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For better or worse: The heavyweight division without Klitschko

Wladimir KlitschkoBy Gav Duthie: The heavyweight division has been dominated in one way or another by a single individual for 15 years since Lennox Lewis defeated Evander Holyfield in 1999. From the invention of boxing in the late 1800s to the Millennium HW has always been the pinnacle of boxing with the exception of the fab 4 (Leonard, Hagler, Herns, Duran) in the 80s.

Since the dominant reign of Lewis began the interest in the division has declined at a rapid rate. Today Wladimir Klitschko rules the roost after he took over from his brother Vitaly during his 4 year absence due to knee surgery. Is it as simple as the heavyweight division will be more entertaining again post Klitschko dominance. 

I think the decline in heavyweight division goes much deeper than Lennox Lewis and the Klitschko’s dominance so what are some of the other factors:

(1) The emergence of Eastern Europeans in the heavyweight division
(2) The increase in average weight of a heavyweight boxer
(3) A lack of talent
(4) Single boxer domination
(5) A lack of characters

(1) There is no doubt that a lack of UK and even more so US talent has decreased the popularity. In the mid 90s all the best heavyweights were American bar Lennox Lewis and the only emerging from eastern Europe was Andrew Golota. In todays market probably at least half of the top 10 (Klitschko, Pulev, Povetkin, Glazkov, Chagaev) hail from Eastern Europe. I will admit my ignorance with regards to these countries, perhaps heavyweight boxing is huge in the Eastern block. Most of the big fights in the division seem to take place in Germany these days anyway. 

(2) Its a bit of a misconception that the heavyweights today are all huge. It was very disappointing to see a 6″1 Mike Perez weigh over 240 lbs for a high level fight last week and we do have some top contenders who average high weights like Lucas Browne 270, Alexander Ustinov 290 and Andy Ruiz 255 lbs. However the difference between the fighters at the top echelons of the sport are much the same.  

Top 5 HW 2014

Klitschko 245
Pulev 250
Stiverne 240
Wilder 225
Jennings 225

Top 5 HW 1990’s

Holyfield 215
Lewis 250
Tyson 215
Bowe 240
Moorer 230

Many heavyweights are maybe not looking after themselves but 9/10 times the top guys will be the ones in good shape. 

(3) Lets imagine Klitschko retires tomorrow and our champions become Stiverne, Povetkin, Pulev and Tyson Fury. Would it make it more exciting knowing that there were a dozen or so heavyweights capable of winning world titles against these guys. There is no question that whenever Wladimir fights there is a resignation that he will win. Would more competition create a bigger buzz? I’m not so sure. The Jennings-Perez fight was a very important fight, the winner guaranteed a world title shot early next year. Perez won probably 5 of the first 6 rounds but when Jennings moved up to second gear Perez couldn’t follow. I think there is a lack of exciting talent around which will mean heavyweight will continue to play second fiddle to the more technical, skilful and quicker pace of the lower weights. 

(4) As a result I don’t think when Wladimir does retire there will be a major upturn. The best potential the division has is if Wilder can take his knockout power to the top level and David Haye can get back in the mix. 

(5) The last heavyweight trilogy rivalry I can remember is Evander Holyfield-John Ruiz and even that was rubbish. Boxingnews24 recently posted a probably staged video of Shannon Briggs crashing a Wladimir training camp. Ok it was maybe a little cheesy but it least it got me going a bit. I love the Klitschko’s but a lack of personality has made it difficult for them to be popular worldwide. Even if you watched that video and thought I hope Briggs gets knocked out then job done. David Haye created a lot of interest in the Klitschko fights but failed to back it up in the ring. We need some fighters to like, fighters to hate and fighters to fear. 

There will probably be an interest level of competition post Klitschko with 12-15 boxers believing they can be a world champion but I don’t think the buzz will increase significantly. Hopefully when Wladimir does retire he will get the respect he deserves as a great champion. 

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