THE UNOFFICIAL CRUISERWEIGHT TOURNAMENT - This idea will get ridiculed, but I'm going to tell you right now that if Steve Cunningham and Marco Huck meet in 2011 for a rematch at a place like Berlin it could be a better fight than if Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather decide to clash just once and for almost all we humans can dream of.
Go ahead and laugh, but we'll have to wait and see. Anyhow, as of this February, there's a much better chance that IBF titlist Cunningham and WBO kingpin Huck will do a unifying repeat rumble of Cunningham's rugged 12th round, December 2007 TKO than the likelihood Pacman and Money will eventually come to mutual terms.
Almost always, a very good fight is better than no fight at all.
The much-maligned cruserweight division has shown rare, brief flareups of exellence but the working term was indeed "brief"; as in next stop 210 pounds for anyone who showed much more than remote punching potential.
It looks like another of those rare flares could be ignited this weekend.
Saturday evening at Mulheim an der Ruhr, a friendly burg outside fashionable Dusseldorf, the division has a pair of bouts scheduled that will continue the refreshing recent trend in much of boxing to clear up confusion about the very best in various weight classes.
Cunningham, 23-2 (12), of Philadelphia is scheduled to defend his laurels against strong but basic Enad Licina, 19-2 (10), a German based, Serbian transplant. In the co-feature, Yoan Pablo Hernandez, 23-1 (12), meets Steve Herelius, 21-1-1 (12) for the allegedly coveted WBA "Interim" designation.
Maybe, but doubtfully, Licina will manage to go the distance on a night with many "maybes". Maybe Hernandez and Herelius will trade knockdowns, a decent possibility, as they battle for the opportunity to face Guillero Jones, 37-3-2 (29) for the "official" WBA belt (guffaw).
Maybe last summer's hopeful plan by promoter Sauerland Events to enlist the globe's top cruisers into an elimination tournament type format similar to Showtime's "Super (middleweight) Six" and upcoming bantamweight finale was too much wishful thinking.
Maybe as boxing history suggests, the cruiserweight division will never be considered an elite realm like old school categories and their legends.
Maybe super middleweights and bantamweights are easier to market, in the USA at least. Showtime's success with the tournament format proves how well the concept can work, even under compromised conditions.
Maybe with the cruiserweights last year, Sauerland figured that at the time it wasn't worth whatever investment all the top talent would demand up front, though the plan was never abandoned.
Maybe, even probably, they've already initiated the tournament between the best available European options anyway, and just not declared it a formal process.
Whatever the case, most of the heaviest hitters in the division have been seriously active lately in this part of Europe. Last month in Berlin, Marco Huck defended his laurels in a grueling gala that highlighted what could have been classified as the unofficial tournament inauguration.
Another of that evening's offering was billed as an elimination match which saw Hernandez blow out Ali Ismailov in a one round debacle that was more ridiculous than impressive.
Huck and worthy challenger Denis Lebedev, now 21-1 (16), collided in a very brutal, very entertaining 12 round battle before a packed house of around 5,005 at Max Schmeling Arena. That hall is currently Germany's most vibrant permanent fight venue, not including those scattered soccer stadiums the Klitschko boys fill up again and again.
Huck enjoyed the high-profile vocal support of classic German band The Scorpions, but it was he, the local favorite, that almost got rocked like a hurricane as the powerfully compact Lebedev stormed in behind effective punches.
"I cracked a rib early in the fight and it was hard to throw punches," offered Huck.
Correction. Lebedev cracked that rib.
However the injury was acquired, Huck proved that what he lacks in finess he makes up for with guts. Lebedev is very solid and showed he was as good as Huck, displaying sportsmanship in a in a seesaw slugfest defeat seen questionably by more than a few German viewers. Just because the bout wasn't a flurry of multi angle fury like Amir Kahn against Marcos Medina doesn't mean the 190 pounders didn't put on a similarly dramatic display.
And remember, Huck and Lebedev landed punches that many heavyweights could appreciate.
Headlines here are dominated by Winter sports and Bundesliga Football while the biggest news around Berlin remained concerns about Egypt. Still, Huck got enough attention to verify that he is becoming on of Germany's highest profile athletes.
Hernandez benefited from a bad call as replays indicated the ref missed the correct call when Ismailov slipped through the ropes and crashed on the apron as promoter Wilfred Sauerland went justifiably nuts. There was really no way to measure how a Huck - Hernandez match shapes up, but that match is likely to happen by next summer if it still represents a probable unification fight.
USA's Cunningham who heavily handed Huck his only defeat is right now probably the best overall boxer amongst the division.
Cunningham has beaten many decent contenders from the top to the fringe. His only losses came against Tomasz Adamek, who has subsequently proved himself as a heavyweight challenger, and to WBC cruiser king Krzysztof Wlodarczyk, 44-2-1 (32). Cunningham and Wlodarczyk
split a pair of very tight tilts in Poland.
Considering the Poland factor, Cunningham better steer clear of potato vodka.
Meanwhile, Sauerland may not manage to get everyone on board, but within a minimal time frame they will have cleared up some of the picture considerably.
Even anticipating unforseen inevitable flies in the cornerman's ointment, there's a strong possibility that Sauerland could put together all the pieces of their cruserweight punching puzzle before a similarly desired conclusion is achieved in the Super Middleweight or Bantam divisions.
Sauerland reportedly told Polish media a tournament could be finalized by this summer.
Count on Huck to make every fight interesting, and we might even be able to anticipate the highest profile for the division since Evander Holyfield's early professional glory days.
That was a long time ago.
Paul Briggs may be able to make some claims down under, but whoever endures to emerge from the proposed Euro gauntlet deserves cruiserweight bragging rights, whether the belts remain in the kitty or not. When Sauerland signed Cunningham they pretty much covered all the bases.
So far, at least two of the top five have shown their stuff. It was a mixed bag, but at least the mix was good so far.
For now, the cruserweight division's future looks uncommonly bright, brawling, and if Sauerland promotions are successful: unified.
If the tournament scenario does unfold, look for Cunningham and Huck to meet again. Though Huck is much improved, currently its still Cunningham who's most likely to be the last man standing, with Krzysztof in the wild card role.
The only time I can remember cruiserweights being seriously mentioned for Fight of the Year was in 2003, with most "experts" tabbing either James Toney -Vassiliy Jirov or Arturo Gatti - Micky Ward as the season's best bout.
Could Pacquiao - Mayweather happen this year? Right now that looks like about a 45 percent chance.
Could Pacquiao - Mayweather actually get overshadowed, action-wise, by a cruiserweight fight?
Those odds are much better than you probably think.
Still, in what might be pugilistic irony, it must be remembered that even with a pair of meaningful 190 pound showdowns; super-middleweight Arthur Abraham remains the main attraction this Saturday night in Germany.
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