Ranking the Top 10 Fighters in Boxing's Heavyweight Division
By knocking out Kubrat Pulev in just five rounds last November, Wladimir Klitschko sent a clear message. He's still the king of the heavyweight division.
It's difficult to imagine anybody supplanting the Ukrainian, anytime soon. Still, the heavyweight division entering 2015 is as exciting as it has been in recent years.
With Bermane Stiverne defending the WBC portion of the title against Deontay Wilder this Saturday night, the eyes of the boxing world will be on the big men as the 2015 boxing calender kicks off in earnest.
10. Ruslan Chagaev
According to the WBA, Ruslan Chagaev is a "world champion." I am sure some readers will find this confusing, since it's common knowledge that Wladimir Klitschko is the WBA heavyweight champion.
This is, of course, another case of the WBA pulling its clown move where it calls Klitschko a "super" world champion and Chagaev a "regular" world champion. What that means to me is that Klitschko is the WBA world champion and Chagaev is some guy with a meaningless belt.
Chagaev won that vacant "title" by beating journeyman Fres Oquendo by majority decision, in perhaps the poorest performance of his career.
Chagaev is not out of place in the division's top 10, though. The tough veteran is a skilled boxer, and his only two career losses came against Klitschko and Alexander Povetkin. The loss to Povetkin was a gritty, competitive effort.
Chagaev's best win is a majority decision over Nikolai Valuev, back in 2007. The win over the gigantic Valuev made Chagaev the legitimate WBA champion, although he lost that belt to Klitschko in just his third defense.
9. Vyacheslav Glazkov
Vyacheslav Glazkov shot into the heavyweight top 10 last March when he beat two-division world champion and longtime heavyweight contender Tomasz Adamek. It was a significant win, but Adamek is clearly on the back end of his career as was proved when he lost his subsequent fight to Artur Szpilka.
Szpilka is a tough contender with grit but not somebody Adamek would have lost to a few years ago. So it's hard not to wonder how much the win really proves about Glazkov.
Glazkov truly struggled against journeyman Derric Rossy last August and was lucky to escape with a majority decision. I also had him losing clearly to Malik Scott in February 2013, when the judges handed him a draw.
Glazkov is an Olympic bronze medalist. His boxing skill is obvious, but I wonder if he has the size and/or athleticism to truly contend at the top of the division.
8. Mike Perez
A former amateur world champion at light heavyweight, the Irish-based and Cuban-born Mike Perez is among the best technical boxers in the heavyweight division. He's a short heavyweight but explosively compact.
He has not looked like the same fighter, though, since injuring Magomed Abdusalamov so badly in November 2013 that the Russian knockout artist had to be put into a medically induced coma for months. Hurting an opponent that badly can cause long-term psychological problems for a boxer.
Perez was lucky to escape with a draw against Carlos Takam in January 2014. He lost by split decision to Bryant Jennings in July, although a questionable point deduction against Perez stopped the fight from being a draw.
7. Deontay Wilder
Deontay Wilder has not really beaten any single opponent that justifies putting him in the top 10. However, the way that he has compiled his resume has to be taken into account. He's knocked out the first 32 opponents he's faced in his career, with nobody getting out of the fourth round.
There are big questions about Wilder heading into his WBC title challenge against Bermane Stiverne this weekend. We still don't know how the Bronze Bomber will react to a big puncher who will fire back at him.
Still, Wilder's potential shouldn't be dismissed as mere hype. He qualified for the Olympics and won a bronze medal after a very brief amateur career. His power and athleticism are completely legitimate.
6. Bryant Jennings
Undefeated contender Bryant Jennings pushed himself firmly into the top 10 in 2014. In January, he stopped fellow unbeaten Artur Szpilka in Round 10.
In July, Jennings beat fellow top-10 contender Mike Perez by split decision. Jennings struggled at times in the fight and benefited from a questionable point deduction against Perez. Without the deduction, the fight would have been a draw.
But Perez is a former Cuban amateur standout and one of the most well-schooled fighters in the division. Jennings didn't even take up boxing until less than five years ago, so to be fighting so close with a guy like Perez shows his tremendous potential.
