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The Changing Heavyweight Title Landscape Needs Consistency
By Francis Walker
Updated: April 19, 2007
NEW YORK — The heavyweight championship landscape has changed once again. Ruslan Chagaev ended any hope of Nikolai Valuev tying Rocky Marciano’s 49-0 record.
Chagaev fought the fight of his life, winning the WBA heavyweight title on a majority decision. It was Valuev’s fourth defense in his first reign as WBA champion.
The key question is — Can any of the other heavyweight champions defend their titles four or five times against top contenders? The last heavyweight champion to defend their title more than five times in one reign was Lennox Lewis, who retired in 2003.
The longer the boxing community is removed from the heavyweight title reigns of Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes, and even Mike Tyson, the more we appreciate their accomplishments.
Louis was boxing’s longest reigning champion – 11 years and 25 successful heavyweight title defenses. Holmes made 16 consecutive defenses of the WBC heavyweight crown.
Holmes, who was also the IBF heavyweight champion, overall made 19 consecutive successful title defenses during one uninterrupted reign as champion.
Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier were both entertaining, had style, and were charismatic. Aside from George Foreman, the only thing that withstood one another was each other.
They were the best and constantly fought the best because, there was only one champion and fewer titles. “You want to be the best,” said undefeated heavyweight contender Eddie Chambers.
Chambers is scheduled to face Dominick Guinn in a 10-round heavyweight on May 4th in Las Vegas. “Perhaps there shouldn’t be so many small titles that you win that would get you ranked”.
“It’s important to have one heavyweight champion. To make people watch boxing again, to watch that one star, it’s important to make boxing big again – one champion.”
Chambers was referring to the thunder and electricity that Mike Tyson generated in the 1980s. Tyson sent shockwaves throughout the world when he single handedly changed the world heavyweight championship landscape.
Mike Tyson, the youngest heavyweight champion at age 20, became the first fighter to unify the WBC, WBA, and IBF heavyweight titles. Tyson defended the undisputed world heavyweight championship nine times before losing all three titles to Buster Douglas more than 17 years ago.
“Even though Tyson made a lot of mistakes, I think he’s a great fighter,” Chambers added. “People will remember him for the bad things he did. A lot of people started watching boxing because of Tyson.”
Lewis, a three-time heavyweight champion, was fairly consistent. Lewis defeated Tyson, Evander Holyfield, David Tua, Michael Grant, an undefeated and rugged Zelkio Mavrovic, Frans Botha, and Vitali Klitschko to name a few. Lewis would avenge knockout losses to Oliver McCall (Sept. 1994) and Hasim Rahman (April 2001) late in his career.
The changing of the heavyweight championship landscape in the last 16 months is a symbol of how inconsistent the heavyweight championship landscape has become.
Another key question – can heavyweight champions Chagaev (WBA), Shannon Briggs (WBO), Oleg Maskaev (WBA), and Wladimir Klitschko (IBF) bring consistency to a weight class which desperately needs one consistent world heavyweight champion? Chagaev just fought Valuev, but the other champions have a lot to prove with so much at stake in their next fights.
Klitschko vs. Brewster – The Rematch
Wladimir Klitschko, the IBF champion, is widely considered to be the man to beat in the heavyweight division. Klitschko (48-3, 33 KOs) is a former WBO champion and will be making the third defense of the IBF title in a rematch against Lamon Brewster (33-3, 29 KOs) on July 7th in Cologne, Germany.
Klitschko is the longest reigning heavyweight champion today. Klitschko knocked out Chris Byrd in a rematch in April of 2006 to win the IBF title. Klitschko has since earned impressive knockout victories against previously unbeaten Calvin Brock and Ray Austin.
Klitschko’s next defense will occur against an opponent who once handed “The Steel Hammer” an embarrassing defeat.
“This chance for revenge against Lamon Brewster is a dream come true,” Klitschko said. “He is without a doubt an extremely dangerous opponent, but I always hoped for chance to redeem myself”.
