One night after Shannon Briggs unceremoniously put Sergei Liakhovich back down the ladder, hype duty starts for the November 11 showdown between IBF and IBO heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko and undefeated challenger Calvin Brock. The fight will be live on HBO from Madison Square Garden, a real old-timey feel for a heavyweight title fight, but not the heavyweight title fight of the days of yore, or at least the way people want to remember it.
Klitschko comes in holding two titles with a 46-3 record, an established fighter at age 30 that perhaps has the best mix of power, size and technique in the division, yet eternal questions about his chin. Klitschko hasn't fought since April, when he cruised past the always-undersized and this-time-overmatch Chris Byrd, a seventh-round TKO victory that put Wlad Klitschko back on the map as a champion after three years of spotty performances.
Klitschko first won a major title six years ago, when he defeated Byrd for the first time. He dropped Byrd twice in that fight, in the ninth and eleventh rounds, and won handily on all three score cards: 120-106, 119-107, 118-108. He successfully defended his WBO title against Derrick Jefferson, Charles Shufford, Francois Botha, Ray Mercer, and Jameel McCline, but then, it happened.
On March 8, 2003, Klitschko stepped into the ring with an unheralded, 37-year old South African journeyman named Corrie Sanders at the Preussag Arena in Hannover, Germany. Sanders stunned the boxing world by knocking the champion out 27 seconds into the second round. Klitschko would never get a chance to redeem himself against Sanders, who took over a year off before taking on Vitali Klitschko, a fight that did not go nearly as well for him. And Wlad was now in a position to have to work himself back up the chain.
So, he fought and defeated Fabio Eduardo Moli (KO-1) and Danell Nicholson (TKO-4), and he was ready again to fight for a major championship. On April 10, 2004, it was Klitschko and Lamon Brewster in Vegas for the vacant WBO heavyweight title. Brewster put Klitschko on the canvas for good in that fight in the fifth round. Any questions about the chin of "The Steel Hammer" were solidified, and they'll never go away.
Klitschko rebounded to beat DaVarryl Williamson and Eliseo Castillo in routine fashion.
But perhaps the best performance of Klitschko's career -- at least in terms of promoting him as a fighter with guts and heart and determination and the ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat -- came in September of 2005 against Samuel Peter. The monstrous puncher put Klitschko on the canvas three times in that fight, but Wlad would not stay down, and rallied to win a unanimous decision.
Then Wlad beat Byrd again in April. With Emmanuel Steward and his brother, the retired Vitali, backing him in the corner, Klitschko was fully in control against Byrd, keeping the crafty champion at bay before hammering him into submission in the seventh. He looked like the Wladimir Klitschko you might've expected for the rest of his career after the first time he beat Byrd.
But how about the other guy? Calvin Brock -- "The Boxing Banker" -- is never going to be a superstar. Born on January 22, 1975, Brock is a Charlotte native and remains a Charlotte resident. He is, of course, devastatingly quiet. He's not a talker. He's not an emotional fighter. He's methodical, but it's not that cool sort of methodical where you're watching a gameplan unfold on TV, yet the other fighter is just helpless to stop it. It's just methodical. He has power -- 22 KOs over his 29-0 career -- but it's not the type of power you sit up and take notice of.
So how the hell do you promote Calvin Brock, especially considering his last fight was that utter snoozefest against Timor Ibragimov on HBO this June?
He's America's best hope for an undisputed heavyweight champion. Sure, Shannon Briggs won a title last night, but Shannon Briggs looked terrible in doing so. Brock has some skill. He has knockout power. He can box inside and outside. He probably won't make a glaring mistake that opens him up to severe punishment from Klitschko. He's regarded as an intelligent fighter, but who knows how much of that is simply image and a result of the way he carries himself? I mean, Brock hasn't had a definitive win yet. I don't feel comfortable gauging how smart he is in the ring until he shows how smart he really is against a fighter with some merit. Klitschko's that fighter, so we'll see.
The real troubling issue, in my view, is that Ibragimov, though he did absolutely nothing to Brock, showed how you can beat Brock. A better fighter may very well have been able to put a beating on Brock using Ibragimov's gameplan. If Klitschko goes that route, it could be trouble, but Brock and his team have likely been working on that since that fight. Brock was shut down by Ibragimov, but Ibragimov simply couldn't muster any offense of his own.
OK, so it's not a huge, marquee showdown. But this is probably as good as we're going to get out of the division for a while, and Calvin Brock has a really good shot at ending another Klitschko title reign. With Briggs having dethroned Liakhovich, the Soviet Bloc Party is already a thing of the past. Maskaev/Hopkins has been floated around, and then you have Valuev. The European dominance was, predictably, overstated. But while I think Brock has a good shot against Klitschko, I'm going with my gut in this one and saying Wlad will win a decision.