June 20th was supposed to be a huge day for heavyweight boxing, and it still is. With the good comes the bad: David Haye pulling out of his WBO/IBF/IBO title bout with Wladimir Klitschko was just rotten news for those of us looking forward to what promised to be a cracking, exciting heavyweight fight. While Klitschko was the heavy favorite, the athletic, powerful, and risk-taking Haye looked a more daunting task for the long-standing best heavyweight in the world, whose last batch of fights has failed to inspire anything more than apathy and sometimes outright disgust from boxing fans.
Into the breach stepped Ruslan Chagaev, an unbeaten WBA title half-holder whose May 30 rematch with Nikolai Valuev was scrapped when Chagaev failed to pass Finnish medical standards. Apparently, he's perfectly healthy enough to go into a German ring and bleed, but that's another story for another time.
Chagaev and Klitschko will decide the vacant Ring Magazine world heavyweight championship, the belt of belts among those who know their boxing, the only one that seemingly has any standards whatsoever, and the only one that doesn't get passed around like a hot potato. No interim titlists, no mandatory challengers, no sanctioning fees. Just the championship. With Klitschko ranked No. 1 by the magazine and his brother, Vitali, ranked No. 2, The Ring rightly decided that this was absolutely the proper circumstance to decide a vacant championship in a bout between No. 1 and No. 3 (Chagaev).
It is a significant fight, arguably the most important the division has seen in years. Since Vitali's 2005 retirement, the title has been vacant, and when Vitali came back last year and immediately leapt back to No. 2 with a dominant win over Samuel Peter, it looked to stay that way for some time.
But however crooked the road, the destination has been reached: Klitschko-Chagaev is a deserving championship filler. It's just too bad the fight is going to stink.
HBO passed on this bout in large part because it's just not going to be worth the money. Brickhaus detailed why exactly in a recent post, and it's a recommended read for those unfamiliar with either man. Here's the real point to take to heart, though:
While there are a number of reasons they didn't pick up the fight, including budget, that they don't have a current contract with Klitschko like they used to and that fights between two non-English non-Spanish speakers don't tend to do well stateside, the real reason they didn't pick it up is simply because the fight itself will probably stink. The stylistic matchup between Klitschko and Haye, two big punchers with shaky whiskers, provided the promise of fireworks; this fight, instead, provides the promise of a cure for insomnia.
It is not meant as disrespect to either man. Klitschko's greatest strength these days is that he knows his weaknesses and his limitations, and he is what may amount to trainer Manny Steward's last great success. Since coming under Steward's wing, Klitschko has fine-tuned himself, become a jab machine, and refused to fight inside, which is where any opponent needs to get to have a chance at testing his questionable chin. Chagaev is hardly light on his feet out there; chances are really, really good that he winds up on the receiving end of Klitschko's jab all night, and finding himself trapped in hugs if he does manage to come in. Klitschko also knows he struggles with southpaws, and has turned into a cat sparring with a ball of yarn to combat it.
It's great that ESPN picked the fight up and are sticking it on ESPN Classic, Saturday at 5pm. We'll be here with round-by-round coverage and I'm looking forward to it, but I'm also 80% sure this fight will be a clunker, a dreadful bore. It's not a big limb to go out on, either.
This is simply meant as a warning to those going, "Ah, a big heavyweight fight. Maybe it won't stink." It's probably going to. Don't get your hopes up. After all, haven't you been burned enough by the big boys in recent years?