“In the first fight, three years ago, I ran out of gas for some still unknown reason that I still cannot explain. But I am very happy to get back into the ring with Brewster.”
In their first meeting in April of 2004, Klitschko unleashed a beating for the first couple of rounds. Klitschko, who appeared to have punched himself out, was tagged with a solid right hook to his chin that sent him wobbling. Adding a relentless barrage of two-handed power, hand speed, and the desire to finish, Brewster took the WBO title away from Klitschko.
Brewster has not fought once since losing the WBO title in March 2006. Brewster has suffered a detached retina following his one-sided 12-round decision loss to Sergui Liakhovich.
Many believe that the improvements Klitschko has made in balance, ring generalship, jabbing, punching accuracy, speed and punching power under trainer Emmanuel Steward will allow the 31-year-old Ukrainian to make Brewster look overmatched.
Shannon Briggs is the only American heavyweight champion. He won the WBO title inn November after knocking out Liakhovich in the final seconds of the 12th round.
Briggs (48-4-1, 42 KOs) will defend his championship for the first time against unbeaten WBO mandatory, Sultan Ibragimov (20-0-1, 17 KOs) on Saturday, June 2, in Atlantic City, NJ.
Briggs is currently riding a 12-fight knockout streak. At 275 pounds, the 6-foot-5 Brooklyn native is known to have problems with his asthma during fights. He’s admitted that he’s not built for twelve rounds and that he heavily depends on his two-handed, one-punch knockout power to win fights.
“I am a big puncher, that’s what I do,” said Briggs, who has an 87.5% career knockout victory percentage.
Maskaev vs. Peter
Oleg Maskaev hasn’t fought since 2002. Maskaev knocked out Hasim Rahman in the twelfth round to seize the WBC title in August of 2006 and has defended his title only once since. Maskaev (34-5, 26 KOs) will next defend this summer against Nigerian knockout artist and No. 1-ranked, Samuel Peter (28-1, 22 KOs).
“Maskaev has been through a lot on his way up to the top,” Chambers said. “To say he’s not the real deal of the weakest link is not accurate.” All of Maskaev’s losses have occurred by knockout.
There’s a very good chance that Masakev, at age 38, could get knocked out by the younger and more aggressive 26-year-old challenger. Peter has recorded three knockdowns of Wladimir Klitschko, but still lost a unanimous decision in September of 2005.
Peter also has two consecutive decision victories against James Toney, who nearly knocked out Wladimir Klitschko and James Toney. Maskaev-Peter would have already happened had Vitlai Klitschko (Wladimir’s older brother) got been given granted “Champion Emeritus” status by the World Boxing Council.
Vitali Klitschko was given permission to regain the WBC heavyweight title once he returned. The stunt the WBC tried to pull in mandating a Maskaev-Klitschko fight, especially after Peter won (and paid sanctioning fees for) two elimination fights against Toney, was appalling.
Peter turned down $2.5 million in step aside money. Also, negotiations between Maskaev, Klitschko, the WBC, and everyone else involved in trying to block Peter from his mandatory shot failed.
Does Maskaev have the skills to turn away the venomous challenge of Peter?
Chris Byrd Returns
The last consistent heavyweight champion in recent memory during the post-Lennox Lewis era was Chris Byrd. He won the IBF title (vacated by Lewis) after beating Evander Holyfield in December of 2002.
Byrd, a very skilled southpaw with very fast hands and excellent boxing skills, was dodged by Lewis and Tyson throughout his career. The now 36-year-old from Flint, MI lost the IBF title in his fifth defense in a rematch against Wladimir Klitschko in April of 2006.
Fighting for the first time since suffering a KO loss to Klitschko, Byrd (40-3-1, 21 KOs) stopped 40-year-old Paul Marinaccio (22-3-2, 9 KOs) in the seventh-round on Wednesday, April 18 in Clifford Park in the Nassau, Bahamas.