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The Search for the Heavyweight King
By Wayne Richardson (April 24, 2004) 
Over the past two months fans have seen a lot of turbulence in the heavyweight division with the upset of Dominick Guinn, Joe Mesi’s lack of stamina and chin and Wladimir Klitschko’s surprising loss to Lamon Brewster. Other contenders have lost, fought sloppy and in general, have not looked like leaders in the division. It has left us searching for a new warrior to clean up the wake left behind by the departure of Lennox Lewis and pinning a lot of hope on Vitali Klitschko to be his successor this weekend. If he does win it remains to be seen if he can be a successful champion who will be embraced by the main stream public and recognized as the true champion. Or will he be largely ignored in the same way current title holders Chris Byrd or John Ruiz are.

The importance of public image is as much a vital part of being the champion as is the ability to make a powerful statement inside the ring. The current champions are lacking in at least one of these areas with John Ruiz lacking personality or a pleasing fight style that attract people. Chris Byrd just doesn’t have the pop to be an exciting champion. On the other hand Vitali is a big strong fighter with power and an agreeable persona that shows well.

Vitali has worked hard on the image side of his career by taking the very important step to improve his English and raise his appeal with the North American public. The showcase on 60 minutes earlier this week seemed designed to introduce Klitschko to the masses in a favorable light and show the human side of this heir apparent to the championship. If he reaches the popularity here as he has in Eastern Europe and combines it with a few good title defenses, Vitali will reap rewards only seen by Mike Tyson in his prime especially if he finds a nemesis worthy of generating a huge pay per view event.

It’s not to say that a good champion has to be an icon that people love to be a success in the boxing game. The previous champion while a very good fighter was not appreciated by many outside of the fight industry in North America mostly due to his guarded personality and apparent smug behavior after fights, but still generated large sums of money in his career. It can be argued he did it by facing popular heavyweights like Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson, but by holding the belts so dominantly, he controlled the division.

Mike Tyson was also another champion that wasn’t always engaging to the public or did things that helped endear him to them. In his prime he was a fighter that was an intimidating force that hypnotized people both in and out of the ring and helped achieve an unwanted paparazzi following rivaled only by top celebrities. His outrageous antics drew so many people to view him that he broke pay per view records by millions.

He is so popular still, people are even asking for the return of Mike Tyson to clean up the division and while he could easily beat three of the soon to be four current champions, he is many years removed from being a prime fighter that we refuse to eradicate from our mind. He no longer has the fierce hunger it takes to train properly or the reflexes to make effective use of his skills. Tyson may comeback only to repair the damage years of overspending has done to his financial coffers, but not to be the savior of heavyweight boxing. In addition it is unlikely he is willing to drop the lawsuit against Don King just for a chance at his fighters.

There were two other fighters in this era who could have been good champions with exciting styles and interesting personal attributes. One was David Tua, a short powerful heavyweight with a tremendous left hook and a great chin who won a Bronze Medal in the ‘92 Olympics. He is an exciting fighter who gives a good show although he is troubled by good boxers (Byrd, Lewis) but if he can land solid he can put most challengers out. He beat present title holder John Ruiz in one round and stopped former world champions Michael Moorer and Hasim Rahman as well as many of the current contenders. His biggest benefit is his engaging personality and the ability to make you instantly like him, unfortunately managerial problems have sidelined his career and not having fought in a year, it is unknown when he will return.

The other fighter who may have had a chance at a good title run was Ike Ibeabuchi an aggressive Nigerian that holds career boosting wins over David Tua and current IBF title holder Chris Byrd. He was picked to be the next big thing and a champion along the lines of Tyson being volatile outside of the ring and a monster between the ropes. He was on task until he started to show signs of mental instability after absorbing huge punishment during the Tua win and soon began exhibit irrational behavior in his personal life. It all came to an end inside a hotel room in Vegas when he sexually assaulted an escort and ended up in prison where he remains today. Speculation on how he would have fared is still open to debate because he was just beginning to enter the top level.

For now the state of the heavyweights will remain in limbo until Saturday and if Klitschko wins it will help resolve the search for the king, but only if he can follow up with a strong title defense. However if he happens to lose then it’s a different story and the public will either have to embrace Cory Sanders, a fighter who would rather play golf then box or continue the search for the next star.

Richardson’s Rants:

Finally, I would like to mention that fans shouldn’t give up on either Wladimir Klitschko or Dominick Guinn. They are good fighters who are smart enough to make the adjustments to be successful and the losses shouldn’t be considered as the end of their chances to be forces in the heavyweights. A loss on a record has had too much emphasis placed on it largely on part due to HBO and the fans wanting to see a perfect fighter. A loss should be considered as a learning tool and true test of a fighter’s mettle, to see if he can recover and become better.

The last thing I want to mention is the situation of Winky Wright switching promoters. He had received flack from some writers for being disloyal, but in my opinion he has only to be loyal to his family. His concern is to make as much money as he can and look after his family, the promoter wasn’t there for him before and if he gets a better offer he should go for it. Promoters have messed over many fighters and thrown them away after they have become unprofitable or not fitting into their plans. Just ask the current WBA Welterweight Champion who was screwed over last weekend
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