The Official Heavyweight Report Card
12.06.06 - By Chris Acosta: I always wanted to be the one handing out the report cards rather than having to figure out a way to hide them from my parents. There’s something about passing judgment on others that makes one feel a lot better about their own plethora of character flaws, though that doesn’t apply to me. But aside from my own need to be in control of something, anything, in my life, I found that this assignment told me something about the heavyweight division I never realized before. It’s an even field in many respects with no one setting a towering bell curve. Actually, when I added up all the numbers in determining a grade point average, I also concluded that some fighters were better from a categorical stance than others I would have ranked higher.
Article posted on 13.06.2006
The good news is that this year will tell us much more about where this division is heading and that is good for the entire sport. Now I expect these report cards to be signed by the fighters’ trainers and handed back to me by next Monday.
Wladimir Klitschko - IBF Champion
The key to beating Wladimir is simple: pressure him until he wilts. The problem is that like bank robbery or maintaining a financial budget, a fight plan is so much easier on paper. While Wlad can certainly be hit, don’t be fooled into thinking that he’s defensively inept. The big guy is actually quite good at using his height to stay out of harms way and he is good at
picking off punches with his gloves. Adding to his personal puzzle is that Wlad has the most versatile lead hand in the division. He doesn’t have the right handed power of Lennox Lewis, but his jab is quicker and his left hook is far more potent than the former champions’ is. Emmanuel Steward has spoken of putting the current IBF champ through the ringer in training by
sparring in excess of 100 rounds for each of his last two fights and that’s a good thing. There’s nothing like daily gym gut checks to prepare you for the real thing.
Grade Point Average: 3.33
Hasim Rahman - WBC Champion
Rahman holds the linear title but after his dreary 12 round draw against an obese James Toney, we were left wondering if it even mattered. Hasim is a frustrating in part because his career is littered with moments that leave absolutely no trail of how good he is. He does have knockouts against Lennox Lewis and Corrie Sanders which would lead you to believe that he is talent personified but he also has hideous KO defeats to Oleg Maskaev and Lewis (in the rematch). He has also lost– though controversially - to David Tua, which he later avenged (sort of) via a draw but also lost to John Ruiz and Evander Holyfield. Is Rahman really that full of potential or have we already seen the best of him? He’s both actually: physically gifted but limited in what he’s able to do with those gifts. He should knock out Maskaev in their return bout (though one can never be too sure) but with new contenders popping up right now, won’t last much beyond that.
Grade Point Average: 2.50
“Lights Out” is indeed the most instinctive and natural fighter in the division but unless he has the discipline to give those traits the helping hand they need, who cares? As he has moved up in weight, Toney has become something of a negative fighter; retreating to the ropes to counterpunch and fighting in short bursts. The way he does it though, is what had so many
people excited. Against Hasim Rahman, it almost worked as his larger opponent followed him around like a piece of toilet paper on his shoe but a lack of conditioning and heavyweight power resulted in the kind of performance that fans are sick of seeing. Should Toney actually get his weight back down to a reasonable…um…weight, he’d still be at a major disadvantage against the giants of the division.
Grade point Average: 3.33
Sergei Liahovich WBO Champion
Whatever reservations I had about Liahovich concerning his ninth- round stoppage to Maurice Harris a few years ago, have disappeared completely. His title winning effort against Lamon Brewster was the kind of win a new titlist dreams of. The “White Wolf” showed tremendous heart, skill and determination and maybe more importantly, he’s only 29 in an age where
heavyweights can peak well into their thirties. At 6’4” the native of Belarus has the size to match up well with anyone in the division. The only real question is: how much can we take from the win over Brewster? Lamon sported a bit of a gut and reports out of his camp were that he was up as high as 270 pounds upon entering camp. Was the combination of his higher
weight and the detached retina he suffered during the bout enough of a handicap (seems like a dumb question but you never know) that Liakhovich was able to expose? We really won’t know until they either do it again or we see Sergei against another top- ten opponent.
