By Thomas Gerbasi
Let’s not mince words here. The odds of Dereck Chisora capturing lightning in a bottle and pulling off a Buster Douglas-esque upset of Vitali Klitschko in their WBC heavyweight championship fight this Saturday in Germany are perhaps even slimmer than slim and none.
But I’ll be watching. And odds are that you will too. Because for all the rightful criticism the heavyweight division gets these days (and for the last few years), in the back of my mind, this is still the sport’s glamour division, the home for guys like Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, and Mike Tyson.
Sure, Vitali and his brother Wladimir are not the charismatic figures the aforementioned group was, but they are the best big men in a sport that has always celebrated those over 200 pounds, and they’ve dominated for longer than most. Vitali, in particular, may be the most underrated heavyweight champion of the last 30 years simply because he hasn’t had the dance partners some of his colleagues have had.
That’s not his fault though. He’s dispatched of everyone put in his path over the last eight years, and more importantly, he’s never even been threatened in a fight since his sixth round stoppage at the hands of Lennox Lewis in 2003. That’s a long time to be dominant, regardless of quality of competition, and if his September 2011 drubbing of Tomasz Adamek is any indication, 40 is not the death sentence for him that it usually is for a prizefighter. That’s a Bernard Hopkins-esque testament to living right, staying in shape, and not getting involved in any sordid out of the ring business (unless you count politics, and he’s seemed to have weathered that storm fine thus far).
Plus, heavyweight history is full of matches that never happened due to any number of factors (Lewis-Riddick Bowe, Tyson-Evander Holyfield in 1991 being two recent examples), but you can’t really pick a fight that should have happened for Klitschko that hasn’t. David Haye maybe, but even if “The Hayemaker” comes out of a short-lived retirement to face Vitali later this year, does anyone really see him faring any better than he did against lil’ bro Wladimir?
So until someone beats him or at least makes him feel 40 years old, Vitali Klitschko will keep rolling along. Dereck Chisora - for all the great work the team of his promoter, Frank Warren, has done in publicizing this fight and issuing the kind of quotes that make you think, if only for a fleeting second, that the big man from London can pull off the upset - is probably not that guy. Losing to Tyson Fury and getting robbed of a larcenous decision against Robert Helenius does not make you the man to dethrone “Dr. Ironfist.” Jeez, even Douglas brought a six fight winning streak into his upset of Tyson in 1990. But I’ll be watching anyway, just because in heavyweight boxing, there’s always that chance.
As for Klitschko, he’s not saying where he hopes this journey ends. Not yet.
“I have a dream and I’ve always had it because without dreams, life is boring,” he said during a recent media teleconference. “And I have my sport dream and I don’t want to talk about this dream. I am superstitious and that is why I don’t want to tell you about this dream. This dream keeps me active in boxing and motivates me to keep going into the ring. If you see my last fights, I have given a good performance, with good results and I knock out all of my opponents. I stopped everyone and that is why I am still active in sports and continuing my career.”
In other words, if you can’t beat him, he’s not leaving.
Hey, I’m all for encouraging the re-telling of Nobuhiro Ishida’s fascinating second life in boxing following his first round knockout of James Kirkland last April, but to think that he’s going to do the same thing to Paul Williams this Saturday night in Corpus Christi, Texas, that’s probably pushing things a bit.
Yet that’s where Williams sits in the boxing world these days. At 30, the age when he should be hitting his physical prime, he has been painted by the fickle as damaged goods. Granted, he was knocked out in devastating fashion by Sergio Martinez in November of 2010 and should have lost a decision to Erislandy Lara in his comeback fight last July, but shouldn’t someone with a 40-2 record who owns a win over Martinez, along with Winky Wright, Antonio Margarito, Kermit Cintron, and Carlos Quintana (avenging an earlier loss) be given a pass for a couple bad fights?
For all the bluster put out by his promoter Dan Goossen that Williams was the most feared and avoided fighter in the game, a lot of that was true. Williams didn’t get all the opportunities he should have before the first Quintana fight in 2008. After he showed some cracks in his foundation with that decision loss, he got bigger fights, and with the exception of the second Martinez bout, he made the most of them.
