Boxing: Crisis in a Weight Division

18.11.07 – By Adrian Saba: Four days ago, I received an email from a friend (also a boxing fan), he was asking me: “Why do you think a division becomes weak?” It took me six seconds to think about a simple answer: “Talent”. A boxing weight division becomes weak and powerless when it lacks talent, because this makes a huge sector of fans lose their appetite for it. The fighters are thought to be mediocre and a crisis develops, and a new star or group of great fighters must emerge to solve the chaos. This is a pattern that happens almost always. But why a weight division loses it’s talent.?

First of all, a reason you might have considered already: generational change. It is quite simple, the bonanza in a weight division ends when the fighters get old, past their prime, and it leaves a void that the newer, younger fighters can’t fill.

In a determined moment, the not-so-great boxers are able to defeat the old ones, just remember Ali-Spinks, Charles-Holman, Robinson-Downes. The greats retire from boxing and the division remains with a bunch of fighters that can’t fill the void left by their predecessors. Obviously, boxing fans do not like this.

Let’s go back to 1970s Heavyweights…they had Ali, Frazier, Foreman, Norton, Shavers, Quarry, Lyle, Young, etc. Exciting fights, contrasts in styles and personalities: positive result, fans love it. But in the late 70s those fighters were in the twilight of their careers and replaced by the Berbicks, Tates and Weavers of the world. They might have been good fighters but they didn’t have the same acceptance of previous ones. The early-to-mid 80s had one great Heavyweight: Larry Holmes. He dominated the division with an iron fist and with his ‘dogs’ (the name he gave to his superb jab). However, it seems like it wasn’t enough, it didn’t catch the imagination of the public, and they had to find refuge in the Welterweight and Middleweight divisions. Duran, Leonard, Hagler and Hearns could fill the void. And Mike Tyson, a posteriori.

A second reason of why a division loses talent is because the talent goes up. Take a look at the Middleweights of the early 90s. It was an era of good fighters, you had Michael Nunn, James Toney, Roy Jones, Thomas Tate, Iran Barkley, Mike McCallum, etc. However, between 1990 and 1995, most of them gained weight to go to upper weight classes. As a result of that diaspora, the Middleweight division became very weak. Only one really good –sorry, great –fighter was left: Bernard Hopkins. The rest of the Middleweight division was made up from fighters like Simon Brown, Robert Allen, Quincy Taylor, Hacine Cherifi, John David Jackson, Keith Holmes, among others. Not a good era, in fact it became annoyingly boring and mediocre –the worst Middleweight era, ever. The arrival of Tito Trinidad and a unification tournament fixed up everything. And we had the chance to discover Hopkins’ real potential.

This was not similar to what happened to the late 70s’ Heavyweights. This time it wasn’t because of generational changes, it was because the talented fighters went up to other divisions. It is an effect of dispersion. This has happened in other opportunities also, like when Duran/Leonard/Benitez/Hearns went up from 147 to 154. Who was left at 147? Milton McCrory, Marlon Starling, Nino LaRocca, Roger Stratford, Lloyd Honeyghan and, of course, the “Lone Star Cobra” Donald Curry. They were fine but far from being like Sugar Ray Leonard and company.

The third reason: A division is in crisis because that is its nature. I have the belief that something that is born in the wrong way will die in the wrong way. As example, I will mention the infamous Cruiserweight division. That class was needed to avoid so much weight difference between Light Heavyweights, but it was destined to be unpopular since the beginning. Why fans didn’t embrace it? More weight classes = More confusion = Fans hate it. Apart from that, the Cruiserweight division became a pond of mediocrity.

From a historical point of view, it had a high-quality era in the times of Carlos de Leon, Dwight Qawi Muhammad and, of course, Evander Holyfield. “The Real Deal” was able to become the first universally recognized Champion in the second part of the 80s. It was an odysseic campaign the one that the young warrior did in 7 fights (Qawi-Brothers-Tillman-Parkey-Ocassio-Qawi-DeLeon), and his reward was the Unified crown. That moment was a high point in the existence of that division, but the glory was short. During all the 90s, that weight class was again in crisis and it was in that condition during a long time. James Toney was able to create some attention with his fight against Vassily Jirov, but it was just a flash. In general, the Cruiserweight division has been very weak since its beginning. However, the Cruiserweight division apparently is in a great era again, with fighters like Haye, Mormeck, Huck, Bell, etc.

Over the course of the last century, boxing fans have been witnesses of periods in which certain weight classes were surrounded by poorness and there was hardly any excitement. Three main causes of this: the first one is generational change, which happens when fighters of a triumphant era get old and the new ones can’t fill the void. The migration of good fighters into higher weight classes is also a reason of crisis. Existing in a context of low popularity and low-quality fighters is a third reason, this has been the case of the Cruiserweight division and also of some lower weight classes (-130lbs.).

The enthusiasts and followers of boxing must know that after an era of great fighters, there will be a lesser era, or vice versa. It is all cyclic. We can be sure that the Heavyweights will be the “glamour division” again in a few years.

Article posted on 18.11.2007

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