Grade point Average: 3.33
“Relentless” should receive some kind of award for meritorious service. So many of us complain about the lack of excitement in the heavyweight division but Lamon has yet to take part in a stinker. In fact, his heart, power, chin and unbelievable will are on display every time he fights! Though he added esteemed trainer Buddy McGirt, Brewster just isn’t the kind of guy to do too much thinking in the ring. For him, it’s not about setting a guy up, stealing rounds or reading the textbook; it’s purely primal. Lamon can weaken knees with either his punch or his tenacity and that makes him a handful for anyone. Let’s hope he heals and that the rest rejuvenates him for another run at the title because the division needs him.
Grade Point Average: 3.0
The best thing that can be said about Ruiz is that he finally ditched his controversial trainer Norman Stone. In all fairness, Ruiz is a tough guy with an awkward style and he can still pose some problems for some of the lower tier contenders. He seemed to do enough to retain his title against now WBA champ Nicolay Valuev but the real problem with “The Quiet Man’ is that his mauling style does not make for interesting theater. Ruiz can box when he wants to but the idea behind his grappling is solely to avoid an opponent’s punch. I want to call the tactic “clever” but clever implies a sense of fun and Ruiz generates anything but. He has a proposed bout with relatively unknown Sultan Ibragimov with the winner to receive a shot at Wladimir Klitschko though I vaguely remember something about Ray Austin fighting Sultan instead (how’s that for quality control in journalism!). Whatever the case, Ruiz has an awful lot of miles on him and we can only suspect that he’ll suffer a blow-out when matched against a legit puncher.
Grade Point Average: 2.66
Byrd should be commended for accomplishing as much as he did during his title reign. His skills are sharp and he is as tough as they come but in terms of his box office appeal, his attributes are simply too sophisticated and non-violent to draw big box office numbers. Chris says that he fought the wrong fight against Wlad Klitschko but the truth is that Wlad has the skills and speed to match Byrd and his size advantage makes the task much too difficult. Let’s hope the classy Byrd decides to call it a day because his style is best supported by youth and that clock is clicking.
Grade Point Average: 3.50
If you are looking for that one guy with a huge upswing, it’s the “Boxing Banker”. Brock is undefeated, good-looking (I still feel weird saying that about another man), well-spoken and most importantly, can fight. The question is: just how good can he fight? Brock for all the world, looks like one of those guys who fights to the level of his opposition. He didn’t really get going against Jameel McCline until he got knocked down and he threw a monster left hook in the middle of his sleepwalking against Zuri Lawrence that sent his man to sleep. Brock is a good puncher with decent speed and he takes to the task with a calm that sometimes makes you wish his corner men could give him Red Bull between rounds. He also seems to know how to work himself into a fight without losing his composure. Brock will meet another undefeated prospect from that giant conveyor belt in the old Soviet Union, Timor Ibragimov, in two weeks on HBO and if he wins, he moves up the list on the honor roll.
Grade Point Average: 3.0
Sam may never become any better than he is right now and to that I say, who cares? Punchers like him will always be in demand. Fans seem disappointed that he is not the next Mike Tyson but he has a few things that even “Iron Mike” didn’t have in his prime: superior physicality, a better chin, and more range (he’s 6’ 1”) which theoretically makes him more dangerous that David Tua ever was. Look, don’t ever expect major style changes from this man. But you can bet that if he can straighten out his punches a bit more, get himself a little closer before punching and develop more consistency with his jab it will make worlds of difference. The key to his progression is experience; at 25 years of age, he has more than enough time.
Grade Point Average: 3.0
Nicolay Valuev - WBA Champion
Lots of times, you hear people say that sheer size gives athletes an advantage. It’s true. Valuev would simply not be here if he weren’t responsible for several Sasquatch sightings. The humongous Russian is 7 feet tall for cripes sake so he can get away with technical errors the way super speedy fighters can, though in a different guise. Then again, his height and bulk do make him an easy target and he’ll always find it difficult to punch on the inside. If you choose that perspective then we’re back to square one with all things being relative. Here’s the truth. Nicolay is fairly capable at jabbing and timing his man on the way in and he actually has pretty good stamina. He also shows good determination. Despite knocking out Owen Beck in his last fight, Valuev will need a convincing victory against a top ten opponent before we get too excited.
Grade point Average: 2.83
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