NEW YORK — The year 2006 had its share of ups and downs. The heavyweight division was more entertaining than the previous year. A 41-year-old retired as a light heavyweight champion after dominating the middleweight division for over a decade.
The boxing world lost two great warriors, Floyd Patterson and Willie Pep. Trevor Berbick was murdered. The year ended with perhaps the first-ever father vs. son boxing match.
Boxing will never return to its golden years of having only one champion in each of the original eight weight classes: flyweight, bantamweight, featherweight, lightweight, welterweight, middleweight, light heavyweight, and heavyweight.
Even until the days of Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, a prime George Foreman, Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran, Wilfredo Benitez, Aaron Pryor, and Alexis Arguello, world championship fights were 15 rounds.
In the old days one could recognize Ray Robinson as the world middleweight champion. Joe Louis was clearly the heavyweight champion of his time.
In today’s modern era, boxing is bombarded with at least three-four different champions in four separate weight classes: WBC, WBA, IBF, and WBO. The confusion of multiple champions, championships, and weight disparities couldn’t be more evident than in the heavyweight division. Historically, the heavyweight division is boxing’s most intriguing weight class.
Heavyweights Meant Business
The year 2006 was a much better year for heavyweight boxing than in 2005. Wladimir Klitschko, along with Nikolai Valuev, Oleg Maskaev, and Sergui Liakhovich made history. For the first time in boxing history, the world heavyweight championship was split among four boxers from the former Soviet Union.
Klitschko, Maskaev, and Liakhovich defeated solid African-American fighters, while the 7’ 3,” 325-pound, Valuev defeated John Ruiz, the first two-time Latino heavyweight champion in December 2005.
Klitschko has perhaps emerged as the most recognizable and talented heavyweight in boxing. Klitschko ended the near 3 ½-year reign of IBF heavyweight champion Chris Byrd in April.
Klitschko, trained by Emanuel Steward, followed his impressive seventh-round KO of Byrd (whom he already defeated in 2001) with a dominant seventh-round KO of undefeated prospect, Calvin Brock in November.
Klitschko, at 6’ 7,” 245 has fought better opposition than the other heavyweight champions and appears to have more tools. Klitschko’s left jab is a very strong and potent weapon. Klitschko’s delivery of his right hand makes him one of the most punishing punchers in boxing.
Klitschko will be pushed by HBO throughout 2007 as the heavyweight champion. Klitschko continues to generate lots of revenue from German/European television because, he is exciting to watch.
Maskaev knocked out Hasim Rahman of Baltimore, MD in the twelfth round of a very good heavyweight fight. Maskaev recently defended the WBC heavyweight title in Russia with a solid 12-round unanimous decision win over undefeated, and unknown Peter Okhello.
Liakhovich overcame a seventh-round knockdown to beat Lamon Brewster to win the WBO crown in March.
The former Soviet Union’s sole grasp of the world heavyweight championship was forced to be shared by An African-American when Shannon Briggs realized a lifelong dream.
In 2006, Briggs came from behind on all three judges scorecards to knockout Liakhovich to win the WBO heavyweight championship. Briggs also extended his consecutive knockout streak to 12.
When 2006 began, Briggs was destined for an eventual world title fight. However, no one expected Briggs to win a heavyweight championship before the start of 2007.
Briggs, the spoiler of the heavyweight division, is willing to unify his WBO title with any of the other champions. First, Briggs must defeat mandatory challenger, an undefeated Sultan Ibragimov in March.
Briggs, at 6’ 3,” 270 pounds, has a rare combination of hand speed and power in both hands. Briggs’ health with his asthma will always be an issue, but he has a punchers chance to beat many of the other heavyweights including Klitschko.
Between Klitschko, Briggs, and Maskaev all three fighters are on impressive winning streaks and are a combined 29-0. The boxing world will scream once more unification of the world heavyweight championship the way they did when Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield unified the world heavyweight championship in 1999.
A Legend Returned
Evander Holyfield returned in 2006 for the first time since November 2004. Holyfield, now 44, is one of the greatest fighters of all time. Holyfield is the only fighter to unify both the world cruiserweight and world heavyweight championships.
Holyfield is also the only man to become a four-time world heavyweight champion. Holyfield returned in August to earn a second-round TKO of journeyman Jeremy Bates. In November, Holyfield won a close 12-round unanimous decision over former heavyweight title contender, Fres Oquendo.
Holyfield wishes to retire after winning a heavyweight title for an unprecedented fifth time. But at age 44 and a 6′ 2,” 215-pound physique, Holyfield is much older and smaller than the heavyweight champions. But anything can happen.
Great Fighters Emerged
One of the greatest middleweight champions in boxing history, Bernard Hopkins turned back the clock once again by moving up two weight classes from 160 to 175 to win a world light heavyweight championship before retiring at age 41.
Hopkins fought a classic, textbook boxing match against Antonio Tarver in June. The retirement may have been short-lived, as Hopkins reportedly has plans to become a heavyweight champion in 2007.
Manny Pacquaio has emerged as boxing’s most exciting fighter to watch and awaits Marco Antonio Barrera in 2007. In 2006, Pacquaio handed former three division Erik Morales his third consecutive loss.
Pacquaio has perhaps ended Morales’ Hall of Fame career with a pair of knockouts including a third-round TKO in November. Pacquaio looks stronger, faster, and better than he’s ever been. Can Pacquaio again do the same to Barrera, whom he knocked out three years ago?
