Nikolai Valuev is five wins and a junior lightweight away from Rocky Marciano.
Of course, that’s all perspective. Marciano is actually a junior lightweight and a good stepping stool shy of the 7-foot, 338-pound World Boxing Association champion. One might say it’s unfair to compare the two of them as heavyweight champions.
Heavyweights have changed; the division refuses to change.
At 5-foot-11 and 189 pounds, Marciano wasn’t a giant of the division. His stature met the heavyweight norm of the era.
Lennox Lewis was the prototype for the heavyweight of the 21st Century: tall, heavy and powerful. Soon came the Klitschko brothers out of Ukraine. Wladimir stood 6-foot-6 and Vitali almost 6-8.
Somewhere between that time and every heavyweight title in the world belonging to former Soviet republics, James Toney, Shannon Briggs and Samuel Peter discovered their appetites – more beef for the beating.
“Previously there was a Jess Willard,” boxing historian Bert Sugar said. “Now it’s the norm that they’re 240 and 250 and up. Even those people who aren’t 240 and 250 and up, like James Toney, try to be.”
Valuev doesn’t have to beef up. The former Russian basketball player turned pugilist is naturally … huge. That’s not to mention the fact he can actually box.
“They get to the middle of the ring, you don’t know if they’re going to get pre-fight instructions or holler jump ball,” Sugar said.
The 6-foot-3 Monte Barrett would likely lose the jump ball, but he’s willing to trade punches with Valuev on Saturday at Allstate Arena in Chicago. He’ll step into the ring more than 100 pounds lighter (222½) than the champion, which makes his chances of winning as possible as the jump ball.
Why would he do this? Because he has to. Valuev is a champion in what all of the major sanctioning bodies – with straight faces and clear consciences – would call the same weight class as Barrett.
Put that into perspective: Jose Luis Castillo weighed just a few pounds more than Diego Corrales and suffered the wrath of the boxing world. He was an unscrupulous reprobate on his way to being a penniless, unscrupulous reprobate after the litigation. At least that’s how the public was supposed to feel.
Joey Gamache filed charges against Arturo Gatti because of the weight Gatti gained between the weigh-in and their match. According to The Associated Press story released in March, Gamache claims to have sustained permanent brain damage. He attributed it to the 20 additional pounds Gatti allegedly gained before their February 2000 bout.
If 20 pounds made so much of a difference in Gamache’s case, Barrett and the majority of the heavyweight division should be provided headgear. Think of it as spillover room for trunk advertisements.
Headgear may sound too amateurish for professional boxing, but the unpaid end of boxing had it right in creating a super heavyweight division. The hang-up is amateur heavyweights are more in line with professional cruiserweights, and the amateur super heavies would qualify as regular heavyweights (201 pounds and heavier).
Breaking up the heavyweights may be an ill-timed move when the general public can’t name a single cruiserweight or light welterweight champion. Chances are few people outside of boxing enthusiasts even know the difference between the two weight classes.
Sanctioning bodies can be thanked for the gross expansion from the original eight classes to the modern 17, which allows one fighter to jump three divisions by simply eating a pizza.
No matter how loathsome the alphabet soup of sanctioning bodies may be for dicing up boxing 5 pounds at a time, the fat cats have to make this decision and actually follow through.
“There were past discussions,” North American Boxing Federation Vice President Joe Dwyer said. “I think that the further proliferation of weight divisions will be seen as just another sanctioning fee.”
This is not the time for boxing to worry about an already tarnished image, let alone when it concerns a subject so important to the welfare of a division that is losing its once-great luster by the round.
Let’s be perfectly honest, Manny Paquiao-Roy Jones Jr. is a fight we’ll never see without a matchmaker and a slew of trainers and promoters being charged with criminal negligence. Asinine as it is to match Pacquiao and Jones Jr., a Marciano-Valuev match would be worse – the ground actually opens up and swallows the matchmaker, trainers and promoters for this one.
No, the Earth swallowing the responsible parties wouldn’t really happen. That’s silly because it’s had plenty of worthy offenses throughout Valuev’s career to exact its vengeance.
Valuev (44-0) will likely meet and surpass Marciano’s 49-0 record with little trouble. With fingers crossed, sensibility may settle in before that point and Valuev won’t have the greatest heavyweight record.
He’ll be the finest super heavyweight ever to step over all three ropes.