Ranking the Heavyweights: October 2008

The heavyweight division is discussed plenty by me, even though I urge boxing fans who don't already do so to really put the heavies on the backburner and pay attention to the lower weights.

All whatever this or that aside, the heavyweights will always be interesting, simply because they are the heavyweights. "Interesting" doesn't mean "good" -- it doesn't even mean, at times in recent years, that it should be given a single TV spot, paid for with money that could've gone to featuring something more compelling.

But it is my honest belief that the heavyweight division is as interesting right now as it has been in a few years. I don't mean to say that the heavyweights aren't still among the worst divisions in the sport; they are. But slowly, things are getting legitimately sort of intriguing. We can bemoan the loss of any potential real world champion being crowned thanks to Vitali Klitschko's successful comeback, but let's forget about that for now. The welterweights don't have a world champion either; doesn't matter, really. It's nice to have, but this isn't a perfect world.

Let's talk some heavyweights.

Klitschko_280x390_441615a_medium 1. Wladimir Klitschko (51-3, 45 KO, IBF/WBO Titlist)

He is a dominant, well-rounded fighter whose past struggles should be put into a time capsule and forgotten about.

This Wladimir Klitschko, I'm saying, is not going to be losing to a Ross Purritty or a Corrie Sanders. Since a rough win over Sam Peter in 2004, he has mowed down Chris Byrd, Calvin Brock, Ray Austin, Lamon Brewster, Sultan Ibragimov and Tony Thompson, getting little-to-no resistance from any of them. Ibragimov and Brewster didn't even fight; Byrd, Brock and Thompson tried to, and got knocked out; Austin never had a chance.

In Wlad's last two fights, trainer Manny Steward has seemed a bit disappointed and spent corner time harshing Wladimir's buzz. I think Manny knows that the best, most profitable Klitschko is a man that attacks and forces other fighters to try to trade powerful shots with him. He knows that neither Ibragimov nor Thompson had the firepower to stand up with that idea very long, and I think he trusts Wladimir's chin.

The question is, does Klitschko trust his own chin? Is Wladimir scared of being hit? It's a legitimate thing to wonder right now. He could have knocked the pants-crapping Ibragimov over with a pillow had he felt like it, it seemed, but he never bothered. And Thompson, while a good dude and tough, was hopelessly overmatched in the skills department. Wladimir finally dumped him in the 11th.

Wladimir Klitschko is never going to be a pay-per-view attraction in America, nor is he going to go down as one of the great heavyweights. The latter is a bit of a shame; I will say one thousand more times that Wladimir would present a problem for any heavyweight in history. And he still rules the heavyweight division, with a large margin between himself and the rest of the class.

2. Vitali Klitschko (36-2, 35 KO, WBC Titlist)

Maybe it seems a bit much to put Older Brother here at No. 2 after a comeback win over Sam Peter, but a couple things convinced me once I gave it a think:

1. He dominated Peter; he did not beat him, he massacred him. Peter quit after eight rounds it was so one-sided.

2. He did this rusty, and yes, he looked rusty. I'm not going to get caught up in the Steve Albert sensationalism of calling this some all-time great performance. Peter looked horrible and like he didn't belong in the ring with a rusty, aged Vitali Klitschko.

3. Vitali, if nothing else, is a very good boxer, and still looks to have some pop. He doesn't move as well as he used to, but he's excellent at controlling distance and winning rounds.

4. There aren't many top-level boxers in the division. There's one, honestly. No. 2 could easily lose to No. 25. I guess you could call it "parity."

I'm also not as worried as I thought I might have been that Vitali has come back and taken the WBC title, meaning we'll basically never have a full unification (or so it would seem, anyway) and that crowning a World Heavyweight Champion will have to wait even longer. Wladimir-Peter II would've been for the vacant Ring championship. After watching Peter against Vitali, what I suspected would happen in that rematch, I am now sure of: Wladimir would have owned Sam.

