The Changing Heavyweight Division

By Francis Walker
Updated: April 28, 2006

NEW YORK — What do Nikolay Valuev, Serguei Lyakhovich, and Wladimir Klitschko all have in common? For the first time in boxing history, three European boxers each own a piece of the world heavyweight championship. Hasim Rahman, born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, is the only heavyweight titlist who is African-American.

The heavyweight champions in recent years have become increasingly bigger and perhaps stronger than ever. Joe Louis was 6’1,” 190 pounds and retired with boxing’s all-time record for consecutive successful title defenses with 25.

Muhammad Ali was 6’2,” 215 pounds in his prime and is recognized as the most popular fighter in boxing history. Joe Frazier was 5’10,” 220 pounds and is considered to be a boxing legend. Mike Tyson, at 5’ 10, 220 pounds, and Evander Holyfield, 6’2,” 212 pounds were considered small heavyweights, but ruled the heavyweight division in the 1980s-90s.

Valuev (43-0, 31 KOs), at 7’ 2,” 324 pounds, is the largest fighter to ever win a heavyweight title. Valuev won the WBA heavyweight championship when he out-pointed John Ruiz in December 2005. Valuev has fought twice in the United States throughout his career which began in 1993, but is a relative unknown.

Valuev earned a WBA title shot because, 1) he is undefeated during a 13-year professional career. 2) Valuev’s title victory against Ruiz was the European’s first world title fight. 3) While popular American fighters have been inactive, Valuev has averaged four fights per year since 2003. 4) Valuev is a draw in Europe and could be an even bigger attraction in the U.S. as he will be promoted by Don King.

Valuev’s next opponent will be 5’10,” 240 pound Owen Beck of Negril, Jamaica. The bout is scheduled for June 3, in Germany. Valuev should beat Beck before heading into a rematch with Ruiz.

Lyakhovich (23-1, 14 KOs), in what many considered to be a great heavyweight title fight, out-pointed Lamon Brewster to claim the WBO heavyweight crown on April 1. It was Lyakhovich’s first fight since September 2004 (16 months).

Although Lyakhovich suffered a knockdown in the fight and appeared to be badly hurt several times, he appeared to be in much better shape than the 232-pound Brewster. a highly notable boxer-slugger, has KO victories against Wladimir Klitschko and a 90-second demolition of Andrew Golota. Brewster elected to slug with Lyakhovich and was nearly KO’d himself.

Lyakhovich, at 6’4,” 238 pounds was born in Vitebsk, Belarus, and is 29 years old. Lyakhovich is not recognized for his boxing skills and is a relative unknown. His only loss was a 2002 ninth round KO-defeat to Maurice Harris (9 of his 13 career losses by KO).

However, in Lyakhovich’s last two fights in 16 months, he defeated boxing prospect Dominick Guinn and won a heavyweight title.

With former WBC heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko retired, Wladimir (46-3, 41 KOs) of Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan must carry the Klitschko name on his own. At 6’ 6,” 245 pounds,

Wladimir had a very promising career, as he is the only fighter to have knocked out Ray Mercer (known for having a granite chin) in August 1999. Klitschko also has KO victories against former heavyweight title contender Jameel McCline.

Wladimir was rumored to be the successor to former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis prior to his retirement in 2004, but was shockingly KO’s in less than two rounds by underrated Corrie Sanders in March. 2003.

During his comeback, Wladimir was KO’s again in a slugfest with Brewster in April 2004. Wladimir’s three losses were KO losses, which raised many questions about his chin, endurance, and determination.

Wladimir launched another comeback and reestablished himself as a heavyweight title contender last September when he defeated undefeated KO-artist Samuel Peter. Wladimir survived three knockdowns and an apparent anxiety attack to defeat Peter by majority decision (114-111 on all scorecards).

On April 22, in Germany, Wladimir knocked out boxing’s longest reigning heavyweight champion of nearly 3 ½ years. Klitschko scored a seventh-round TKO in a rematch against Chris Byrd. It was Klitschko’s most impressive performance, as he knocked out a southpaw recognized for his slick boxing skills and tremendous defense.

Wladimir defeated Byrd before by decision, but the difference was that Klitschko’s left jab-straight-right combination was stronger and his punches were more accurate.

Wladimir recently turned 30 on March 25. He is currently trained by Emanuel Steward, the former trainer of undisputed champion Lennox Lewis and the legendary Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns. Wladimir, under Steward’s guidance will continue to get better, and pay actually dominate the heavyweight division for quite sometime.

Along with Wladimir is Valuev, who is indeed a sight himself. At 324 pounds and over 84 inches in height, Valuev would be very difficult for event he biggest American heavyweight or any world contender at 200-plus pounds to defeat.

However, few speculate that Valuev is not very mobile and can be out-hustled by a fast-moving, quick hitting boxer. Some believe that Ruiz ended up on the short-end of a decision against Valuev. The WBA accepted Ruiz petition and has granted the champion a rematch.

Lyakhovich’s reign as WBO heavyweight champion will be short.