Let's start this off by being really honest: The IBF's four-man eliminator series has two guys that don't need another shot at beating current IBF world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, and if most fans and critics had their druthers, both of the veterans would lose their opening bouts to at least give us a fresh matchup.
Former IBF and WBO champion Chris Byrd has twice fallen to Klitschko, and he did so hard both times, the latest a total destruction last April in Germany when the referee mercifully stopped the contest in the seventh round.
Seven months later, Calvin Brock got the first title shot at Klitschko. At 29-0, Brock was a legit contender, though one coming off of a very lackluster decision win over Timor Ibragimov. Brock, too, was knocked out in the seventh on a crushing blow from Klitschko. It should be noted, though, that Brock held his own against Klitschko prior to a cut opening up on the champion, which caused Wlad -- fearful of a cut stoppage -- to turn up the heat in a major way.
Now, Brock and Byrd will each get another chance to get back into the ring with Klitschko, either proving how shallow the talent pool is in the heavyweight division, or proving how foolish the IBF brass are when considering the idea of Klitschko-Byrd III or Klitschko-Brock II -- who would want to see either fight?
With that said, though, both of the first two matchups are fairly interesting, and present challenges for every fighter. I don't really concern myself with how the division does, but I like good fights, regardless what weight class they're in. I always root for the heavies to give us something to get behind, though they rarely do.
Let's preview the upcoming matchups.
Chris Byrd v. Alexander Povetkin
The first of the bouts comes in less than two weeks, with no Stateside televsion coverage, which is something of a shame. The winner could benefit from a spot on HBO or Showtime -- either Byrd makes believers of those who have written him off as washed up, or we simply get a look at the division's No. 1 prospect.
40-3-1, 21 KO, Las Vegas, NV by way of Flint, MI
37 years old - Southpaw
Former IBF and WBO heavyweight champion
Notable Wins: Evander Holyfield (2002, UD-12), David Tua (2001, UD-12), Vitali Klitschko (2000, RTD-9)
Losses: Wladimir Klitschko (2006, TKO-7 and 2000, UD-12) and Ike Ibeabuchi (1999, TKO-5)
The 37-year old Byrd is still a slick southpaw who punches accurately, and he's still an undersized guy who isn't a true heavyweight, but knows -- and always knew -- that this was the money division. At 6'0", Byrd doesn't have the height, and the heaviest he's ever weighed for a fight was 222 pounds. Generally, the Michigan native comes in weighing 210-215, and he has made a living banging around the ring with guys anywhere from 20 to 50 pounds bigger than him. His matchup against Jameel McCline in 2004 (a split decision win for Byrd) had him at a 56-pound weight disadvantage on the official scales.
He has lost to only two men -- Wlad Klitschko and the incarcerated Ike Ibeabuchi, who may have become one of the great heavyweights of the era had he not made the out-of-ring decisions he would go on to make after his victory over Byrd.
But his notable wins are somewhat suspect. Vitali Klitschko was winning on all three cards. The win over Holyfield was the start of the career collapse for "The Real Deal." And Tua is about as inconsistent as they come.
His other bigger wins are against career almost-weres like McCline, DaVarryl Williamson and Fres Oquendo. He fought to a draw against Andrew Golota in a very entertaining, very competitive bout in 2004.
In Germany, he won't be facing a guy who's much bigger than him. The 28-year old Povetkin is 6'2", generally weighs in at 220-225 pounds, and doesn't have much in the way of pro experience, with only 13 bouts under his belt. But Byrd will need to be wary of Povetkin's power and the fact that even at 28, he's still very young as a boxer. Byrd hasn't had a real fight since his loss to Klitschko, taking a year off before returning with a glorified sparring session victory over journeyman Paul Marinaccio.
To win, Chris Byrd will have to embody the old crafty, veteran. Give Povetkin every angle possible from the southpaw stance and hope that troubles him. Stick with the jab and try to neutralize Povetkin's power. Stay busy and don't let him get any openings, because the first one could spell disaster. Basically, use every trick in the book to try and frustrate and out-think Alexander Povetkin. The strategy to slug away with Wladimir Klitschko wasn't a good one. Byrd can't make that mistake again. He doesn't hit hard enough, and when he tries to open up and bang with the bangers, he gets hit way too much.
13-0, 10 KO, Kursk, Russia
28 years old, Orthodox
2004 Olympic Gold Medalist
Notable Wins: Larry Donald (2007, UD-10)
Old fringe contender Larry Donald really is the only notable name on Povetkin's pro record, but this kid is more than ready for a shot at the big time, and there's no sense in waiting for him to go 20-0 before putting him in these fights. In fact, he's not really a kid -- at 28 and with an extensive and highly impressive amateur record (125-7, all losses avenged), Povetkin knows his way around a ring.
I talked the other day about the fact that Juan Diaz's unimpressive physique gets a lot of comments. Well, wait until American journalists get a load of Povetkin's doughy frame. No one would guess this is, by far, the top prospect in boxing's theoretical money division. And, like Diaz, it makes no difference whatsoever.
Povetkin carries surprising power in both hands, though he failed to knock Donald out and likely won't be able to keep Byrd down for a count, either. A veteran like Donald, who has been in the ring with the best, the worst, and everyone in between, can feed on the aggression of a fighter like Povetkin. No doubt the 2004 Olympic gold medalist learned something from his 10-round bout with Donald, where he won every round on every card but didn't put the old geezer away like he probably planned. Against Byrd, he'll need knowledge, because Byrd's as wily as they come.