Jennings is not big by modern heavyweight standards. Still, the 6'3" Jennings has a monstrous 84" reach. This gives him tremendous offensive and defensive advantages.
5. Tyson Fury
Undefeated British-Irish heavyweight Tyson Fury stands 6'9", making him the tallest fighter in the top 10. With a record of 23-0 and 17 KOs, he's coming off the best performance of his career, a Round 10 stoppage of Dereck Chisora last November.
I've never been convinced about Fury as a potential heavyweight champion, and I'm still not prepared to say I am. But there's no denying that he has steadily improved over the past few years. And at 26, he's still very young for a heavyweight.
Chisora is a much better fighter now than he was when the two faced off the first time, in 2011, when Fury won by decision. But Fury has out-paced "Del Boy," and in their rematch, Fury was able to absorb some tough body shots while punishing Chisora for 10 rounds before making him retire in his corner.
The win made Fury the No. 1 contender for the WBO portion of Klitschko's world title, but there's a line to get to the champ right now. Fury already has German Christian Hammer scheduled as his next opponent for this February.
4. Kubrat Pulev
Kubrat Pulev's November title challenge against Wladimir Klitschko went about as poorly as it could have gone. The Bulgarian took his first professional loss, going down in Round 5.
Pulev still needs to be viewed as one of the division's top five fighters, though. His stoppages of Alexander Dimitrenko and Alexander Ustinov put him on the map, and his unanimous-decision victory over former title challenger Tony Thomspon demonstrated that he can box with a well-schooled veteran.
Pulev fought a tactically weak fight against Klitschko. The champ's huge advantages in experience and power were very obvious.
But while Pulev is not young, he still has enough years left to make another run at a title shot, especially in a post-Klitschko scene.
3. Bermane Stiverne
Bermane Stiverne jumped into the spotlight in April 2013, when he pounded veteran contender Chris Arreola, breaking his nose en route to a unanimous-decision victory. When Vitali Klitschko retired in December 2013, the WBC set up a rematch between Arreola and Stiverne for the vacant WBC belt.
Arreola fought a very tough fight in the early rounds, but Stiverne stuck to his game plan, looking for the right-hand counter over the top of Arreola's jab. In Round 6 he found it, landing a series of big punches that knocked Arreola silly and led to the referee waving off the count.
Arreola is known for having stiff whiskers. His only previous stoppage loss had come against Klitschko, and in that case, he was stopped in his corner. So for Stiverne to drop him twice and render him unable to defend himself was a major accomplishment.
Stiverne will face Deontay Wilder on January 17, in his first title defense. It will be the biggest heavyweight fight in North America in years.
2. Alexander Povetkin
Alexander Povetkin came up well short when he challenged Wladimir Klitschko in October 2013. The longtime contender was dropped four times, en route to a one-sided decision loss.
I'd still pick him over any other heavyweight in the world. Following his loss to Klitschko, he's continued to look as good as he ever has. He fought twice in 2014, knocking out former title challenger Manuel Charr in May and tough contender Carlos Takam in October.
Klitschko was able to get away with a ridiculous amount of clinching and leaning during his fight with Povetkin, and carrying the bigger man no doubt made the fight even more of an ordeal for the Russian. Still, I'm not convinced that Povetkin would have fared any better, even with a more vigilant referee.
1. Wladimir Klitschko
Wladimir Klitschko's No. 1 spot on this list is the only one that isn't open to debate. It's simply not possible to argue that Klitschko is anything but the top heavyweight in the world right now.
Klitschko holds three of the four legitimate belts and is the lineal champion as well. He's also fresh from one of his best performances in years, a Round 5 stoppage of undefeated Kubrat Pulev last November.
My hope is that we'll see a lot of Klitschko in the U.S. during 2015. I'd like to see him face Bryant Jennings this spring and then the winner of Deontay Wilder and Bermane Stiverne in a unification fight in the fall.
At 38, the champion has yet to show signs of slowing. It seems feasible that he could continue to rule until north of 40. It should be noted, though, that his older brother, Vitali, did start to break down physically in his late 30s.