Boxing's heavyweight division isn't in decline. Like much of the sport right now, it's in a holding pattern. The Klitschko brothers remain dominant at the top of the division, with a group of big talkers, underdogs, wash-outs, old men, part-timers, and mildly promising prospects coming in behind them. After last weekend's Adamek-Grant bout in Newark, it's time to look at the division.
Here's the Bad Left Hook top ten as of right now. Our full rankings, by division, can be found here.
- Wladimir Klitschko
- Vitali Klitschko
- David Haye
- Tomasz Adamek
- Alexander Povetkin
- Eddie Chambers
- Tony Thompson
- Samuel Peter
- Ruslan Chagaev
- Cristobal Arreola
Let's look at this case-by-case.
- Wladimir Klitschko is, in my view, the absolute, bottom line, clear, no doubt about it, No. 1 fighter in the division. I know some still favor Vitali based on the idea that his chin is better, but that's about all he's better at, and given that a head-to-head between the two fighters is kind of useless (even for the purpose of ranking), I think you have to look at two things: Ability and recent wins. Wladimir's run is about as good as anyone in the sport is doing today. The guys he's beaten have been overmatched, but that's because he's that dominant now. Most of them were top ten fighters.
- Vitali Klitschko gave Kevin Johnson an unearned shot last December, which turned into a disaster of a non-fight because Johnson was totally unwilling to engage. So he followed that with undeserving Albert Sosnowski. Now, it'll be rickety old Shannon Briggs on October 16. It's not Vitali. He offered the fight to more compelling names. But none of them took it. At least Briggs is willing to sign up.
- David Haye is developing a reputation as a small-time carnival barker playing big dog. Klitschkos this, Klitschkos that, and now he's pretending that he doesn't want to fight Audley Harrison, but Harrison is going to talk his way into it. Right, David. The most frustrating thing is he's a legitimate talent, with power, speed, boxing ability, and dedication to staying in peak physical condition. David Haye has what everyone wants, but he's choosing to shelter his potential.
- I figure Tomasz Adamek has reached his limit. I don't think he can beat any of the three men above him. But it wouldn't be for lack of effort or guts. Adamek gives 100% every fight.
- Alexander Povetkin is another talent. Now trained by the famous Teddy Atlas, Povetkin is being told that, at 30, he's not ready for the only money fight he can get against Wladimir Klitschko. Povetkin earned his mandatory status almost three years ago and has done nothing but duck out of fights with Wladimir ever since. Without dropping in rankings, I think he's lost some standing and some credibility with a lot of fans at this point.
- Eddie Chambers has probably peaked. He did his best to fix his flaws after dropping a frustrating fight to Povetkin in 2008, and he got himself into a fight with Wladimir, where he was out of his depth. He's a good fighter, but you have to wonder what his prospects really are. That goes for a lot of guys in the division so long as the Brothers K rule up top.
- Nobody wants to fight Tony Thompson. Tall, tough, left-handed, crafty, worth no money.
- Samuel Peter has been carefully re-constructed since signing with Top Rank, but the real news is that he's gotten himself into serious shape in his four rollover fights since losing two straight to Vitali and Chambers. He's dropped from a beefy 265 against Chambers to 243, 239, 240.5 and 237.5 in his last four. He's got the punch, and we've seen him blast Wladimir before. He's a darkhorse on September 11 in the rematch.
- Ruslan Chagaev really hasn't looked good in years, and didn't look too good beating shot Kali Meehan earlier this year. His standing here is a reflection of the division as much as anything.
- Same goes for Cristobal Arreola. "The Nightmare" is rough, tough, and ready to take on anyone at any time, but I think we know his ceiling -- and have seen it already.
I know a lot of people would still have Nikolai Valuev in the top ten, but I don't. For one thing, I barely consider him a boxer at all. He has no real talent or skill. He's just exceptionally tall and hard to hurt, because he's hard to hit. I thought he deserved losses to John Ruiz both times they fought, and even to ancient Evander Holyfield in December '08. I mean no great disrespect to the big guy, but he's not any good, and has been lucky to keep his record where it is. ... As for Evander Holyfield, I wish we could put his dedication and heart into the body of a younger man. Even with his 48th birthday coming in October, Evander is one of the best-conditioned guys in the entire division. ... Alexander Dimitrenko would make a proper next opponent for Tomasz Adamek. And given that he's got more left than Michael Grant, could possibly beat Adamek just on size. ... Odlanier Solis has the talent to go far. Whether or not he cares enough is another question. ... Somehow, the WBC has figured Ray Austin as a legitimate contender. Remember when Wladimir ripped him to shreds without landing a single right hand in two rounds? ... Timur Ibragimov just won another fight. Yes, Timur Ibragimov is still fighting. ... Robert Helenius, "The Nordic Nightmare," is starting to make a few waves. At just under 6'7" and coming in at a svelte 230ish for his last fight, he might be worth watching. ... British champ Derek Chisora has the aggression part down. Now he just has to refine basically everything else. ... 6'5" Italian Francesco Pianeta has stayed under the radar. At 25, he's knocked off a few halfway decent fighters and probably put an effective end to Matt Skelton's career, though Skelton keeps fighting. ... 24-year-old Russian Denis Boytsov might be the next name to consider hanging your hat on for a heavyweight hope. ... Audley Harrison.