I know divisional breakdowns are a dime-a-dozen, but in this new internet age and a world of thousands of TV channels, it is for easier for me (and everyone else) than ever to keep up with the splintered world of boxing. With that in mind, I've decided to give my own personal breakdown and list, by division, of the fighters there-in and where future challengers and prospects stand.
I decided to go in order down the weights because, well, that seemed like a smart idea. That means, naturally, I start with the heavyweights. One could write lotes of flowery prose about how the heavyweight division is a classic glory division of boxing that has fallen in public favor in the US due to a myriad of problems, bad fights, and flat out bad luck, but the odds are good that if you are planning to read this post, you're already aware of all of them. No reason to beat the dead horse.
Wladimir Klitschko is the Ring Magazine, IBO, IBF, WBO, and WBA world heavyweight champion. Yes, his brother has a belt, and if you want to get really technical about it, there is some claim to linearity that exists as a result of him beating Corrie Sanders for the Ring Magazine title waaaaaay back in 2004. Personally, I don't care about his claim to linearity and you as a fan probably shouldn't either, but it can't totally be ignored in writing an honest piece about the heavyweight division. Klitschko in world title fights over his career is 17-2; his present reign features 10 consecutive successful defenses, tying Lennox Lewis' number of successful defenses. One more successful defense means that Klitschko has defended his heavyweight belts more times in a row than anyone since Larry Holmes.
And if Wladimir Klitschko was the offensive machine he had been during his WBO Heavyweight title reign in the early part of the 2000s, people would probably be excited to see him make these defenses in the US. At the time, Wladimir had excited the fanbase to the point where Lennox Lewis and Wladimir co-starred as the heavyweight championship bout being held during Ocean's Eleven. But that offensive style came with defensive liabilities - he had been KOed early in his development famously by Ross Puritty, hitting the deck multiple times. He then was dropped 4 times en route to losing his WBO title to Corrie Sanders, and KOed again by Lamon Brewster in an attempt to regain it. Emanuel Steward retooled his style to more of a jab-and-grab style, and the KOs seem to have put Klitschko in a shell where he is somewhat unwilling to engage or throw repeated combinations. His complete lack of body work is also a well known theoretical liability.
Any liability, it should be noted, is purely theoretical. Klitschko hasn't realistically lost more than 6-7 rounds total since the Samuel Peter fight in 2005. Klitschko may not always be enthralling, but the fact that no one is willing to wade through the jab because it alone scares them that much is telling about just how good Wladimir is. At 35, his athletic peak has come and is now going, however given his dominance and the lack of skilled opposition in the heavyweight class, Wladimir may be the champion for a few years yet. Talk is now revolving around Wladimir making an easy defense against Mariusz Wach since the opportunity exists, he's relatively unmarked, and none of the sanctioning bodies are making any serious demands.
Much, much more after the jump.
THE OTHER BROTHER/BELT HOLDER: Vitali Klitschko may hold the WBC heavyweight title that was treated with such respect from HBO and Klitschko himself after winning the vacant title many years ago, but times have changed. Now he's simply considered an impediment for fighters to get to Wladimir. Vitali came back from a 4 year retirement to demolish Samuel Peter in shockingly easy fashion and has been dominant ever since, losing only two rounds in his last eight bouts combined.
Vitali is a strange case in the history books. When you compare the Klitschkos to the other major brother team in heavyweight history (The Baers) Vitali has vacillated between being Buddy and Max multiple times - when he took the WBO title for himself, he was the unbeatable power puncher Max. Then when Chris Byrd forced him to quit with a shoulder injury, he was Buddy. WBC title win? Max again. Retirement and embarassing looking "ducking" of Hasim Rahman? Buddy, a million times, Buddy.
Vitali Klitschko's return to the ring and subsequent activity and willingness to take tough fights has totally flipped the script again. He's not Buddy or Max. Instead, the Klitschkos have written their own place in the history books and Vitali will go out likely on a positive note. He's had 6 successful title defenses, and while many of the fighters weren't top ten ranked when they competed with Vitali, they were still better for the history books than Klitschko sitting at home and complaining about various aches and pains. His upcoming defense against Adamek is another ranked opponent, but Adamek's undersized physicality as well as his general lack of power or great defense makes it a tough sell that Vitali is really going to be threatened.