Vitali kept Peter completely ineffective the entire night. I don't remember a single moment that I thought, "Hey, Sam might be winning this round." Is it a condemnation of the divison that a rusty Vitali is No. 2? Kind of. He's a good fighter, and I don't think there's any arguing that a prime Vitali cleans this division up exactly the way his brother is doing now.

3. Ruslan Chagaev (24-0-1, 17 KO)

Injuries forced Chagaev to give up the WBA title he won in April 2007 against Nikolai Valuev. He made only one defense, against Matt Skelton this past January, an ugly but fairly easy win over the former kickboxer.

Chagaev is a 6'1" southpaw, a Soviet Bloc guy based in Germany, like the Klitschkos. He's not an exceptional fighter by any stretch of the imagination, but he's solid everywhere except footwork, where he kind of looks like a guy wearing cinder blocks for shoes. His draw came back in 2002 against Rob Calloway, a technical draw after three rounds when it was stopped due to a headbutt-induced cut. Otherwise, he's got a flawless record so far.

The "White Tyson" moniker has gone by the wayside, perhaps because in his last five fights, he's got one TKO (Michael Sprott), one unanimous decision (Skelton), two majority decisions (Virchis and Valuev) and a split decision (Ruiz). Not Tyson-esque.

4. Nikolai Valuev (49-1, 34 KO, WBA Titlist)

As long as Valuev stays in reasonable shape, his age (35) doesn't really matter. He wins fights and gets fights because of his freak show nature, but I've always liked Nikolai because he himself doesn't seem to focus on that. He really wants to be a good fighter, and tries his best to be one. The physical limitations of his seven-foot, 320-pound frame make it nearly impossible for him to ever have good speed, footwork, or combination punching ability. But who's going to get inside on him? A lot of guys really can't hit him in the head clean even if they wanted to. Like rumored next opponent Evander Holyfield, for instance.

5. Samuel Peter (30-2, 23 KO)

Don't fight the Klitschko brothers. Other than that, hey, keep on keepin' on. No reason he can't beat everyone else. Valuev-Peter might be interesting to watch.

C35c4d25-3181-4672-8707-e97d16d105f8_medium 6. David Haye (21-1, 20 KO)

I've ranked fighters moving up mostly on potential impact before, so why not David Haye? The former cruiserweight champion's only concern going up to heavyweight is how his chin will handle the bigger punches, supposedly, but the more I think about that, the less I really worry.

Haye, draining weight to make the 200-pound weight limit, has only ever lost one fight, a fifth round TKO at the hands of Carl "The Cat" Thompson, a guy that could punch a little. Haye avenged the loss by knocking out Thompson in 2004, and has handled some pretty good fighters since then, including his last two wins, both knockouts, over Jean-Marc Mormeck and Enzo Maccarinelli.

Haye's explosive power, well above-average speed for a heavyweight, and ability to move around will help him greatly. I think he's going to lay waste to Monte Barrett, an OK fighter but one that won't be able to come back on Haye's pressure. Haye comes to fight and isn't afraid to mix it up. He likes a good scuffle.

I don't think he can beat Wladimir Klitschko. I do think he has a great shot at beating anyone else. His natural athletic ability might trump everyone in the division.

7. Juan Carlos Gomez (44-1, 35 KO)

Gomez once lost to Yanqui Diaz via first round TKO. Since then he's done nothing but win (with a no-contest decision against Oliver McCall -- he later beat McCall). Gomez, 35, is being rumored as Vitali Klitschko's next opponent. You could certainly do a lot worse, as this is a fighter that has earned a legitimate shot. The former WBC cruiserweight titleholder has never gotten a heavyweight world title shot, and his last win over Vladimir Virchis was an eliminator. Give him his due.

8. Alexander Dimitrenko (28-0, 18 KO)

Speaking of guys that don't get their due, 6'7", 26-year old Dimitrenko gets almost no attention despite actually long defending the WBO inter-continental title the last couple of years. It's the type of title most fighters "win," then just forget about in their quest to fight for a world title. Not Dimitrenko. He's kept that bad boy.

