The heavyweight division in its post-Lewis malaise has, after seven long years, turned the boxing community into a child longing for a long-lost or broken favorite toy.
Although our parents work their hardest to trot out a bright and shiny new array of gadgets, we struggle to hold back tears as we think of the good old days when all we needed was that one toy to make us happy, and we are left hoping against hope that someday it might return, just as it was.
Generally, the year has been off to a good start, featuring awesome displays by Vic Darchinyan, Shane Mosley and Juan Manuel Marquez, solid comebacks from Kelly Pavlik and Miguel Cotto, and we have plenty to look forward to in the months ahead, headlined of course by Pacquiao-Hatton.
Yet we cannot help but risk the occasional look at the desolate remains of the heavyweight division, and offer wistful hopes that, at least within our lifetime, it can regain its rightful place as the foremost division.
The sheer desperation of this hope has led us to anoint anyone with even a shred of credibility as the ‘next great heavyweight,’ just as Paula Abdul airily tells each contestant she thinks they can win the whole thing.
But while Idol viewers may get a kick out of watching a bad singer, boxing fans will not long stand for a bad, or at least boring, fighter. Consequently, attempts to blindly market the new heavyweights in the hope they will achieve instant greatness has backfired considerably.
The average viewer knows it’s a troubled division lacking real star power.
But when ESPN, broadcasting their first title fight in years, decides to showcase the slow, plodding, hideously unathletic Vitali Klitschko face off against someone equally slow, plodding, and hideously unathletic, it only reinforces my wish to just discard the whole division into the dustbin of history.
As though fearful I might forget, a mere week later HBO drives the point home with a pointless slapfest between Eddie Chambers and Samuel Peter. Especially during the heat of March Madness, it feels like a deliberate reminder to the sporting world that boxing just isn’t worth the trouble anymore.
With the announcement that fast-talking, hard-hitting cruiserweight champ David Haye has finally secured his long-sought bout with a Klitchsko, in this case IBO and WBO champ Wladimir, the message to the fans was clear: we finally made the fight you really wanted.
Haye seemingly has it all: the rise-from-cruiserweight story of Holyfield; the brash attitude of Tyson; the-just-foreign-enough-to-be-cool-without-being-too-foreign appeal of Lewis.
W. Klitschko is of course a very good fighter, but he does not have, nor does he apparently seek, fan approval or admiration, and his fights, while frequent, typically lack any drama or meaning. Certainly, he is workmanlike and effective, but who cares? He is too distant and bland either for heroism or Ivan Drago-like villainy.
Also, with the two brothers on top, there is no hope for a unified champion. Therefore it is understandable that fans have greeted their reign with little enthusiasm. Indeed, the fervent hope for the great new champion has essentially been the same thing as ‘finding somebody to beat the Klitschkos and give us somebody worth caring about.’
David Haye has certainly been the loudest claimant, and his fight with Wladimir may be the first heavyweight bout in years to draw considerable prefight interest. A victory will assuredly bring a breath of fresh air, a champion who demands attention and typically delivers in a style to match his bravado.
After years of disillusionment, fight fans would be wise to keep their hopes modest: a savior does not come along and rescue a flagging sport or division, especially when fighters are judged so heavily by the caliber of their opposition.
Roy Jones was incredible, but nobody would call the late 1990s a golden age for light heavyweights. A Haye victory would certainly be exciting, but not transformative.
It will be nice to get the irritating Klitschkos out of the way, but it will take far more than one fight to resurrect a weight class burdened not only by the mediocrity of its present state, but by the mighty expectations imposed by its glorious past.