THE NEXT BEST CHALLENGER: Tomasz Adamek enters his WBC title fight against Vitali Klitschko with the hometown advantage and a full football stadium behind him. Unfortunately, Adamek also comes in a big underdog against a much larger man. Adamek entered the consciousness of the boxing world as a light heavyweight from Eastern Europe who was mowing down generally unknown or poorly respected opposition, earning a WBC vacant title fight for no really good reason. Adamek made a huge impression on the hardcore fanbase with his all out war against Paul Briggs (one of the first classics to be traded around the internet) and the televised rematch earned him even more fans stateside.
While Adamek would lose a decision to Chad Dawson, Adamek proceeded to move to cruiserweight and be involved in a number of excellent fights, winning a cruiserweight title, and then moving up to heavyweight. At heavyweight, again, Adamek was treated as a second class citizen and was booked to be a victim to re-elevate Chris Arreola's fortunes. Tomasz had other plans. Since beating Arreola, Adamek has generally been on small PPVs against aging heavyweight names from the Lennox Lewis era. Biding his time, waiting for a big payoff may not have endeared him to some, but Adamek's win over Arreola and subsequent success means he's the highest ranked fighter positioned to fight a Klitschko who is willing to fight a Klitschko. He is naturally smaller than a lot of fighters in the division, but his fast hands and underrated boxing skills make him a difficult opponent for most anyone. He showed some definite issues in the Grant fight adjusting to fight a very big opponent (like, for instance, Vitali Klitschko), which is generally what people point at when arguing that his chances are low to beat either Klitschko.
I'LL CHALLENGE WHEN I WANT TO CHALLENGE. PLEASE?: Alexander Povetkin was supposed to fight Wladimir Klitschko in 2008 on a couple occasions. A funny thing happened though - Teddy Atlas took over Povetkin's camp and suddenly, he needed more time. And more time. And more time. Eventually, the IBF dropped the mandatory status Povetkin earned beating Chris Byrd and Eddie Chambers, and he went on a spree of fighting irrelevant journeyman fighters, looking poorer and poorer each time out. The plan has brought us to the present day, when a somewhat invisible Povetkin returns to the public eye fighting for the vacant WBA "regular" title against Ruslan Chagaev. The belt may be nonsense, but the fight isn't.
Povetkin's amateur credentials are fantastic - he's a former Olympic gold medalist and was fast tracked into title contention. He was beating relevant and skilled fighters even before his 10th pro bout, and became the IBF mandatory #1 contender 15 fights into his career. Since earning that ranking in January 2008, Povetkin has fought merely 6 times, with one fights against top 50 ranked competition (Jason Estrada). His least impressive performance was in his last fight, a 10 round unanimous decision against amateur standout turned professional also-ran Nicolai Firtha. Firtha had been KOed 3 times by the likes of James Northey and Tye Fields. Povetkin looked lifeless and unable to take it to him.
Povetkin is a paunchy, not that tall European heavyweight. In not being the stereotypical tall, chin out, jabbing Eastern European, he shows flashes of lateral movement and a varied offensive attack when he cares enough to unleash it. His confidence may be shot after being benched out of big fights for years because his management team determined that he wasn't skilled enough to be competitive. His weight has been pretty consistent, so he's not really working out less or more than at any other point in his career. Against Ruslan Chagaev, he may be facing a doppleganger of sorts who is potentially less gunshy.
I WAS A CHAMPION ONCE (First Tier): Ruslan Chagaev may have Hepatitis. Is it still active? Is it still an issue? Who knows. What I do know is this - Chagaev was a very active fighter once. Since losing to Wladimir Klitschko in a quickly cobbled together fight created from a David Haye cancellation and that hepatitis scare that killed a Chagaev/Valuev rematch two weeks prior, Chagaev has fought only twice in two years, beating fringe contender Kali Meehan and then brawling with Travis Walker and barely walking away with a W. Chagaev got hit with uppercuts and right hands against the troubled but skilled Walker that further perpetuated the belief that he's well past his best.
Chagaev was called the White Tyson because he was a forward walking puncher. His head movement was never very good, which means he was hittable earlier in his career (see: Vladimir Virchis) and even more so now that he's been getting hit for many years. Not being terribly active and possibly having a pretty serious disease probably haven't helped either. Chagaev seems a lot older than the 32 that he actually is and may be on the verge of his career ending should things not go so well against Povetkin. With both men looking diminished for a variety of reasons, it is a truly intriguing matchup.
Part 2 will be coming soon.