Big men back in favour?

April 10, 2016

It’s taken long enough, but finally we’re at the point where Heavyweight Boxing looks interesting again. Last night’s coronation of Anthony Joshua at the expense of “Prince” Charles Martin adds another mouthwatering prospect to a division that, with the dominance of the Klitschkos, had seemed almost moribund not that long ago.

Vitali and Wladimir had for the most part been impregnable for years. The rankings seemed to be full of fighters not prepared to fight one another, instead waiting for their opportunity to visit Germany to be beaten by one or other Ukrainian and head home with a reasonable size cheque. It was boring in part because it was predictable; neither brother looked like losing, had a safety first approach, and effectively they pretty much cleaned out the division. It might not have been pretty, but you can’t deny that they were effective. However, there were few competitive contests and so other divisions with more interesting fights captured the attention. There was a flicker when David Haye arrived and beat Valuev – only for him to fail to walk the talk against Wladimir and then disappear. Most boxers seemed to be beaten before they even got on the flight; and that has actually damaged the reputations of the Klitschkos, who unlike the era of Ali, Frazier and Foreman – or even Lewis, Holyfield and the later-era Mike Tyson – had no-one to really prove their skills against.

Now however the picture has changed. Vitali has retired; Wladimir, possibly showing why Valuev was allowed to hold onto his title for so long without their interest, has finally lost to Fury, a fighter large enough to withstand his tendency to hold and smart enough to keep him guessing. It was a result from nowhere – few outside Fury’s camp predicted it – but it has opened the floodgates.

Now, we have Fury – a more intelligent and skilled boxer than he is often given the credit for – acting the Pantomime Villain; and Klitschko the old stager who wants to get his titles back. We have Anthony Joshua, the young and hungry fighter with speed and skills, a piece of the world title, but who is in a lot of ways still to be seriously tested. We have Deontay Wilder, in some ways in the same category as Joshua – a fighter carefully managed and yet really to be tested. We have David Haye, the joker in the pack, trying to work his way back into the picture. And then we have some of the newer names trying to force their way into the picture and who might fancy their chances against one of the current title-holders.

Are we on the edge of a new golden era? Possibly not, and we’ll only know in a few years time. Can the likes of Fury, Joshua, Wilder be mentioned in the same breath as the greats of the past? Not yet at least, and quite possibly not at all. But the division is finally starting to come alive again, and that’s good to see.


Chisora gains some respect, but will he keep it?

February 18, 2012

There was no surprise in Vitali Klitschko retaining his World Title by beating Dereck Chisora in Munich tonight, but there will be more than the occasional eyebrow raised at how: Chisora lasted right to the end, and although the end result never looked in doubt, Klitschko had to work a lot harder than in some of his other fights over the last few years. Chisora kept going forwards for the full twelve rounds, kept throwing punches, and although he never seemed to put Vitali in trouble, a clearly tiring champion didn’t look particularly like getting Chisora out of there either.

“Experience beat me today” was what Chisora said after the fight, and there’s something in that – but it’s not the only thing. Vitali may not be the most stylish boxer, but he can box – his shots were always that bit sharper, more likely to hit the target. But one of the other factors was Klitschko’s sheer size.

There may not have been much difference in weights at the weigh-in, but the taller Klitschko looked that much bigger. His height gives him a reach advantage, but as well he uses his size to lean on his opponents. Kieran Mulvaney over at ESPN has spoken a couple of times on the Heavy Hitting Boxing Podcast about why this is a reason for him not to include the Brothers K on his Pound-for-pound list, and you can see his point: it’s not that Vitali was doing anything against the rules, but he does use those extra pounds to his advantage.

Klitschko didn’t exactly grow old in this fight, but the fact that he was unable to finish Chisora off will give his fans some pause for thought. At age 40, Klitschko’s best days lie well behind him, and Chisora – widely regarded as a limited and inexperienced fighter, although the limited part of that certainly needs some reassessment – did enough to suggest that a pressure fighter with heavy hands, a decent chin, and decent boxing ability has good reason to fancy their chances against Vitali.

