Sultan Ibragimov, who was on the other side of the heavyweight title eliminator against Ray Austin that ended in a draw, fared a bit better than his last opponent on Saturday night. Ibragimov improved his record to 20-0-1 with a first round knockout of Javier Mora, who was a late replacement opponent, taking the spot of WBO champion Shannon Briggs, who has pneumonia or asthma or whatever it was this time.
The fight lasted just 46 seconds, beating out Wladimir Klitschko's second round (1:23) knockout of Austin in Germany on the same day.
When Saturday's scheduled still had Briggs/Ibragimov on the slate, there was a mild chance that we'd have gotten at least some clue about the future of the heavyweight division from that day's bouts. Klitschko was an obvious winner from the moment that that joke of a mandatory was signed, but there was intrigue in Briggs/Ibragimov -- at least, as much intrigue as there can be for a crap champion and a rather uninteresting challenger.
The heavyweight division really hit the shits the moment that Shannon Briggs wheezed and gasped his way through a flurry (to be fair, a rather heroic flurry) in the 12th round of what was an absolute rotten dog of a fight last November against Sergei Liakhovich, becoming the new WBO champion. At the time, we had the Soviet Bloc Party going on -- Klitschko, Liakhovich (in whom I was a big believer), Maskaev and Valuev.
Now, we've got Briggs instead of Liakhovich, and Briggs and Maskaev are paper champions if ever we've seen them. Maskaev and his handlers are too chickenshit to take a fight with Samuel Peter, who has twice done what he had to do to earn the shot, and the WBC is too chickenshit to let Maskaev just lose to Peter, as neither is a bankable star, and Maskaev never will be. That's why they want Maskaev/Vitali -- it'll at least have the novelty of being Vitali Klitschko's comeback, and then if Vitali hurts himself in the ring, or he's just rusty and loses, you've got Maskaev with a big fight under his belt, and he can make more money against Peter.
Or, Klitschko wins, and you've got Peter really beefing against Vitali and the WBC. The ducked powerhouse that no one wanted to fight against the returned hero, saving us all, a star when the heavyweight division was on its final legs, yet not quite dead.
As for Wladimir Klitschko, you almost have to feel bad for him. He beat the hell out of Chris Byrd, fought an undefeated Calvin Brock and knocked him out in seven rounds, and then got stuck against a sorry challenger that didn't belong anywhere near the same ring as Klitschko. Everything about it was evident, from hand speed (Klitschko remarked, almost apologetically, that Austin was much slower than his sparring partners) to body language. Ray Austin seems like a guy worth rooting for, and he's got a story that deserves rooting, but it was a complete farce, and everyone knew it.
Now, we have Klitschko, who sounds like he's begging for a worthwhile opponent; Valuev, who will fight and likely defeat Ruslan Chagaev; Maskaev, who is entangled in all the political bullshit between the WBC, Vitali Klitschko and Samuel Peter; and Briggs, who is a flake and is likely to be dumped in his first defense, so long as it's against someone that will engage him, which Liakhovich curiously never attempted.
And the rest of the division has some promise here and there, but there is not a single legitimate possible superstar to be found. Wladimir Klitschko is a damn good fighter. Samuel Peter is a damn good fighter. Vitali Klitschko might still be a damn good fighter. Maskaev is tough and a professional, and is no pushover, but he's not going to get anyone excited. Briggs -- again -- is a flake. Valuev is a sideshow attraction despite his legitimate desire to hone his craft.
The depth isn't there, and the governing bodies make it so goddamn impossible for us to see a heavyweight fight that we actually might want to see that it's futile to hope we're going to see Wlad Klitschko take on Samuel Peter again, a fight that could look very different -- from both sides -- than their first encounter, which was very good.
It's not QUITE as bleak as some make it out to be, but the heavyweight division is an absolute clusterfuck, and the more fights like Klitschko/Austin we get, the more people are going to just give right up. I think everyone wants to like the heavyweight division, because the aura of a big-time heavyweight fight is how most fans, at least in America, came to love the sport. But you can't be mad about it forever. And at this point, I just think it's all a shame.