These boxers fill outdoor stadiums to capacity. They can be recognized walking down a street in London, Hamburg, Berlin, Madrid, Tokyo, Seoul or Shanghai.
They’re the face of their sport. They’re the envy of probably every American fighter for their popularity, except for Floyd Mayweather.
Fight fans in the United States know them and know them well. With today’s modern connectivity, they’re able to see them by just going on YouTube, or through any of a number of other internet outlets. But in terms of seeing them at an arena near you, there’s no way.
Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko get criticized heavily in some boxing circles within the United States about not fighting here for some time. But why should they? Why should cruiserweight champion Yoan Pablo Hernandez or Jean Pascal or Hozumi Hasegawa?
Because they don’t need the American fight fan, an exceptionally devoted, passionate, taken-for-granted lot that’s thinning by the second.
Why are these fighters being grouped together?
They’re the world’s best fighters who don’t fight in the United States. Europe controls the top two weight classes and Asia controls the bottom half, leaving the middle divisions successful breeding ground for American fighters.
Here are the top fighters who don't fight in the U.S.:
Wladimir Klitschko: The reigning heavyweight champion hasn’t fought in the United States since the dreadful, painful-to-the-eyes showing against Sultan Ibragimov on February 23, 2008. Since then, he’s stopped seven of his next eight opponents in a moribund heavyweight division that quite frankly few care about these days.
There’s no one in the division that comes close to Klitschko, save for older Vitali, and that's a fight we all know will never happen. So in the meantime, “Dr. Steelhammer” will keep those German soccer stadiums filled and keep stopping American also-rans who are willing to venture over there to get pummeled.
Vitali Klitschko: He’s 41 and near retirement. The Klitschkos have spoiled Boris and Natasha’s scheme: Big Brother’s ultimate vision of World Klitschko Domination (sounds Orwellian, doesn’t it?) has come to fruition in the Rocky—though more like Bullwinkle—heavyweight division.
Though Wladimir tops every heavyweight list as the world’s best, at least Vitali has younger brother beat in one area: It’s been three years since he last fought in the United States, vanquishing the game, cussing, jelly-belly version of Chris Arreola (the new svelte Arreola we’re not a fan of; bring back fat Chris).
Yoan Pablo Hernandez: Hernandez originates from this hemisphere, and seems to have no problem keeping this part of the world far in his career rear-view mirror. The Cuban expatriate found a home in Germany and the cruiserweight division and seems to have adjusted to the culture and language barriers quite nicely.
He stomped on Steve Cunningham twice to rule a division whose fighters get treated like rock stars in Europe. Why any cruiserweight would fight in the United States is anyone’s guess, with little or no interest and no real network backing.
All you really need to know is the current light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson went up to Quebec to fight Pascal, and though Bernard Hopkins is a future hall of famer and known the world over, it was “The Executioner” that had to take the trip up north to fight Pascal.
Why? Because it was Pascal’s drawing power that filled the Pepsi Coliseum and Bell Centre.
Roman Gonzalez: Okay, okay, we’re admittedly cheating here a little bit. The WBC light flyweight world champion has fought two of his last three fights in the United States, and has another fight scheduled in the U.S. on September 29.
But prior to that, this fun little fighter with amazing power fought almost his entire career in Mexico, Nicaragua and Japan. For a time, Gonzalez was the best fighter in the world never seen live in this country by American fight fans.
Hozumi Hasegawa: The former WBC featherweight world champion has fought his entire 34-fight career in Japan, and currently holds the title Gonzalez once held as best fighter American fight fans never seen live in person.
He’ll continue doing his thing in Japan, where he’s a celebrity that can’t walk down a Tokyo street without being mobbed. About the only thing that might get him noticed on a crowded Friday night in Times Square is if he streaked through the crowd.
Anselmo Moreno: Like Gonzalez, we're taking some liberties with the WBA bantamweight world champion. In his 35-fight career, 33 came outside the United States, mostly in his native Panama, and he's scheduled to fight the rugged Abner Mares on October 13th in the U.S. Moreno is an exciting fighter who made most of his success outside the U.S. boundaries. He had no need to gain American acceptance until recently. Let's see how his fight against Mares plays out. An impressive victory in a great fight may stir interest in this country about him, a controversial decision-loss to Mares could send him back to Panama for good.
But as this list points out, and the terrible shame of it is, they don’t need U.S. dollars and a shrinking American boxing fanbase to reach their international level of success.
They’re content fighting abroad, and when you’re as successful as the Klitschkos, Hernandez, Pascal, Gonzalez and Moreno have been, why fight in the United States when they can be followed like mainstream sports stars where they are?