For a big guy with some decent wins, he hasn't really moved up in competition. He'll fight Luan Krasniqi next month.

9. Alexander Povetkin (16-0, 12 KO)

Good fundamental skills and should be able to win an alphabet title someday. That day won't be December 13, as I doubt he stands any real chance against Wladimir Klitschko. He's no blowaway prospect, just a guy that ought to have a fine career. He's also already 29 and given his level of baby fat every fight, it's probably too late to hope he'll start conditioning better. He's not particularly heavy-handed and his height (6'2") isn't going to help him.

10. Eddie Chambers (32-1, 18 KO)

Had Eddie Chambers not been so in awe of his lead punches in January, he may well have beaten Povetkin and been in line to fight Klitschko instead. Chambers should be able to have a good career winning fights on points, combination punching and playing defense. He is probably the best American heavyweight in the game right now, though that shouldn't last too long. The long-held belief that he'd probably be better off at cruiserweight is irrelevant because he has no desire to fight at cruiser and won't do it.

You Coulda Been a Contender...

Let's cover a lot of guys, because there's plenty of riff-raff that is perfectly capable of a title win on the right night.

Former WBO titleholder Sultan Ibragimov (22-1-1, 17 KO) has parted ways with Jeff Mayweather, the deservedly least famous Mayweather brother. Whether or not any trainer can help him clean the stink from his horrid performance against Klitschko is another story. Right now, he's not on the radar. That's how bad he was in February.

John Ruiz (43-8-1, 29 KO) doesn't really win fights anymore, but does complain a lot every time he loses. He's running out of chances, fast. Thank God.

Tony Thompson (31-2, 19 KO) will have to fight his way back if he ever wants another major title shot. He's a good dude, has a sense of humor, and probably made a better accounting for himself than most expected against Wlad. He certainly did a lot better than Ray Austin (25-4-4, 16 KO). Austin will be fighting 40-year old, eternal "coulda been a contender" Andrew Golota (41-6-1, 33 KO) on November 7, part of Don King's big card in Chengdu, China, which most notably features the return of Marco Antonio Barrera.

On that same King card in Chengdu, Jameel McCline (38-9-3, 23 KO) will face exciting American fringe guy Mike Mollo (19-2, 12 KO). It's been said before, but I really think Mollo on ESPN2 against Brian Minto (31-2, 20 KO) could be a fun fight.

Ex-WBC titleholder Oleg Maskaev (35-6, 26 KO) has had a fine, lengthy career. At 39, it's just about over. He's been knocked out six times in his career, and his best bet to make any money is as a credible opponent to a rising star.

I've said it before (both things): thank you, Monte Barrett (34-6, 20 KO), for knocking the crap out of Tye Fields (41-2, 37 KO), and ridding us of that preposterous attempt to create a contender. And best of luck against David Haye. Good for Monte getting that payday. He's a good guy.

I really thought after his win over Lamon Brewster (34-4, 30 KO) to gain the WBO title, Sergei Liakhovich (23-3, 14 KO) could be a genuine player in the division. Nope -- just another guy that probably got lucky. If they fought again right now, I think Brewster would probably beat Liakhovich, and that's Brewster post-eye injury. Liakhovich has all but disappeared since two losses to Shannon Briggs and Valuev.

Speaking of matchups, if Americans Chris Arreola (25-0, 22 KO) and Travis Walker (28-1-1, 22 KO) really clash in November, you can count me in for that one, and don't think that Arreola will roll over Walker if he shows up fat and sloppy the way he did in his last fight. Walker is a guy that, like Arreola, is best throwing a bunch of punches. That one could get downright chaotic.

Three guys that should just give up the ghost: James Toney, Evander Holyfield and Hasim Rahman.

Nothing about Odlanier Solis (12-0, 8 KO) really excites me.

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