Ranking the 10 Biggest Heavyweight Busts of the Past Decade
The past decade in boxing's heavyweight division has been firmly ruled by the Klitschko brothers, so to some extent, it's probably not fair to call anybody on this list a pure "bust." Did anybody ever really think Kevin Johnson or Malik Scott were likely to topple Vitali or Wladimir?
But American boxing fans will continue to search for a conquering hero until we finally find one. Those of us old enough to remember the 1990s and 1970s grew up when the heavyweight belt was properly regarded as the biggest championship in professional sports.
So consider this a list of 10 who got boxing fans' hopes up, even if the glory projected upon them might have been unrealistic.
10. Seth Mitchell
For a guy who picked up boxing as late as Seth Mitchell did, the former standout linebacker from Michigan State did pretty well for himself. He was a tantalizing prospect for U.S. fans.
One of the primary reasons always cited for the decline in U.S. heavyweights has been the rising popularity of football and basketball as sports for larger athletes. So in Mitchell we got to see a former football standout dedicating himself to the Sweet Science. It was a very difficult transition, and Mitchell deserves credit for how well he did.
The techniques and psychological approach of boxing are in some ways completely antithetical to football. I interviewed Mitchell once and he admitted it was a challenge.
"In football," he said, "it's all about getting wired up for that one big hit at the line, putting everything into it. In boxing you have to be relaxed at the moments you want to be most aggressive."
Mitchell built up a 25-0 record with 19 KOs and recorded impressive stoppages of fringe contenders Chazz Witherspoon and Timur Ibragimov. But more recently, early knockout losses to Johnathon Banks and Chris Arreola demonstrate that he's probably not the future of the division after all.
9. Denis Boytsov
Russian heavyweight Denis Boytsov just received his first professional loss last November, so perhaps it is too soon to call him a bust. Only about five years ago, when he was stopping tough journeymen such as Taras Bidenko and Jason Gavern, I felt like he was one of the division's most promising prospects.
But then he continued to chug along fighting that same journeyman and trial-horse level of competition year after year. Whenever I see that, I always suspect the fighter's handlers know something the rest of us don't.
A win over Alex Leapai last November would have maneuvered Boytsov into position for a lucrative fight with Wladimir Klitschko. Instead, Boytsov dropped a unanimous decision by fairly wide margins.
Again, I could be jumping ship on Boytsov too quickly now. He's just 28. Maybe he'll re-emerge in the post-Klitschko era and become a legitimate contender.
But for now he looks to me like a bust.
8. David Price
While heavyweights such as Boytsov often end up having their handlers protect them to the point where they become irrelevant, the opposite extreme is worse. Consider the example of Liverpool's David Price.
On paper he looked like a very good candidate to become a title contender. The 6'8" giant was a former Olympian.
But after he scored impressive stoppages of English journeymen Audley Harrison and Matt Skelton, Price's overly ambitious team decided its fighter was ready for a true world-class heavyweight like Tony Thompson.
When Price was predictably stopped in two, instead of regrouping, Price's people immediately made a rematch five months later. Price showed definite improvement and even managed to knock Thompson down.
But that can only have made it even more demoralizing when Thompson took control and stopped Price in five.
Back-to-back stoppages like this can ruin a fighter on his way up. Price has already returned to action, stopping 12-9-1 club fighter Istvan Ruzsinszky in January. In April he'll face experienced journeyman Ondrej Pala in a fight he should win.
It's too early to completely write Price off, but if he can end up proving the bust label wrong at this point, it will be a great accomplishment and testament to his character.
7. Calvin Brock
Calvin Brock's failure to live up to his potential as a heavyweight contender has a lot to do with the early retirement he was forced to make after suffering an eye injury in a career-ending loss to Eddie Chambers. And with a degree in finance, the "Boxing Banker" probably had better ways to make money than by getting hit in the face for years on end.
But for a while in the early part of the century, he looked like maybe he could be the guy to bring back the glory of the heavyweight division in the United States. He went 29-0 with 22 KOs to start his career.
He wasn't exactly fighting elite competition. But he showed a lot of heart to come back from a cut and knockdown against Jameel McCline, and his finish of Zuri Lawrence was The Ring's Knockout of the Year in 2006.
But when it came time to face Wladimir Klitschko for the belt, Brock came up short, losing by TKO. He won two more fights before dropping the fight to Chambers by split decision. To fight that close with a guy like Chambers, with an injured eye, shows Brock might have been able to remain a factor in the division if things had gone differently.
