The Heavyweight Division: The Flagship In Boxing
26.10.06 - By Hunter Breckenridge: The heavyweight division is the flagship division in boxing, and as such, is the division that has received the most scrutiny. Whenever someone wants to be seen as knowledgeable about the sport, all they need to do is point out how weak the heavyweights are. Almost every era of heavyweights has had its detractors. And in the past hundred years or so, there have indeed been some weak eras.
Article posted on 26.10.2006
The eighties is a popular era to denigrate. The first half of the decade was dominated by Larry Holmes, and the second half by Mike Tyson. The greatness of those two is generally not denied (although just how great they were is often disputed), but the rest of the contenders that decade were seen as lacking, especially considering just how deep the heavyweights were for most of the decade before.
The fifties is also a good example. Rocky Marciano dominated a group headlined by the over-the-hill Ezzard Charles and Joe Walcott. Both of those guys were very good fighters, and they weren't necessarily washed up, but they were definitely past their prime. And the Rock still had his hands full in three out of four fights against them.
These two examples highlight the truth that having just one dominant champion for an extended period is often a sign of a weak division. And yet, that is exactly what many fight fans currently clamor for. But the parity that we see today might actually be a good thing. The two best periods, the seventies and nineties, had the greatest depth, and not coincidently, the most parity among heavyweight eras.
During the entire decade of the nineties, the conventional wisdom was that the heavyweight division was particularly pathetic. It is true that for a time, two of the three major titles were held by a 45-year old. After Mr. Foreman no longer held the titles, they were briefly fractured into three pieces and held by the likes of Frank Bruno, Bruce Seldon, and Frans Botha. These facts do indeed cause one to question the talent level of the heavies during that era. At the time, many agreed those aberrations were the norm. Considering the large number of talented fighters between 1990 and 2000, those aberrations can largely be dismissed.
Remember, though, that the talent pool had Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson, and Riddick Bowe at the top during that era, all potential Hall-of-Famers. And the second tier included talent such as Michael Moorer, Ray Mercer, Andrew Golota, Donovan Ruddock, the still dangerous George Foreman and Larry Holmes, Tommy Morrison, with David Tua, Chris Byrd, and Ike Ibeabuchi coming up at the end of the decade. Even the third tier wasn't all that bad (Oliver McCall, Henry Akinwande, Herbie Hide, a comebacking Tim Witherspoon, Axel Shultz, Lou Savarese, the pre-Lennox Michael Grant, and the aforementioned Bruno, Seldon, and Botha). This depth can only be outdone by the seventies era. And yet, during the time, everybody and their uncle mercilessly trashed the division. It is only in retrospect that we now think of the nineties as something of a golden age.
Do we really want to see a Joe Louis or Jack Dempsey cleaning out a bum-of-the-month club? One very good fighter dominating a weak division? Or would boxing fans rather see several top fighters engaged in competitive matches over an extended period? I am not arguing that we are in some sort of golden age of heavyweight boxers. Far from it, in fact. The top ten current heavies would almost all struggle to even break into the top 30 of the previous decade, talent-wise. And they also have had a disturbing tendency to not fight each other.
Having said that, there still is more talent than a lot of people realize, and the parity that exists between the top 30 or so boxers can be a potentially good thing. If some of the top guys started to fight each other, we could see a very entertaining couple of years in the heavyweight division. Even if all the talent isn't completely top-shelf, the matchups could still be fun to watch. Look at the cruiserweights of the last two years as a perfect example of that. And with some promising young prospects appearing on the horizon to challenge the current Eastern block of champions, the future of the heavyweights actually appears bright.
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