October 13, 2012
For many years, the heavyweight division contained some of the most popular fighters in the boxing world. Names like Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman and more recently Mike Tyson were among the most popular sportsmen of their day and are still popular around the world.
However, over the last few years the division seems to have lost its luster with a succession of Eastern European champions dominating the division. It is now five years since Shannon Briggs lost the WBO title to Vitali Klitschko in a fight that ended up with Briggs in intensive care and leaving boxing. This was the last time an American fighter held a heavyweight world title after a period of domination in the division stretching back over 120 years to the time when John L Sullivan was the first heavyweight champion of the world in August 1882.
Rise of the East
The eastern domination of the heavyweight division began when Wladimir Klitschko beat Chris Byrd to take the WBO Heavyweight Championship in October 2000. Klitschko was a former Olympic gold medalist in the Super Heavyweight division, following in the footsteps of Lennox Lewis.
Wladimir, the younger of the Klitschko brothers has since gone on to become one of the longest reigning heavyweight champions and has made 12 consecutive defenses of the belts. He has lost his title in the past, but is currently the WBA, IBF, WBO, IBO and The Ring heavyweight champion. Older brother Vitali is the WBC heavyweight champion, so the Klitschko brothers currently hold all the major world titles.
These success of these two brothers is only part of the Eastern European success story, with Ruslan Chagaev (Uzbekistan), Siarhei Liakhovich (Belarussia) and the Russians Oleg Maskaev, Nikolai Valuev, Sultan Ibragimov and Alexander Povetkin all holding world titles in the last decade.
With the Klitschko brothers getting older and running out of challengers, many fans of heavyweight boxing are already looking to identify the next potential world champion. One common indicator of success in the heavyweight division is success in the Olympic Super heavyweight category. Several winners of the gold medal have later been heavyweight champions, including Lennox Lewis, Aleksandr Povetkin and Wladimir Klitschko.
The winner in 2000, Audley Harrison, is still fighting but has not had the same success in the professional game. His next fight is against one of the bronze medalists from Beijing, David Price, who has a professional record of 13 wins from 13 fights and with 11 by KO. Price is British and still learning the professional ropes, but is already the British and Commonwealth Heavyweight champion. Victory over Harrison would be a springboard towards a higher profile in the division.
The other Beijing Bronze medalist, Ukrainian Vyacheslav Glaszkov has found success as a professional with an identical 13-0 record. Not as many of these victories were by KO, but Glazkov beat Price at an amateur and could easily be fighting at a higher level in the next couple of years.
The other medalists from Beijing, Roberto Cammarelle and Zhang Zhilei are still fighting at amateur level, as is the London 2012 winner Anthony Joshua. Cammarelle is 32, and probably too old to make a mark in the professional game, but Joshua will be worth watching in a few years time if he turns pro.
Stepping down a division at the Olympics finds Deontay Wilder who won bronze at the heavyweight category in Beijing before turning professional. Over the last four years, he has an impressive 25-0 record, but question marks exist over the quality of his opposition. As a relative newcomer to the professional game Wilder still has plenty of time, but needs to step up the quality of his opponents.
Another potential future contender is Tyson Fury. An unbeaten former British and Commonwealth champion and current Irish and WBO Intercontinental champion, Fury holds a 19-0 record, with 14 by KO. He has impressive punching power, but at times struggles with defense and leaves himself open. He has a big heart and a hard punch and will take some beating.
Another boxer with an Irish connection is Mike Perez, who is from Cuba but currently obtaining Irish citizenship. A former world junior champion at light heavyweight, Perez has a 18-0 professional record with 12 KOs. Fighting as a southpaw, Perez won the International Prizefighter competition in 2011, but has not fought in 2012.
A genuine contender from America is Seth Mitchell, who has won 25 and drawn 1 of his fights. A linebacker at Michigan State, Mitchell switched to boxing after picking up an injury in 2005. After a slow start with a draw in only his third bout, Mitchell has won every fight since including a number of victories over decent opposition. His next fight is the WBC semi-final eliminator and victory could see him fighting for a belt next year.
Another Russian contender is Denis Boytsov, a 25-year old with a fantastic 31-0 record. Of those victories, 25 were KO and 21 were inside the first three rounds. Boytsov is an aggressive fighter with fast hand speed and high punching power who is popular with the crowds. Like the Klitschko’s, most of his fights have been in Germany.
Over the next few years, the Klitschko’s will retire along with other former world champions like David Haye. These fighters will be part of the next generation of heavyweights and will have to battle to win the top belts as well as fight for the hearts of the jaded boxing fans who crave excitement in the top division. Boytsov will be popular with fight fans for his explosive style, but Wilder and Price have great technical skills to excite the purists.