6. Audley Harrison
Audley Harrison has had a respectable career as a journeyman and stepping stone in the heavyweight division. He's a solid professional fighter who deserves the respect due any man who makes his living that way.
But there's no question that boxing fans, especially British ones, hoped to see more from him during his career. In 2000 he became the first Englishman ever to capture an Olympic gold medal at super heavyweight.
Harrison started his career 19-0, but back-to-back losses to Danny Williams and Dominick Guinn more or less established his place in the division's pecking order. Later losses to Martin Rogan and Michael Sprott clearly established him as a second-tier fighter.
5. Sultan Ibragimov
Sultan Ibragimov was an Olympic silver medalist who actually did reign as a world champion of sorts. He held the WBO belt under one of the weakest lineages in the division's history.
Lamon Brewster capitalized on Wladimir Klitschko's notoriously vulnerable chin to shock the boxing world and win the WBO belt in 2004. After a couple of inconsequential defenses, he lost the title to Sergei Liakhovich, who dropped it to Shannon Briggs.
A very out-of-shape Briggs lost the belt to Ibragimov in 2007. He defended once, beating a 45-year-old Evander Holyfield. He then dropped the belt back to Klitschko by one-sided unanimous decision.
Despite the loss to Klitschko, Ibragimov seemed like a guy who could remain a factor in the division. Instead, he retired following the loss, and fans never had the opportunity to see what might have been.
4. Michael Bennett
Michael Bennett retired more than a decade ago, but I've included him high on this list because the kind of career that fans hoped for him would have lasted well into the period covered here. He was a 2000 Olympian and also had a world championship on his amateur resume.
But as a professional, he just didn't have the chin to make it beyond the club level. He fought just 14 times and lost four fights, all by knockout.
Bennett's career is a great example of the difference between the amateur and professional ranks in boxing. You don't win an amateur world championship or qualify for an Olympic boxing team without some serious skills.
But a durable chin is just one of those physical tools that can't be taught.
3. Malik Scott
I'm not prepared to accuse a professional fighter of taking a dive without definitive proof. I've been punched in the face plenty of times in a boxing ring but certainly never by anybody like Wilder. The slap hook and deflected right that stopped Scott last Saturday would certainly stop me.
On the other hand, I'm a 43-year-old, super middleweight writer of modest athletic ability. I certainly expected a 6'5" heavyweight with excellent skills like Scott to make a better show.
I never expected that he would win a world championship. But I did expect the 36-1-1 Scott to be a legitimate gatekeeper in the division. When he drew with Vyacheslav Glazkov last year, I called it one of the worst decisions of the year.
And I think Glazkov is a talented fighter in his own right.
Watching the video linked here, I feel it's inconclusive to call that a dive. But there's no way I think that was Scott's best effort. I've got too much respect for his skill set to believe that.
2. Kevin Johnson
In December 2009, Kevin Johnson challenged Vitali Klitschko for the WBC Heavyweight Championship. He was among the least qualified title challengers of the Klitschko era, which is saying something. Despite his undefeated record, the best wins on his resume going into the Klitschko fight had come against Devin Vargas and Bruce Seldon.
Still, he had size and athletic ability, and the American boxing public was hungry for a contender. Johnson actually went the distance with Klitschko, which puts him in select company, but he managed to win just one round on all three cards.
Since that fight, he has hung around, degenerating into a barely relevant gatekeeper. He's lost three of his last four fights, dropping decisions to Tyson Fury, Christian Hammer and Dereck Chisora. Against Chisora last February, he looked particularly lethargic.
Johnson is already scheduled to fight former title challenger Manuel Charr in April.
1. David Rodriguez
There was a short window of time a few years ago when U.S. boxing fans began to look toward Texan David Rodriguez as a possible savior. The 6'4", 250-pounder looked like a potential heavyweight star.
And he quickly built up an undefeated record filled mostly with knockouts. But as the years went on, he never moved beyond the club-fighter level of competition, and interest in him began to wane.
By the time he faced Darnell Wilson last December, he was 36-0 with 34 KOs. Still, hardly anybody was still paying attention.
Wilson was a 24-17-3 journeyman and a blown-up cruiserweight. But he had been in the ring with some legitimate world-class competition and had real pop in his fists.
Against the much larger Rodriguez, Wilson's boxing skills completely outclassed the Texan. He started to dial in early on Rodriguez with sharp counter hooks and finished him off in six.