What now for Chisora now? Arguably, if he can hang around a bit then he might be in a good position to challenge when Vitali finally retires, but that may as well depend on whether he can behave himself out of the ring. His slapping of Vitali, and the continuing antagonism with both of the Brothers Klitschko, are but the latest examples of his occasionally bizarre behaviour; and it’s not that long ago that he lost his British Title to Tyson Fury after appearing to be well out of condition. No such accusation could be made tonight, and hopefully that’s a sign of how he intends to go on.

Groves beats DeGale, but why did it need to be on Pay-Per-View?

May 22, 2011

It went the distance, and although there weren’t any knockdowns it was a good, competitive fight: George Groves getting the win over James DeGale by just one point on two scorecards while another scored the fight level. Billed as “The Grudge”, you suspect that there will still be plenty of words – especially from Olympic Champion DeGale’s camp – about this decision and the prospect of another meeting between these two a couple of years down the track would no doubt be an attractive one.

Groves boxed a smart fight, confounding the expectations of those who expected him to be out-boxed by DeGale; staying at range, counter-punching, and almost challenging DeGale to find a way through. DeGale meanwhile stalked after Groves, but was too hesitant getting punches away and rarely threw combinations which might have given Groves more to think about. While it was not exactly a classic battle, it was a good contest and there was plenty to entertain the discerning fan.

It was the sort of contest that might get a few people interested in the sport again, but sadly it wasn’t available to watch unless you were prepared to stump up £15 to watch it on Sky Box Office. And that, in so many ways, sums up the problem Boxing now has – not just in the UK, but worldwide.

Recent months have seen the issue of Pay Per View rise to the top of the agenda for some of those involved in the sport – for example Joe Tessitore of ESPN in the US has criticised it on their Podcast – because too many fights – or more to the point fight cards – that are not really worthy of the status have been made so. Consider for example David Haye v Audley Harrison – the interest in which was mainly to see how long it would take for Harrison to be knocked out, and whether he would then actually retire. Consider Amir Khan’s most recent fight, which was announced as Pay Per View before there was even an opponent confirmed – and even almost scuppered the Haye-Wladimir Klitschko bout in the process – and was then demoted to a standard Sky Sports channel when the undercard began to look shakey before Khan’s camp decided instead to take it to another PPV channel. Consider the bore-fest that was Pacquaio-Mosley. And then consider the farce that preceded this card, with Jurgen Braehmer pulling out of his fight with Nathan Cleverly (something the German has previous for), being replaced by Tony Bellew who looked to be an interesting opponent if only for the (ahem) lively Press Conference, and then after Bellew failed to meet a weight check being replaced by Aleksy Kuziemski who then lasted just four rounds before the fight had to be stopped.

While to an extent DeGale-Groves was always the main attraction, was this really a PPV-worthy card? When the headline fight is between two boxers with 22 fights between them, for the British and Commonwealth titles, the answer has to be no. No disrespect to either boxer, who certainly put on a better show than some recent PPV fights, but this is the sort of contest that should be either on Free-to-air TV, or at most on a standard sports channel. While there was plenty of domestic interest in their fight, it will have done little to build their profile with those outside regular boxing fans.

There is always the tendency to hark back, but I can remember when the BBC in particular used to show boxing quite regularly on Sportsnight, and how this could then help raise the profile of those boxing. Frank Bruno, Barry McGuigan, Chris Eubank, Nigel Benn, Michael Watson, Duke McKenzie, even some of the “lesser lights” such as Dave McAuley and Glenn McCrory – these days almost their entire career would be on PPV.

When one considers for example that it is only really now that Carl Froch – following a sequence of contests that has seen few parallels in terms of the quality of his opponents – is getting some wider recognition, you begin to see the problem. While it may offer rewards to those who are capable of drawing crowds, there is the real danger that the overall audience for boxing will diminish as fewer people actually get to see boxers perform – and that this will then have a knock on effect on those lower down the food chain, the boxers who rely on the sport for a living but find the money is becoming more and more concentrated on those on the PPV shows. And unless the PPV shows start to offer better support to the main event, the fans that are prepared to pay will be more inclined to pick and choose.

