FIVE REASONS! What a surprise! FIVE REASONS! Stuck on my eyes! FIVE REASONS! My brain hurts a lot! FIVE REASONS! That's all we've got!
1. Wladimir Klitschko's dominance is special
Even if you don't think that Wladimir Klitschko is a genuine all-time great (and I am long since on record believing he is not), his dominance of the heavyweight division over the last decade has been something of historic magnitude. If you want to argue that the division is weak, guess what? You're right. It is. The division was also weak when Mike Tyson was clubbing people in the 80s, and his reign of terror was nowhere near as long as what Klitschko has done.
There are reasons for that, of course. Tyson was more of a risk-taker in the ring by nature, while Klitschko is a big heavyweight who relies on his ring intelligence and lessons hard learned from early career defeats. Tyson was flattening people from the moment he turned pro, and once he got a reality check from Buster Douglas, he was simply never the same fighter again.
Klitschko's career has been nurtured, particularly by the late, great Emanuel Steward, who took a talented fighter with some confidence and chin issues and molded him into a nearly impenetrable boxing machine. Tyson's career, once it really got off the ground, was ripe for the picking from yes-men, hangers-on, leeches; villains various and sundry lined up to take a chunk of Mike Tyson's greatness.
Simply put, the comparison between them is not even worth making. That's why I made it. I'm arguing with myself right now.
But even if I think Klitschko is the product of too much holding and grabbing, too much blatant fouling that is never called by referees, too much of a diluted talent pool in his division, and too much safety-first mentality to truly love, he is a truly dominant fighter, and someone who must be respected.
2. (Almost) Everyone gets knocked off eventually
Klitschko's dominance does hide a couple of simple truths, though:
- He's 39 years old, and no longer in his prime. Not saying he's slowed down enough that he appears to be in any real danger of losing to anyone, but certainly no longer in his prime.
- His chin is still a question mark. (Wladimir's great sense of humor about this tickled us all this week, but he knows.)
- Almost everybody eventually loses.
Mike Tyson appeared unbeatable. He lost to a fringe contender sort of fighter in Buster Douglas, one who had in the past failed to live up to his promise. Lennox Lewis was looking near unbeatable when Oliver McCall smashed him at Wembley, and then 10 years later, the same thing -- and Hasim Rahman knocked him senseless in South Africa. Randy Turpin beat Sugar Ray Robinson. Some Cassius Clay guy knocked out Sonny Liston. Max Schmeling beat Joe Louis. Frankie Randall beat Julio Cesar Chavez. Muhammad Ali beat the ferocious George Foreman. Antonio Tarver beat Roy Jones Jr.
And Wladimir Klitschko, of course, has lost before. He lost in 1998 to Ross Puritty. He lost in 2003 to Corrie Sanders. He lost in 2004 to Lamon Brewster.
Wladimir is a better, smarter fighter than he was in '98, '03, or '04. There's no question about that. But he's beatable. He is by no means flawless. And at some point, it stands to reason that someone could do it again. Why not Jennings? (Don't answer that, it makes the open-ended question less fun if you answer that.)
3. Bryant Jennings is a serious heavyweight fighter
One thing Jennings has going for him is that he takes what he does seriously. One of the main knocks on heavyweights of the modern era is that they don't work hard in camp, they don't keep themselves in shape between fights, and when they get to the top level, they've often beaten themselves before the bell rings, because they're not prepared.
A recent prime example is another American fighter, Chris Arreola. Arreola is/was a talented boxer with a heavy punch, a great chin, a ton of heart, and the sort of mentality that should have made him a star. And he made some money, and he's delivered some fun fights. But he's never going to live down questions about his conditioning and his dedication. He's admitted his own flaws. And there are still lots of reasons to like Arreola, but one does have to wonder if he might have been better had he really cared about his conditioning and about taking care of himself when he wasn't fighting.
Jennings is a lean, mean, and frankly big man. Standing next to Klitschko at yesterday's weigh-in, he was shorter, yes, but he's a huge guy who didn't look particularly smaller than Wladimir. Wladimir has a few inches of height and a few pounds on him, but physically he's not as overmatched as a lot of fighters have been. And he's even got a three-inch reach advantage on Wladimir. The one thing we won't say, however this turns, is that Bryant Jennings didn't come as prepared as he could have been physically. And in today's heavyweight landscape, that's a plus.
4. American heavyweight boxing is at least a little relevant again
Wladimir's return to American shores is coming at an opportune time. With Deontay Wilder the only other man in the sport to hold a recognized major world title, plus the rise of Jennings, American heavyweight boxing is looking at least a little better recently. Wilder proved he was more than a manufactured record by dominating Bermane Stiverne, and Jennings' two wins over Artur Szpilka and Mike Perez last year were the best of his career.
The future of this division, unless something drastically changes, is certainly in Europe. The best amateur heavyweights (who aren't Cuban) are coming from there, and will continue to come from there. But at least American heavyweight fans have something to like right now. Plus we've got a few cool old dudes who just don't go away, like Antonio Tarver and Tony Thompson. And Shannon Briggs.
LET'S GO CHAMP LET'S GO CHAMP LET'S GO CHAMP LET'S GO CHAMP
5. Sadam Ali takes a real risk with Francisco Santana
A glance at this fight doesn't strike one as special, really. Ali (21-0, 13 KO) is an emerging welterweight prospect who looked great in an HBO win last year of Luis Carlos Abregu. Santana (22-3-1, 11 KO) already has a few losses and on paper just looks like another mid-level sort of opponent that the hotshot will beat.
But Santana might have a little Miguel Vazquez in him. You might remember that Vazquez, the former lightweight titleholder whose game is real even if his style sucks, had a few losses early in his career. Then all of a sudden he was beating a bunch of guys and winning and defending a world title. Where'd he come from? He learned in the ring. He had two losses to Canelo Alvarez (one in Vazquez's pro debut) and one to Tim Bradley. Not bad.
Santana has three losses. Two to Karim Mayfield, one to Jermell Charlo. Now, Mayfield and Charlo aren't exactly Alvarez and Bradley, but still, solid fighters. Those losses came in 2008, 2009, and 2011. His draw came to Julian Williams, a current top prospect at 154 pounds. Since the '11 loss to Charlo, Santana is 10-0, including wins over veterans like Freddy Hernandez and Joachim Alcine, as well as a big win last June over celebrated Golden Boy prospect Eddie Gomez. His last fight was a KO-1 win over previously unbeaten Kendal Mena in January.
Don't expect an upset, but don't sleep on this fight, either. Ali hasn't always looked as good as he did against Abregu, and Santana is no pushover.