Heavyweight Fireworks in December - Answering Some Questions While Creating New Ones

24.11.03 - By Paul Ruby: The month of December should breathe some much-needed life into the heavyweight division. The most newsworthy events of the year- Roy Jones moving up to take a title from John Ruiz, Corrie Sanders’ 5 minute demolition of Wladimir Klitschko, and Lennox Lewis’ struggles with Wladimir’s brother, Vitali- all happened in the first half of the year. Those three events illustrated to fans that the division is wide-open, and up for the taking. The presence of James Toney in the division coupled with Chris Byrd’s lackluster performance against Fres Oquendo only created more questions about the future of heavyweight boxing. While some questions will always remain unanswered, fights in the month of December should certainly shed light upon some of the questions that now exist at the same time as creating new and exciting ones.

On the first Saturday of the month, December 6, two big fights are taking place in the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden. The main event that night features Ukranian giant Vitali Klitschko against Canadian Kirk Johnson. There are a number of subplots in addition to the action in the ring here, and they help make this a very intriguing match-up. It was, of course, Kirk Johnson’s torn muscle that forced him to back out of his June 21st bout with Lennox Lewis giving Vitali Klitschko the opportunity to give the champion a serious scare before a brutal cut above his eye drew the match to an abrupt and premature conclusion. This is also a fight between two men with underrated aspects of their game. I believe that Vitali’s skills are underrated because of his awkward style, while I think that Kirk Johnson has great handspeed and surprisingly fluid movement despite his, well, portly frame. Both men have built very impressive records against very average competition, but have performed admirably in their recent fights. I think this is going to be an exciting fight, and I predict that Freddie Roach will be the difference here. Both men have excellent trainers in Curtis Cokes and Roach, but I believe Roach has a special gift. He has shown the ability this year to take a fighters’ natural style and make him into a champion. He has demonstrated an ability to do this with James Toney, Manny Pacquiao, and Vitali. I think Kirk will surprise Vitali with his handspeed early in the fight, but I think that he’ll tire. I believe Vitali start putting some big right hands straight down the chute and win via a mid-to late-round knockout. Overall, I think this will be a very competitive fight; probably more than most people foresee. I think Vitali’s confidence and Freddie Roach-coached discipline will be a little too much for the Canadian to handle.

The precursor to that fight will pit two native New Yorkers against one another when Buffalo’s favorite son takes on game Queens-based fighter Monte ‘Two Gunz’ Barrett. Sporting a 29-2 record, Barrett will enter the ring as the decided underdog. Barrett’s record is telling and he is an obvious choice for Mesi at this point in the undefeated Olympic alternate’s career. Barrett’s two losses come via a split decision against Lance Whitaker and a 7th round TKO at the hands of Wladimir Klitschko in which he was hit the canvas five times. Most recently, he took on Eric Kirkland in an ESPN Friday Night Fight. Although he won by a 10th round stoppage, I was not terribly impressed by his skills. The less experienced Kirkland looked the more poised of the two until late in the bout. I think Barrett is a logical choice for Mesi at this point in time. He only been stopped once in his career and has met some very good, but not great fighters in his time. He has a pretty good chin and a record of toughness. But… his power is suspect. With only 16 knockouts among his 29 victories, he is certainly no George Foreman. The most notable common opponent on their records is Robert Davis. Both fighters beat him with Mesi scoring an impressive first-round knockout and Barrett being pushed to a majority decision victory. I have to admit some personal bias here-- I am a big Joe Mesi fan as I am both Italian and from New York. I think Monte Barrett is an acceptable test for him at this point in his career. I think Joe’s stamina will be tested and that both men will arrive in great shape. Joe is known for his training regimen while Barrett has fought every fight in his career within a 13 pound window, which is says something about a heavyweight’s dedication. I’d love to see Joe get in a couple more rounds than his last fight, and I think Barrett is prepared to oblige me in that respect. Mesi is a quick starter, but if he can’t score a knockout in the first 3 rounds, then I like him by a wide UD. I also would not rule out a late KO by Mesi. In his fight with a game David Izon, Joe won every round before finishing him off in the 9th round, showing impressive late-round power.

The early part of December will answer a number of questions about the state of the heavyweight division today. In addition to the two fights mentioned above, Hasim Rahman and John Ruiz will fight on the Bernard Hopkins/ William Joppy undercard in Atlantic City on December 13. Originally, the fight was supposed to pit Rahman against David Tua. Basically, Rahman/Ruiz manages to offer even less intrigue than Rahman/Tua III, which I didn’t even think was possible. This is a WBA eliminator fight, meaning that the winner will be in line for a title shot. This is where it gets interesting… Roy Jones currently holds that belt, but there’s little indication he plans to defend it as he has his sights set firmly upon the payday that a fight with Mike Tyson offers. It is certainly within the realm of possibility that, should Jones choose to vacate the title, the winner of this fight will face a contender for the vacant title. And, if you haven’t noticed, the WBA is pretty high on Baby Joe Mesi, ranking him as the #8 contender in their most recent release. So, although it seems odd to say, there is a chance that if Mesi defeats Barrett in an impressive fashion, he could be fighting for a legitimate title sooner than he realizes.

A final interesting bout on the ledger for the month of December will take place on December 20 in Germany. At this point in time, Wladimir Klitschko is scheduled to take on American veteran Dannell Nicholson. There has been a lot of speculation as to who Wlad will be taking on and seems like it’s almost a revolving door of good to average journeyman fighters. Previously it was Andre Purlette, a talented but deficient Guyanese fighter with losses coming to Jeremy Williams and Elicer Castillo. Nicholson sports a record of 42-4 with losses coming at the hands of Tua, Kirk Johnson, Andrew Golota, and ironically Jeremy Williams. I don’t see why Wlad would take this fight, to be totally honest. He restored some of the confidence he lost after getting knocked out by Corrie Sanders after demolishing Fabio Moli. Wlad should sack-up, as they say, take on more high-level competition, and stop fighting the Dannell Nicholsons and Charles Williamsons of the world.

Although this is certainly not the most talented era for heavyweight boxing, we live in an exciting time for the division. There is clearly an older generation of fighters on their way out the door Lewis, Tyson, and Holyfield, but they certainly aren’t going to leave without putting up a fight against the likes of Chris Byrd or the Klitschko brothers who are all entering their primes. A hungry younger generation with the likes of Mesi and Dominick Guinn is also busy trying to make a name for itself. The fights in early December are going to begin to answer many of the questions we have about how prepared Vitali Klitschko and Joe Mesi are to establish themselves as some of the preeminent forces in heavyweight boxing today, and it will also raise many more questions about possible match-ups and the future of the division. It’s going to be an exciting month that sets the stage for a 2004 that is full of fireworks. In 2003, we’ve already seen the man anointed as the next heavyweight champ get knocked out by a tough South African in his own backyard, Roy Jones capture a legitimate heavyweight champion, James Toney join Riddick Bowe as the only men ever to stop Evander Holyfield, and Chris Byrd get out-thought by an opponent in a championship fight. I’m excited to see what the rest of the year will hold and I can only hope that other fight fans are as fired up as I am for a similarly unpredictable 2004!

Article posted on 24.11.2003

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