Wladimir Klitschko vs. Ruslan Chagaev: It’s a Start
By Coyote Duran, Doghouse Boxing (June 18, 2009)  
Maybe HBO didn’t want to produce and broadcast this Saturday’s World Heavyweight Championship bout between Wladimir Klitschko and undefeated Ruslan Chagaev (from the Veltins Arena, Gelsenkirchen, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany, ESPN Classic, 5 PM ET/4 PM Central) because, with as low as our expectations of the heavyweight division are, ‘Klitschko vs. Chagaev: It’s a Start.’ just didn’t have that charismatic pop.

But a start is a start.

This kind of start wouldn’t have been possible had former Undisputed Cruiserweight Champion David Haye not fallen out of his scheduled June 20 meeting with the IBF/WBO titleholder due to injury. Haye, a relative upstart at heavyweight, isn’t ranked high enough; at least by THE RING magazine. When Chagaev, 25-0-1 (17), a substitute by way of losing his own opportunity to…uh,…(Oh, for crying out loud…) unify the WBA heavyweight title…against Nicolay Valuev, stepped in, the magazine’s editorial board and ratings committee deemed the fight between the number one Klitschko, 52-3 (46), and the number three Chagaev championship-worthy.

In turn, HBO pulled the plug. Ironically, the network that had nothing but mad love for Oscar De La Hoya for most of his career chose to take a pass on a fight that would’ve determined a legitimate World Champion at the class that really needed it. De La Hoya owns THE RING; the publication who will deem the winner of Klitschko-Chagaev as World Heavyweight Champion. Luckily, ESPN Classic stepped up and took the fight.

Apparently, ‘The Network of Champions’ didn’t see Klitschko-Chagaev as a marketable option; regardless of the greater good of the fight’s ultimate result. And it’s kind of obvious why when comparing the fight to what should’ve been in Klitschko-Haye.

With as much animosity that fueled the Haye fight (t-shirts depicting the disembodied heads of the Klitschko Brothers, held aloft by a victorious Haye, come to mind), the possibility of a battle devoid of drama, as well as precedents like Klitschko’s alphabet title defenses against Ray Austin and Tony Thompson and unification against Sultan Ibragimov, was probably enough for the premium cable giant to take a pass.

What’s funny about Chagaev’s World Championship opportunity is that he took a relative loss to get there. That ‘loss’ was the Valuev fight that involved what the WBA considered, for lack of a better term, a splintered title. Regarding the WBA belt, no one really knows what the hell is going on. Valuev is considered the ‘regular’ titlist. Prior to Chagaev failing a pre-fight medical exam that revealed an exposure to hepatitis, he was considered the ‘champion-in-recess.’ This distinction came courtesy of an injury-influenced postponement of a July 2008 rematch against Valuev due to a torn Achilles tendon which, in turn, resulted in Valuev defeating John Ruiz for the ‘honor’ of becoming ‘co-champion’, ‘regular champion’ ‘Punchline Emeritus’ or whatever the hell it’s called.

Long story short, Ruslan Chagaev and Nicolay Valuev share joint custody of a meaningless strap. At least Valuev has one that fits him.

As it is, THE RING has enough criticisms of its championship policy; going back as far as April 2004, when Vitali Klitschko beat Corrie Sanders in eight for the vacant World Heavyweight Championship. The reason for Big Brother vs. Sanders seemed sound. Vitali, of course, was well on his way to erasing the demons he became saddled with when he quit in nine rounds against Chris Byrd in April 2000 by giving then-Undisputed Champion Lennox Lewis all he could stand six years ago. Lewis beat Vitali by a stoppage based on the latter’s ribbon-riddled face after six rounds that saw Lewis take quite a beating of his own. This would be Lewis’ final bout as he retired later in the year.

Sanders, was riding high on a big second round stoppage victory over Wladimir in March 2003; which shot the South African to the number three slot in THE RING’s ratings. Of course, Byrd had fought exactly one week before the Vitali-Sanders fight so, with Byrd’s unavailability, the occasion was right for number one contender Vitali to face Sanders, per an already-established policy clause.

But to be fair, there was also 13 months between Klitschkos and Sanders still retained a high rating; despite the inactivity. ‘Twas a shaky decision…

Much like Vitali Klitschko’s submission to Byrd nine years ago, this decision was received by many fans as half-assed. In 2007, De La Hoya’s acquisition of THE RING seemingly exacerbated the paranoia of the magazine’s most steadfast critics.

Interestingly enough, neither Wladimir Klitschko nor Ruslan Chagaev are promoted by De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions. However, if you want to get conspiratorial about it, you could easily say that since Haye, who promoted by Golden Boy, dropped out of the June 20 date, HBO followed suit. That might indicate that aforementioned ‘mad love.’

It can be argued that Wladimir Klitschko is, by default, the World Heavyweight Champion. He’s been the number one heavyweight in the world for years and already has a sizable collection of alphabet belts in his possession. The only other significant sanctioning body bauble available (WBA confusion notwithstanding) is the WBC belt, currently held by Vitali Klitschko; who, after an almost three year absence from the sport, pounded Nigerian Samuel Peter into submission in eight rounds for the green strap. Chagaev’s participation is merely a formality. Or is it?

Isn’t this the guy who actually defeated former two-time titlist/heavyweight heartache John Ruiz before beating Valuev in their first bout for the once-‘Happy Together’ WBA title? Might he be the guy that handed former top ten heavyweight Vladimir Virchis and Carl Davis Drumond their first professional losses? Sure they were majority and technical decisions, respectively, but they were wins nonetheless.

Apart from Vitali Klitschko, what other top heavyweight is available and deserving…enough…to get a shot at the real World Heavyweight Championship? Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. What options do we have? Heavyweight’s got some goods. They’re just not that ready already.

What’s certain is, now, we have a heavyweight fight that will clear up things a speck, give us a World Champion and, hey, it’s on non-premium cable!

All of a sudden, ‘It’s a Start’ ain’t soundin’ so bad, now is it?


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