Prediction: Could go either way. I do like Chris Byrd and think he's made a hell of a great career out of something that probably seemed foolish to most people all along. He should've been a cruiserweight. He could've been one of the all-time greats at cruiser. But like Holyfield before him (and several others), he knew that the money was at heavyweight. And guess what? He was good enough to make it work. And he still is.
And I also like the matchup. Povetkin doesn't need more seasoning, he doesn't need more time, he doesn't need more opponents. If, at 28, with his amateur record, he isn't ready to fight guys like Chris Byrd, he never really will be. It's time for him to go from prospect to contender. Win or lose, he shouldn't be written off.
He'll have home field advantage, given that he's fought the majority of his pro career in Germany (only having fought in Russia otherwise). Byrd's track record for going wherever he needs to to do his job speaks for itself, though, so I don't think any crowd is going to bother him.
A focused Byrd who still has his legs under him can win this fight. He's done it before. But Povetkin has the raw, physical ability. We'll see where he's at mentally with this fight. Again, given his amateur background, I like his chances to thrive under pressure. Povetkin via unanimous decision
Calvin Brock v. Eddie Chambers
The Brock-Chambers bout will be televised on Shobox, which is a fine main event for a Friday night card. Chambers is one of the division's rising stars, and Brock's lone loss is to Klitschko. I'd question placing a fight between guys from Charlotte and Philly in Tacoma, but the last time I saw a card from Tacoma, the crowd was outstanding.
31-1, 23 KO, Charlotte, NC
32 years old, Orthodox
Notable Wins: Timor Ibragimov (2006, UD-12), Jameel McCline (2005, UD-10), Clifford Etienne (2005, TKO-3)
Loss: Wladimir Klitschko (2006, TKO-7)
Brock's reputation is that he's not exactly exciting, but that's just personality. Brock isn't a shit-talker, doesn't give good quotes, and he just isn't much outrageous fun, which some people really like to have out of their boxers.
But Brock is an underrated puncher, and his 23 knockouts in 31 wins is proof of that. His sixth round KO of Zuri Lawrence won Ring Magazine's knockout of the year award in 2006, but many forget that Brock was one of the fastest-rising contenders in the division before Klitschko memorably dropped him later in the year.
It also didn't help that between the two bouts, he had a near-unwatchable bout with Timor Ibragimov on HBO, on the same card where Carlos Quintana scored his dominant upset of Jorge Julio.
Really, Brock hasn't done anything impressive since the knockout punch against Lawrence, though that was a fight he should have won in such a fashion. It's been over two years since his wins over Jameel McCline and one-time Tyson opponent Clifford Etienne.
At 32, it could be now or never for Calvin Brock. He's had one shot, and the result wasn't impressive. You only get so many.
29-0, 16 KO, Philadelphia, PA
25 years old, Orthodox
Notable Wins: Dominick Guinn (2007, UD-10), Derrick Rossy (2007, TKO-7)
Like Byrd, Chambers is a guy that should be a cruiserweight, and could likely be a truly top guy in the division. But, like Byrd and Holyfield, he knows heavyweights get the cheese.
He's not a puncher, and his handspeed isn't really what you'd expect from a 215-pound guy with the nickname "Fast" Eddie. He had a relatively tough time with Dominick Guinn in May, though the official scores don't so much reflect that. Chambers has been protected very heavily so far, but you could probably easily argue that Brock isn't that big of a step up in competition from Guinn and Derrick Rossy, Chambers' last two victories.
There's nothing about Chambers I consider terribly impressive. His power isn't anything at all, his technique seems average to me, and his defense can be spotty. He's good fundamentally, but not great, or even close.
Only lately has Chambers even stepped outside of his hometown, where he fought regularly at the Blue Horizon. The neutral site fight with Brock shouldn't give either man any favoritism.
Chambers and Brock are actually rather similar in one way: I struggle to find much to say about either fighter. Both are above average, but are these guys that are real contenders, or just blossoming gatekeepers and professional opponents? Brock got a world title shot, and now Chambers is trying to work his way into one. Is there a truly notable difference between Chambers, Brock, Guinn, Fres Oquendo, etc.? There are countless fighters that almost make it, for one reason or the other. Sometimes it's just bad timing, sometimes it's just not there.
Prediction: All I really hope for out of this one is a good TV fight. Truthfully, I think the winner of Byrd-Povetkin is likely going to be the winner of the shot at Klitschko.
But it is a tough one to call. Brock's the bigger puncher, Chambers is faster and maybe better defensively. Youth is on Chambers' side, but they've got about the same level of pro experience, and there's only marginal difference in their quality of opposition if you take the Brock-Klitschko bout out of the equation (which you can't, but it's also the only loss between them). This one is more a gut feeling than anything on my part. Brock via unanimous decision
The bottom line that I look at, though, is what guy presents the best matchup for Klitschko, having the best shot to beat him.
It may well be Brock, and we've seen that. He's the biggest of the four, and size has always mattered against Wlad, though it simply might not anymore. Can you imagine Byrd doing any better this time than he did in the first two fights? Can you imagine Chambers hurting Klitschko, at all?
All four guys fall into the Klitschko gameplan of jab, jab, jab, and then bombing with the left hooks and the cannon right hand. Povetkin may be best able to bang it out with Klitschko, but has he ever been hit that hard? None of these guys could prepare him for it, either.
I find the setup somewhat interesting, but I fear that the end result is just another Wladimir Klitschko demolition job.