Joe Calzaghe is clearly the man in the super middleweight division. Calzaghe began 2006 headed toward the biggest fight of his career, a WBO/IBF super middleweight championship unification bout against undefeated upstart Jeff Lacy in March.
Calzaghe was accused of feasting on carefully handpicked opposition, especially since his near defeat to Byron Mitchell in a bout that was stopped prematurely.
Calzaghe, in front of his hometown fans of Wales, England, dominated Lacy through twelve rounds. Calzaghe proved that he had the hand speed, timing, combinations, and power in both hands to tame an aggressive knockout artist like Lacy.
Mike Tyson’s world tour kicked off in October. Tyson fought former heavyweight contender Corey Sanders in a four-round exhibition. The event was uneventful, as Tyson barely touched a one-eyed fighter wearing headgear. The event was organized as a pay per view event because Tyson is indeed broke.
Floyd Mayweather remained undefeated and gained wider acceptance as the best fighter in boxing pound for pound. Mayweather had another dominating year. Mayweather became four-division champion by winning the IBF welterweight championship from Zab Judah in May.
Mayweather, in November, out-boxed Carlos Baldomir through twelve rounds. The victory allowed Mayweather to share the same stage with Oscar La Hoya in May 2007 in Las Vegas next year.
Had Baldomir won, he clearly would have been the 2006 “Fighter of the Year.” Baldomir began the year by squandering the undisputed world welterweight championship with a 12-round decision against Zab Judah in Judah’s hometown of Madison Square Garden, New York City. Baldomir went from an unrecognizable opponent to a real life Cinderella. Baldomir also became the WBC welterweight champion.
In July, Baldomir traveled to “Gatti-Country” at the Atlantic City Convention Center Arturo Gatti. The bout was Gatti’s eighth consecutive sellout at the Convention Center and eleventh consecutive HBO appearance.
It was perhaps Gatti’s final opportunity to become a world champion again. Baldomir stopped Gatti in the ninth round. Expect Gatti to say farewell in 2007.
Boxing’s future showed promise
The man who ended Bernard Hopkins’ 10-year grasp on the world middleweight championship in 2005 began to establish his own legacy. Jermain Taylor continued to take one tough fight after the next.
After fighting Winky Wright to a 12-round draw in June, Taylor returned in December to defeat former junior middleweight champion Kassim Ouma.
Taylor’s road to the top of the boxing world will get more difficult, as Wright is pressed for a rematch following his impressive one-sided decision against Ike Quartey. Edison Miranda emerged as a legitimate threat. Also, Arthur Abraham is also young and undefeated.
Welterweights Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, and Paul Williams are three big names to watch in 2007. They have move done step closer toward fighting each other.
Cotto became an undefeated two-division champion at 140 and 147 pounds. Cotto could be the biggest Puerto Rican superstar boxer since Felix Trinidad.
Margarito made the fourth consecutive defense of his WBO welterweight title and will face mandatory, No. 1-ranked Williams in 2007. Williams is a 25-year-old from Augusta, Georgia.
Williams is one of the best prospects in boxing. Williams is a 6’ 1,” southpaw with an 82-inch reach. Not too many fighters want to face Williams, who also has knockout power in both hands.
Father TKO’d by son
On December 22, in Berlin, Germany, 19-year-old heavyweight Harry Duiven, Jr. was scheduled to face Rocky Ven. But when Ven pulled out, Duiven, Sr. agreed to step in. Duiven, Jr. (6-1, 4 KOs) earned a second-round TKO victory against his very own 39-year-old father (now 0-2), who turned professional in November.
Some say women’s boxing is bad?! It doesn’t get any worse than a father accepting a fight against his own son. That could be the case when Floyd Mayweather, Sr. prepares De La Hoya to fight Mayweather, Jr. next year.
Sadness & Goodbyes
Trevor Berbick is best recognized for losing the WBC heavyweight title in November 1986 to Tyson, who became the youngest fighter to win a heavyweight title at 20. Berbick is also the last man to have fought Muhammad Ali in December 1981.
Berbick was killed on October 28, 2006 by two men over a land dispute in Norwich, Jamaica. One of the two men accused of Berbick’s murder was his 20-year-old nephew.
Berbick suffered multiple wounds behind his head. Berbick, whose life had plenty of tragedies and personal turmoil, was 51. His career record was 50-11-1, 33 KOs
Former heavyweight Floyd Patterson, born in Waco, North Carolina on January 4, 1935, passed away at age 71 on May 11, 2006. Patterson, in November 1956, became the then-youngest heavyweight champion in history when he knocked out Archie Moore in the fifth round. Patterson, a gold medal winner at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, was also the first Olympic gold medalist to win a heavyweight title.
After losing the heavyweight title to Ingemar Johansson in June 1959, Patterson became the first boxer to regain the world heavyweight championship when he knocked out Johansson in the fifth round of their rematch in June 1960. He retired with a career mark of 55-8-1, 40 KOs.
Following Patterson’s retirement, he was the chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Patterson battled Alzheimer’s Disease and prostate cancer prior to his death.
Willie Pep died on November 23, 2006 at age 84. His career lasted more than 26 years, 242 professional fights. Pep was a former featherweight champion recognized for his hand speed (perhaps the most important asset in boxing aside from a whipping rod-jab) and his defense.
Pep was the world featherweight champion in the late 1940s and eventually inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. His career record was 230-11-1, 65 KOs.
If fighters today aren’t as active as Patterson, Pep, and the other legends previously mentioned. However, if fighters like Mayweather, Pacquaio, Cotto, Margarito, Williams, and Taylor (to name a few) average three fights next year, then 2007 will be a good year for boxing.