The Light at the End of the Tunnel

27.06.05 - By Kevin Kincade: Over the weekend I watched the piece of boxing perfection, known as Floyd Mayweather, dismantle one of the toughest fighting machines of the last ten years like it was nothing. Viewing that bout I smiled as I realized that Mayweather’s performance is what the game is all about and also understood why so many fans prefer any weight class other than heavyweight. Of course, I also had that same understanding a few weeks ago when Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo showed all of us how two men can wage war inside a 20 foot square.

So, why do so many of us refuse to abandon the big boys, especially when all too often they leave us all too disappointed? It’s simple really. I’ve said it and many other authors have said it: the man who owns the world heavyweight championship can beat any other fighter in the world, no matter what their pound-4-pound status is. If you’re the World Heavyweight Champ, you are The Best, pure and simple.

That’s why former Middleweight Champion, “Ruby” Robert Fitzsimmons challenged James J. Corbett, that’s why Stanley Ketchel stepped up to fight Jack Johnson, that’s why Michael Spinks took on Larry Holmes, to say nothing of why Roy Jones Jr. and James Toney set their sights on John Ruiz; it’s the significance of the mythical belt.

Now, here we are, in another of the two-hundred plus pounds dark age, waiting for King Arthur to come along and pull the sword from the stone and begin a glorious new era we can all look back and smile upon; but patience is waning, and with good reason. Have no fear, though, fellow sky watchers, a star is about to emerge and set things right. No, I don’t have any special insight about some up and comer you haven’t heard about. It’s just a matter of logic… can’t get any worse than it is, so we have no place to go but up! Like my old granddaddy used to say, it’s always darkest before the dawn, and it’s pretty damn dark at the moment.

Let’s take a look at the current situation and I think you’ll see what I mean. Right now, we’ve got a giant with few credentials, an unknown with a blow-out, a Greco-Roman fighter without a future, two former middleweights with no place to go, and a handful of hopefuls chomping at the bit. So, in the figurative sense, the rubber band is pulled back about as far as it can go; something’s about to snap! Yes, my weary friends, the fuse to the powder keg has been lit and it’s going to blow any day now. It’s just a matter of the speed of the fuse.

Vitali Klitschko embodies all the fistic dreams of Eastern Europeans and carries with him the hopes of HBO and boxing’s high rollers as well. He’s big, he’s strong, and his last defeat was a gutsy effort in front of a Los Angeles audience that pushed the aging World Champion, Lennox Lewis to his limits. That exhibition of sheer will and brute force not only captivated the boxing world, it convinced Lennox Lewis that the time had come to hang up the gloves. Vitali Klitschko, the older “less talented” brother of the then-recently deposed “Dr. Steel Hammer” had stolen center stage in one magnificently courageous loss. The world held its collective breath for a rematch that never materialized.

In the wake of that defeat, “Dr. Iron Fist” easily disposed of ranking contender, Kirk Johnson, and beat down his brother’s conqueror, Corrie Sanders, to win the title Lewis vacated rather than get in the ring with Vitali again. Now, here’s the rub: Sanders, like Vitali’s follow-up opponent, Danny Williams, received their respective title-shots based on individual upset wins more so than with a series of credible victories, which diminishes their overall importance in the heavyweight picture as well as Klitschko’s credibility in the eyes of the fans. Add to that list of post-Lewis opposition the rumored next title defense against the inauspicious Oleg Maskaev and it’s no wonder why the patience of the fans is wearing thin. If he wants to prove he’s “The Man”, Vitali’s going to have to fight someone the fans feel can beat him…and fast.

The unknown fighter in the equation is no longer quite so unknown. Lamon Brewster made a name for himself with his stunning: 53 second stoppage of perennial contender Andrew Golota. When Brewster stepped into the ring with Wladamir Klitschko a little over a year ago, he wasn’t much more than a name on the docket, an afterthought, actually. No one cared where he came from or what is record was. He was just a name on Wladamir’s comeback list, and for the first four rounds, seemingly played his part: game challenger to the mighty “Dr. Steel Hammer” on his triumphant return to the ring; but the Fates laughed in Round 5.

Oh, Foul! He was poisoned! Somebody rubbed too much petroleum jelly on his body and he overheated like a Desoto with busted radiator!! Nobody wanted to give Brewster credit. After all, who the hell was he? And the critics had plenty of fodder to back up their cries of “fluke” or “sham” given Brewster’s next bout against the unspectacular Kali Meehan. Many thought Lamon looked absolutely dreadful….and he did; but then the fact came out that he broke his jaw in that fight. All of a sudden, such a dreary showing turned into something that can be admired: an example of courage and will to win. Of course, these two traits were evident in his match with Klitschko; but for some reason, Vaseline got credit for the “W”.

