By Cliff Rold
It was the world title history which few cared about. Those who did just shook their head waiting for it to end.
And now it has according to various news reports. It ends with a fitting whimper.
In preparation for his challenge of WBC Cruiserweight titlist Giacobbe Fragomeni next Saturday, WBO Light Heavyweight champion Zsolt Erdei (30-0, 17 KO) has vacated that belt. In doing so, he has also vacated the last link to a debate about the lineage of the World Light Heavyweight championship which extends over much of the last thirteen years.
It was a debate which mattered once upon a time. During the height of his WBO title reign, Dariusz Michalczewski was regarded by most as the second best in class in comparison to American superstar Roy Jones Jr.
What made Michalczewski worth paying attention to while he and Jones stood atop the division from 1997-2003 was an action style, an undefeated record, and a claim to the lineal championship at 175 lbs.
Michalczewski defeated Virgil Hill by decision in June 1997, adding Hill’s IBF and WBA belts to a WBO belt he’d held since 1994. Hill was one year removed from defeating Henry Maske, adding Maske’s IBF belt to his own. During his second WBA title reign, Hill has successfully defended against a Fabrice Tiozzo who would, prior to Hill-Maske, win the WBC belt.
All roads led to Hill. Then they passed to Dariusz. Michalczewski was forced out of/stripped of the WBA and IBF belts for nonsense reasons; they ended up with Jones who also captured the WBC belt when Tiozzo vacated. Dariusz vs. Roy was never much more than banter between hard core followers, but it was a merit debate and fun in its time, at least until Michalczewski began to visibly slip around 2001.
When Michalczewski lost in October 2003, at age 35, to a Julio Gonzalez who hadn’t really won a round against Jones in July 2001, the lineage argument lost some steam. When Gonzalez lost in his first title defense to undefeated former Olympian Zsolt Erdei, it was a moment of wait and see.
Maybe Erdei could make some hay with the lineage.
But he didn’t.
As BoxingScene’s Jake Donovan stated in a piece on October 22 of this year, a real champion is a man who takes on “all comers” in his class and
For champions such as Zsolt Erdei…such interest has proven to be all but non-existent.
Erdei’s embarrassment of a light heavyweight title reign could potentially come to an end next month, if only by default. On tap is a foray to the cruiserweight division, where he will challenge alphabet titlist Giacobe Fragomeni.
The scheduled fight represents a stiffer challenge than anything he’s attempted in more than five years as lineal light heavyweight king, where he feasted on the division’s bottom feeders far more than he’s attempted to face any semblance of respectable contenders.
All of this probably wasn’t Erdei’s fault. His promoter, Klaus Peter Kohl, has always been a savvy and sometimes careful match maker. Results are results though, and Erdei did not have them.
For historical purity purposes, Erdei couldn’t be denied his place in the lineage. Early in his WBO reign, he had some interesting wins against real contenders like Hugo Garay, Mehdi Sahnoune, and Thomas Ulrich. But as his reign wore on and the mid-level challengers gave way to no-level of challenge at all, the Ring Magazine title passed between Jones, Antonio Tarver, Glen Johnson, Bernard Hopkins, and Joe Calzaghe.
Erdei became proof that while the concept of a champion needing to lose a title in the ring is solid, the practice is sometimes highly flawed.
And now it’s over.
BoxingScene rates Chad Dawson and WBC titlist Jean Pascal as the top two fighters at 175 lbs., Dawson largely regarded as the top dog right now. They may square off next year. Former Ring Magazine titlist Bernard Hopkins is still rated number two by Ring Magazine; they would recognize a Dawson-Hopkins winner as the new ‘real’ World Champion. Somewhere, IBF titlist Tavoris Cloud (20-0, 18 KO), who Dawson gave up the IBF belt to avoid when Cloud was a mandatory, will have his say as well.
One of them will emerge as the new king. Whoever that is, they will matter in the role. Erdei, as the lineal king if nothing else, never really did.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org