And in order to have great fights it needs great fighters – plural. What would Ali be without Frazier, Norton or Foreman? Who doesn’t think of Riddick Bowe when remembering the career of Evander Holyfield?
It takes great fighters to make other fighters great. It will take great fighters to once again make the storied heavyweight division great.