Klitschko, Haye, and the problems with Pro Boxing

January 8, 2011

As the latest attempt to arrange a fight between David Haye and one of the Klitshkos seems to have gone off the rails, almost inevitably you can hardly move on Boxing sites for people trying to shift the blame on one side or the other. One Article on East Side Boxing however got it spot on for my money by pointing out that this is actually symptomatic of the state of Heavyweight Boxing – that it is essentially stagnant, with too many title-holders and too little action amongst the boxers wanting a shot as they know that all they have to do is wait. Of course, the article has been quickly over-run by comments that don’t get it and instead go back to the old partisan approach of being for one guy and against the other. I suppose I should give my own opinion on what’s going on, and that is that Wladimir and his camp are being somewhat too demanding, possibly because they are used to being able to dictate terms and are somewhat taken aback at someone not just falling into line. The argument runs that Wlad needs a tune-up before taking on Haye; so he is trying to insist on a date in Early July in order to take on Derek Chisora at the end of April. The problem is that there is no guarantee that Wladimir will actually beat Chisora; if the admittedly long-priced outsider can somehow get lucky (and it’s not impossibly, just unlikely) then he will almost certainly be tied up by the rematch clauses that he revealed were in the contract he had previously agreed. So Haye would then be left without an opponent for July, and with the real prospect of losing his title for not taking on Ruslan Chagaev, his mandatory challenger.

The article on East Side Boxing points out that the Heavyweight Division is essentially stagnant as there are also few fights between the contenders trying to get a World Title shot. With three title-holders, you can expect 4-5 World Title fights per year; all a contender has to do is wait their turn, and in the meantime take safe fights. This will only change if there are fewer titles to go for; but with the Klitschkos highly unlikely to face each other and a unification bout with Haye looking dead in the water, anyone in even the Top 20 knows that they will probably get a chance sooner or later. Wladimir’s choosing of the unheralded and certainly inexperienced at World lever Chisora proves this.

Partly it has to be said that the problem is that the Klitschkos have dominated the division and this isn’t an article about slagging them off; their application and skills have made them worthy if not always appreciated champions and the top 10s of the various organisations are littered with fighters that have already faced one or both brothers and lost. My purpose here is not to demean their abilities.

For me the problem is that there are just too many champions, and the sport is devalued as a result. I’ve been watching boxing long enough to remember the emergence of the WBO as the fourth major sanctioning body, and even the first few years of the IBF becoming established as the third. Then there’s The Ring Magazine’s title to make five. That’s before you even reach the Alphabet Soup of other sanctioning bodies that recognise “World” champions.

Add in that each body may also have other designations such as “Super Champion”, “Silver Champion” and “Interim Champion” and it becomes a confusing morass that sometimes feels like it means the only fights that aren’t for some sort of World Title are those that happen in a pub on a Friday Night. It’s great for promoters, but for those who aren’t hardcore boxing fans it just devalues the idea of a “World Champion”.

It’s not just at Heavyweight where the problem lies. Manny Pacquiao is without doubt a tremendous fighter and has a good claim to be the Pound-for-pound best in the world – most fans go for either Pac-man or Floyd Mayweather. But several times, he has changed weight division and his first fight there has been for a World Title – most recently, for a vacant title. Did he really deserve to be ranked as a contender in a division he had never fought in before? For that matter, did his opponent (Antonio Margarito) deserve a title shot at that weight either? The suspicion is that it was a convenient belt made available by an organisation (the WBC) that was happy to help someone who had already held several of their own titles at other weights.

Even when titles are unified, you can bet that they won’t stay so for long; one body or another will strip someone because they didn’t fight their mandatory contender ahead of another organisations, and so the belts get shared out again.

How can you stop this? The short answer is that you can’t. Just as turkeys won’t vote for Christmas (or Thanksgiving if you’re a stray American) the various sanctioning bodies – most of which have been formed by breakaways from one of the others – are unlikely to decide to combine. However until they do – or some other way is found of establishing the true number one in a division – boxers and their managers and promoters will continue to make a mockery of the idea of a World Champion.

Why is Haye-Harrison Happening?

September 7, 2010

It’s the fight that Boxing Fans everywhere have been crying over: David Haye will fight Audley Harrison on 13th November in a contest that simply shouldn’t be happening.