All along, he stayed the quiet kid from South Carolina he’s always been, and maybe that’s been the problem. If he beat his chest, talked copious amounts of trash, and collected a series of scalps from lesser opponents, he might be looked at in a different light (The “lucky punch” theory from the Martinez fight didn’t help either). To his credit, he’s stayed true to himself, and even if he blasts through Ishida in impressive style, the post-fight analysis will point to the Japanese fighter being 36-years old and a one-hit wonder. Such is boxing. If he loses, then maybe “The Punisher” was just destined to be a shooting star in this game.
STORM CLOUDS A’ BREWIN’
Speaking of feared and avoided, the latest victim of that phenomenon, Tavoris Cloud, returns this Saturday in Texas to defend his IBF light heavyweight crown against Spain’s Gabriel Campillo. It’s his fourth title defense, and yes, if you haven’t heard much, if anything, on the mainstream level about the Floridian, don’t feel bad because there’s been nothing out there on him.
And that’s a shame, because at 23-0 with 19 KOs, Cloud is not only one of the premier light heavyweights in the world, but at 30, he’s at the point where he has to make the most of his prime years but no one appears willing to take the high risk / low reward fight, namely guys like Bernard Hopkins, Chad Dawson, or Jean Pascal. Obviously Hopkins and Dawson are tied up with their rematch business this spring, so why not Pascal should Cloud get by Campillo, with the winner to fight the Hopkins-Dawson II victor? Not only would it inject some life into the division in North America (WBO champ Nathan Cleverly and WBA titleholder Beibut Shumenov are doing just fine and holding up their end of the bargain internationally at the moment), but it would allow Cloud to show the world just what he can do in a big fight.
Until then though, he will be stuck in a veritable no man’s land in fights like this one coming up. Yes, he’s getting some nice exposure on Showtime, but if he loses to Campillo, an underrated tough out who should give him a nice scrap, the road back will be a lot longer than it would be for a top-level fighter who’s gotten better national and international exposure thus far.
WHO KILLS MAYWEATHER-PACQUIAO? LOOK WEST
As we’ve seen in the past, most notably with Zab Judah’s loss to Carlos Baldomir still getting him a big fight with Floyd Mayweather, a defeat doesn’t exactly spell the end of a megafight. At least that’s the conventional wisdom as we still tilt at windmills waiting for a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight despite both combatants making other plans for the first half of the year.
Yet if Mayweather falls to Miguel Cotto or Pacquiao gets upended by Timothy Bradley, there is no question that the mystique around this matchup will have taken an unrecoverable hit that all the money and promotion in the world can’t salvage.
So who’s got the better shot of upending the apple cart? It’s gotta be the man dubbed “Desert Storm.” Bradley is fast, he’s slick, but he’s also well-schooled and not afraid of taking the fight to Pacquiao and making it ugly. Of course, this is also Pac-Man’s first fight since his less than stellar performance against Juan Manuel Marquez last November, so he’s in that funny, vulnerable gray area right now in terms of where everyone sees him at in his career. It may just be that Marquez is one of those guys that Pacquiao will never figure out and that will always give him a hard time. Or…at 33, he may be on the downside of a storied career, and Bradley is catching him at precisely the right time. Either way, the 28-year old Bradley is no soft touch for anyone, and if anybody outside of Mayweather or Marquez beats him, it’s the Californian.
Remember when Chris Arreola was the savior of American heavyweight boxing? Yeah, me too. Those were good times…I will say this though, with a little more seasoning, I’m interested in seeing what Seth Mitchell can do on the same platform…I may be even more intrigued with what will happen when 2008 US Olympic Bronze medalist adds some pounds and starts fighting some top notch competition. He’s 20-0 with 20 knockouts, still young at 26, but if he can put 20-30 pounds of muscle on his 6-foot-7, 215-pound frame, he may turn out to be untouchable if he stays on the right path and keeps improving…Speaking of Wilder, he was one of 10 fighters I listed in 2010 as having the potential to not only become world champions, but crossover stars. Of that 10, the only one to really hit big was Saul Alvarez. A few (Wilder, Demetrius Andrade, George Groves, Fernando Guerrero, Edwin Rodriguez, Matt Korobov) are still in the running, but Danny Jacobs was floored by a triple whammy of his grandmother’s death, a loss to Dmitry Pirog, and a bout with cancer, Kenny Galarza dropped two of his last four, and former college football player Quadtrine Hill has only managed a 4-2 record in his first six starts. As one of my mentors, Michael Katz, used to say “they pay me to pick ‘em; they don’t pay me to pick ‘em right.”