Vitali Klitschko's dominant win over Chris Arreola keeps him steady near the top of the heavyweight division. Some will even argue he's better than his brother, Wladimir. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
Bad Left Hook Heavyweight Rankings
The truth remains this at heavyweight: It's a two-horse race, and those horses aren't competing. Whether you feel it's Ring world champion Wladimir Klitschko as the true top dog or his older brother, Vitali Klitschko, your pick is one of the two brothers or you're insane. I go with Wladimir, because for as much talk as there has been of how dominant Vitali has been since his comeback last fall, Wladimir has been that dominant during the same timeframe against comparable opposition, and he was doing it while Vitali was out. Wladimir has barely lost a round dating back to his 2006 fight with Chris Byrd. That's a run of eight contests, including a unification fight with Sultan Ibragimov last year, and a fight the highest-rated non-Klitschko in the world, Ruslan Chagaev, earlier this year. He demolished both of them.
Conventional wisdom is pretty straight across the board. Wladimir is the better athlete, Vitali the tougher man with the better chin. But there doesn't really appear to be anyone in boxing right now that can provide either brother with a genuine challenge. Keep that in mind as we count down the rest of a lackluster top ten.
American Eddie Chambers has had an excellent year, beating Samuel Peter and Alexander Dimitrenko. His lone loss came in January 2008 against Alexander Povetkin, a fight I've watched several times now and still feel Eddie should have won. He took his foot off the gas, lost his focus -- whatever it was, it wasn't that he wasn't a better boxer than Povetkin, who is a pretty fair boxer himself. He all but gave that fight away. He picked up the pieces and is now in line to fight Wladimir, likely in March 2010.
Ruslan Chagaev looked terrible against Wladimir in June and hasn't looked too great in a few years now, really, but it's a weak division and his record gets to speak louder than it might with stiffer competition around him.
Many felt that Chris Arreola represented a "hope" for the division. The laid-back Mexican-American brawler was outclassed badly by Klitschko. I said it the other day, I'll say it again: Going as easy as he has on condition hasn't been a problem when it came to guys like Travis Walker and Jameel McCline. McCline barely seemed interested in fighting, and Arreola does have the amateur pedigree plus the punching power to eventually outgun a guy like Walker, which is what he did. But the guy that beat Walker and McCline isn't going to beat one of the Klitschkos. He has to be better than that. If he can do the work, he's got a lot of the right attributes. He's got a ton of heart, legit power, and apparently a much better chin than many believed heading into the Vitali fight. We'll see where he goes, but I think he actually won a lot of fans the other night.
Former cruiserweight champion David Haye will get his first real chance to make noise when he takes on eighth-ranked titleholder Nikolai Valuev on November 7. The way some people felt about Klitschko-Arreola -- i.e. "God I hope he can rid us of Vitali's boring dominance" -- is how I feel about Valuev-Haye, except take out the "dominance" part. It's nothing personal or anything like that, but Valuev will never be in a good fight. Haye potentially could be in a lot of them.
Alexander Povetkin is still waiting on the shot against Wladimir that he won with that Jan. 2008 triumph over Chambers. To be perfectly honest, it doesn't seem like he's in any great rush, and even with that Olympic gold pedigree of his, I don't think he has a hope in hell. Too small (6'2", 225-230), not strong enough, not fast enough to make up for the lack of big power. At 30, he seems somewhat content. He's made no real stink about making the Wlad fight happen, and since beating Chambers has run over trial horse Taurus Sykes and kinda-prospect Jason Estrada.
Wladimir did have his own Arreola during his run of one-sided title fights, a guy that made him work harder than usual. That was Tony Thompson, an uncelebrated, now-37-year-old American that didn't so much trouble Wladimir as he did bother him. It was probably the toughest fight Wlad has had since the Samuel Peter near-fiasco back in 2005. And eventually, Tony was knocked out in 11. He's fought just once since then, and given his age and lack of really quality wins, this is a quite debatable ranking, I know.
Samuel Peter himself is starting to kick around again, following back-to-back losses to Vitali (an eight-round pummeling) and Chambers (who just outslicked the big Nigerian). Since dropping the fight to Chambers in April, he's signed with Top Rank, and they've started to rebuild his career. Knockout wins over journeymen Marcus McGee and Ronald Bellamy may set him up for something more meaningful soon. How about a potential slugfest with Arreola next? Sink or swim, y'know?
On the Outside: Does the division really have much else? Nah, nobody of appreciable difference, really, but there are some names that could just as easily be up here, starting with Alexander Dimitrenko (29-1, 19 KO), whose lone loss came to Chambers ... Juan Carlos Gomez hasn't made a peep since getting shellacked by Vitali ... American Kevin Johnson (22-0-1, 9 KO) was going to fight Odlanier Solis (14-0, 10 KO) on the October 10 Top Rank card, but surprise, surprise! Johnson pulled out and that interesting fight is off. Instead, Solis faces unlucky vet Fres Oquendo (31-5, 20 KO) ... I think Martin Rogan seems like a wonderful guy and agree his loss to Sam Sexton was bunk, but he's not world class material. Rogan and Sexton rematch on November 6 ... Tyson Fury (9-0, 7 KO) may or may not have a future on the world stage himself. Too early to tell. Remember, for all the hype and talk he's generated, he is still just 21 years old ... Did you know Tye Fields actually didn't decide that boxing isn't for him after getting starched in 57 seconds by a shot Monte Barrett? ... Oleg Maskaev really might be Vitali's next opponent. You know what, ESPN Classic? Don't even bother ... For those that barely follow anymore and are wondering, these men still fight professionally: Evander Holyfield, Hasim Rahman, David Tua, James Toney, Lamon Brewster, Francois Botha, Andrew Golota, and Oliver McCall.
One Other Guy: If I had to pick a single guy in boxing right now that could potentially someday pick off one of the Klitschkos, it would be 23-year old American Deontay Wilder. Let me make this 100% clear: If you put Wilder in a ring with one of the Klitschkos right now, he'd be lucky to last three rounds. That's no knock on him, it's just the level of experience. He's seven fights into his pro career, has a lot to learn, and has a fair amount of bulk yet to pack on to his 6'7" frame.
But the frame is the thing: Wilder, at 6'7" with an 84" reach, is as big as the Klitschkos, even a little longer than both of them. Of all the American fighters that we've seen coming up in recent years, guys like Chambers, Arreola, Kevin Johnson, et al, none of them have Wilder's frame. The guy looks like a freak athlete, and is a better natural, all-around athlete than either Klitschko. I already mentioned bulk, and yes he needs to put some on. Given his length and height, it would seem 240 or so could be a destructive weight for Wilder in due time. Right now, he's fighting at 220, a little under, and you have to remember he came in to pro boxing and weighed all of 207 3/4 pounds for his pro debut. They're taking it slow and doing it right.
Now, maybe Deontay Wilder never turns out to be anyone special as a pro fighter, maybe he just doesn't make it. Better prospects than Wilder have flamed out, and worse prospects have become outstanding professionals. But this is the type of guy that could potentially shake up the heavyweight landscape.
Another problem, though: By the time Deontay himself is ready, both Klitschkos might be retired. Vitali's 38, Wladimir's 33, and both of them take their post-boxing lives very seriously, vocally saying they'll never go too far and become "punch-drunk" fighters. Deontay's at least three years away from that type of fight, at which point Vitali will almost surely be retired for good and Wladimir would be 36, and we're talking the soonest possible date.
But even if they never get knocked off, Wilder might well inherit the throne someday.