Harrison has for so long flattered to deceive. Olympic Gold was followed by him topping the bill on BBC as he tried to do his pro conversion in public, impressing few; now, having found what was admittedly an absolute peach of a punch to flatten Michael Sprott when well behind, he finds himself contender for a world title. To say this is a big turnaround is understating matters; a year ago, Harrison was reduced to accepting an offer to box in Prizefighter against some rahter limited fighters. One fight later, he’s apparently a worthy contender to Haye.

Haye in my eyes loses credibility for this. The Klitschkos may have gone elsewhere – and who dumped who is open to debate – but Haye really needed to be taking on a live contender. Instead, he takes on a domestic rival with the main interest being if he can finally pop Audley’s bubble and retire him.

The irony is that Haye had looked like bringing some much-needed sparkle to the Heavyweight Division, bringing audiences back to it; now, we have a matchup that will be unlikely to attract much attention outside the UK, and even within is unlikely to inspire the afficionados. This is a crashing disappointment; assuming Haye wins, the only redemption is if he gets one of the Klitschkos next.

David Haye, Respect, and the Soap Opera of Heavyweight Boxing

March 29, 2010

At the time of writing, David Haye is Heavyweight Boxing’s Champion of the World. Or, to be precise, one quarter of the Champion, as the Klitschko Brothers hold the other three major titles – four if you include Ring Magazine’s title that sometimes seems to have more lustre than the WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO. What Haye doesn’t seem to have much of though is respect, particularly when you look beyond the shores of the UK. Looking at for example Boxing News 24 – an admittedly not particularly highly-regarded source, given its crowd-sourced content that includes no real “names” – it’s not hard to find plenty of antipathy towards Haye.

Haye, it seems, is a mouthy blown-up Cruiserweight who has ducked fights with both of the Russian Brothers, and is likely to continue to do so or at least will get decisively beaten as and when he faces either – or for certain Vitali, who appears to be the nearest thing to a mobile statue in Heavyweight Boxing both in terms of chin and punch, and maybe also skill and movement. Wladimir’s slightly more suspect chin, it is argued, might give Haye a slight chance if he can avoid his jab but even then the British fighter would start a long-priced outsider.

Haye is criticised as not having fought anyone of note at heavyweight, of having fought a boring hit and run fight against the giant Valuev, and basically of talking the talk without walking the walk.

Is this fair? Well, it’s true that other than Valuev (who was something of a freakshow due to his size) Haye’s other heavyweight opponents have been modest – Monte Barrett had been a contender at one time but was already on a downward trend when Haye beat him, and Tomasz Bonin was no more than a fringe contender. On the other hand, it gives little credit to Haye for a highly successful career at Cruiserweight that saw him leave the division as holder of three of the main titles. The likes of Pacquiao move up in weight and get title shots straight away – why is the move from Cruiser to Heavy so big?

Well, big in a way is part of it. Heavyweight can include the likes of Mike Tyson (just under 6 foot) and the seven foot Valuev, and there is no upper limit; often the differences between divisions at the lighter weights can be seven pounds or less – which in turn tends to mean less variation in terms of height, body shape and so on. 

How does Haye gain respect? Obviously by fighting the best available – and at the moment that means the Klitschkos. There in itself is a tale though, as neither of them are particularly charismatic or entertaining to watch – to the extent that Wlad’s last fight wasn’t picked up by any of the major US Pay-per-view operators. Despite this, they hold the titles and no-one is particularly standing out as someone to beat them – Wladimir’s fight with Eddie Chambers saw the American operating defensively and showing little will to win.

Ironically Haye is what both brothers need: a fight with him will attract interest from both those who want to see the Klitschkos beaten, and those who want to see Haye’s mouth well and truly closed. Both should be hoping that Haye gets past John Ruiz without too much difficulty, as Haye will sell tickets and generate interest that is rapidly waning, particularly in the US where the smaller men are the ones generating all the headlines. Heavyweight Boxing – so long the Blue Ribband of the sport – has become dull, shot through with politics and fighters that simply don’t have the charisma to make the division sparkle.

Is Haye good enough to take either Klitschko out? The answer is we don’t know, and enough have tried (and almost totally failed) to get the better of them to argue that he has a lot to do. But what he does have is the ability to get people talking about the Heavyweights again, and for that at least he deserves more respect than he is getting.