Going into his match with Andrew Golota, no one gave Brewster a chance. Articles were being written left and right with the supposition that “The Foul Pole” was finally going to win his world title. Whether it was right or wrong for Golota to receive another title shot so soon, how he changed his life around after the Tyson defeat and worked his way back to once again being “The Pride of Poland”; you name it, somebody wrote about it. Unfortunately for Andrew, the talk ended shortly after the bell rang in front of his adopted hometown crowd of Chicago; and within one minute, Golota went from the most underrated fighter in the heavyweight division to an overrated head case. Go figure.

No matter what Lamon does, he still gets no respect. The man might as well be the Black Pugilistic Rodney Dangerfield. He comes back from near destruction to stop one of the most talented heavyweight contenders out there; no respect. He fights a 12 round bout with Kali Meehan with a broken jaw without quitting; no respect. He stops the fighter, who many felt beat two of the other world champions, in less time than it took to do the introductions; still, no respect. What’s a guy gotta do?!

Moving right along, let’s take a look at our residential Greco-Roman Heavyweight Champion, John Ruiz, who apparently has more fistic lives than the proverbial cat. If one didn’t know better, one could imagine “The Quietman” offering up burnt sacrifices to the boxing gods in exchange for personal miracles; anything for him to hold on to his piece of the big pie. After his latest reincarnation, I am convinced in the case of a nuclear war, the only things to survive will be cockroaches, Keith Richards, and now, John Ruiz. You just can’t kill him! He’s like that damn Energizer Bunny; and not in a good way. Johnny Ruiz has put more people to sleep than “Fargo” and the boxing public is growing weary of watching dreary and growing drowsy.

Is he tough? Sure. Can he box? Uh, well, he’s tough, right? Johnny Ruiz is now the only heavyweight title holder in history to lose his belt not once; but twice to men who once held titles at 160 lbs. I don’t care about the ‘roids, Ruiz got his ass whupped by James Toney. He doesn’t exactly embody the image of the “Baddest Man on the Planet”. The good news for the Ruiz haters is his time with a belt is limited. He’s down to one strike and didn’t help his case for machismo with his recent letter to the WBA in which he all but begged them not to make him fight Toney again. My personal feeling is that John Ruiz is done as a contender and he will lose in his next bout, no matter who he fights. The Toney fight broke him.

Speaking of Toney and the other former middleweight currently in the title picture, Chris Byrd, their time is limited as well. While Byrd has reigned in obscurity for nearly three years, Toney, within the span of four days, bested the worst champ and threw his belt away with carelessness. At 37, Toney will more than likely lose his next high profile match up, signifying somebody’s significance other than his own and Byrd, who has been clinging to his belt with his fingernails, is finally slowing down enough to where he is ripe for the taking as well. Of course, if they fight each other, all the better for Byrd, who will more than likely win the battle of Michigan and show all of his doubters that, yes, he can beat a name fighter other than an overripe Evander Holyfield; he can also beat an old, overweight James Toney.

So, we’ve got three of the old guard ready to go and two who need to do something and fast to garner the respect of the boxing public; but what about those waiting in the wings? Well, two, Hasim Rahman and Monte Barrett, will be facing off in August to determine who gets Klitschko in the ring. While most believe Rahman will win this one handily, I submit an upset is in the making. Granted, most believe the former champion, Rahman, would be a preferable opponent to “Doctor Iron Fist”; but if Barrett beats the favored “Rock” and does so impressively, few will protest his getting a shot at the title.

Going from the residential top ten to the recently baptized contenders, a few months ago Calvin Brock showed he has what it takes when he climbed off the canvas to outpoint recent title challenger Jameel McCline. By defeating “Big Time”, Brock stepped out of the shadows and equaled, some would say surpassed, what IBF titleholder, Chris Byrd, had done in McCline’s last bout. The “Boxing Banker” is a blue collar-like technician, who could give Byrd, Ruiz, Brewster, and maybe even Klitschko a run for their money.

And let’s not forget Luan Krasniqi, who looked very impressive in beating “Goofy” Whittaker. While Krasniqi is not a household name in the states, he proved to be a sound boxer and is Brewster’s number 1 contender. Brewster is far from being a technician, so while Luan is on the “who’s he” list, here in the colonies, style-wise, he should give Brewster a pretty good challenge.

We’ve also got the young, undefeated “Nigerian Nightmare”, Samuel Peter, who is taking on once defeated Taurus Sykes next month. There’s a lot of hype following young Peter. He’s powerful and seems to take a pretty good punch; but has yet to be sufficiently tested and few believe “The Bull” is up to that task. However, he’s only 23 years old and has plenty of time to learn and grow as a fighter.

There you have it, all the ingredients you need for a heavyweight explosion: two “champs” hungry for respect, two “champs” ready for the taking, three proven contenders hungry for a shot at the title, one up and coming knock-out artist everybody wants to see in with a champ, and one big dose of general discontent, from the fans, with the current situation. The stage has been set and the powder keg is lit. It’s been dark as of late; but I see a light at the end of the tunnel….and for those too slow to get off the tracks, be wary; yonder light is a train.

Article posted on 27.06.2005

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