By Alexey Sukachev
Contributions: Cliff Rold, Andrey Bazdrev and Alexander Belenkiy
On Saturday night, Vic Darchinyan, one of the most fearsome little fighters of the recent memory, will stride across the ropes to face yet another (former) champion in his illustrious career, which is already filled with notables of various sorts and calibers.
Defeated notables, we shall add.
Win or lose against Columbian Yohnny Perez, the Raging Bull’s legacy will be largely untouched. The common perception here is that, at 35, Darchinyan is rapidly nearing the sunset of his pro days. His most memorable achievements, like breakthrough wins over Mexican warriors Christian Mijares and Jorge Arce, are well behind him in the glorious past. His future is more uncertain than defined, his power is slowly waning, and he will not last long as a champion even if he is successful in capturing one or two extra alphabet straps. With his legacy mostly confirmed, the IBHOF’s place for the fighting Armenian from Down Under, however, is still in question. His merits are certainly worthy enough for him to get a desired spot; his diminutive physical appearance and virtual obscurity of the weight classes he has fought in being a possible obstacle to be elected on the first voting at least.
While Darchinyan can struggle to get his achievements appreciated properly, the same can not be said about two other outstanding professionals hailing from the former Soviet Union. Kostya Tszyu, the first Eastern European superstar, will get his props this June during the annual International Boxing Hall of Fame evening in Canastota.
Wladimir Klitschko, the more successful (?) of two dominant fraternal heavyweights, will undoubtedly get his way in shortly after the end of his career. All three of them: Darchinyan, Tszyu and Klitschko – will be remembered by fight fans, but who will be remembered most? Or, shortly (but incorrectly) put, who is the best post-Soviet fighter?
Has Tszyu done enough to get past Wladimir in our list? How a possible showdown with flamboyant British star David Haye can affect Klitschko’s status? Maybe it is Darchinyan who achieved more greatness in tarnishing Mijares, Arce and other little boxers rather than the bigger guys? And how will fighters from the former USSR rank among the best pugilists of Eastern Europe as a whole, and among the best boxers in sport’s history? The answers are here, in the last chapter of our long-lasting series of articles.
A little bit more motivation (a reminiscent of previous stories)
Twenty one years since the first Soviet amateur stalwarts diffused onto the Western (and partly onto the Far Eastern) fight scene, it’s finally a time to give a detailed look back and to remember the cream of the cream of post-Soviet prizefighting. The moment is chosen perfectly, contained by two 20th anniversaries – one which is mentioned above and another one (the dissolution of the Soviet Union) coming this year.
It’s also just that time when it’s pretty darn hard to imagine modern boxing without fighters from what was once called the “Evil Empire”. And, yes, I’m talking about the former USSR and the present array of once united and now independent states. More than 25 world champions (counting only so-called “major belts”), a lock on the sport’s glamour division, several heated rivalries, a few of dominating masterminds, and now – with the Kostya Tszyu’s arrival to Canastota – we have our first ever Eastern European Hall-of-Famer (Purists will call for Laszlo Papp but it’s an ultimate exception and Hungary’s placement in Eastern Europe is also a subject at large).
Tonight we are at the very top of our rankings. Five more fighters from various countries and of different backgrounds will be presented in the sixth and the last part of the story. Two tiny old-timers, one tiny modern fighter, a hard-punching kayo terror and one of the most dominant champions of 00’s are all talked over in this issue in great details.
The approach to the composition has considerably changed in comparison with the starting parts of the work. Two highly acclaimed Russian boxing experts – Andrey Bazdrev (Sports.ru and the official portal of Professional Boxing Federation of Russia) and Alexander Belenkiy (“Sport-express” daily and formerly Fightnews.com) – gave their insights and share their feelings about the best post-Soviet pugilists. My colleague Cliff Rold, who is more familiar with the history of American boxing than yours truly, addressed me a short but valuable description of two standouts of pre-WWII times. All three of them, namely: Rold, Bazdrev and Belenkiy are thanked faithfully for their contributions. New sections have been added to fully assess each of the champions.
A short note on Old-Timers
Madamfackah asked a worthy and somewhat important question in comments for the fourth part of the story. “Kid Kaplan (Ukrainian) was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2003. So that doesn’t make Kostya, who was inducted 8 years later, the first one ever?
"Is it cuz he wasn’t born in the Soviet Union? But you mentioned him already...”
A question is well in place, and the reason behind the phrase is the following. Surely, both Kid Kaplan and “The Little Fish”, who also both were outstanding fighters of the past, are in the IBHOF and rightfully so. However, even despite the listed criteria for fighters to be considered as entrants for the list, it’s hard to envision Louis Kaplan and Benny Bas as Eastern European Hall-of-Famers. They have never fought (amateur or pro) in Eastern Europe, and their connection with this part of the world is virtual rather than really existing. They indeed are from the former USSR which qualifies them for this list. But it would be more convenient to call them American Hall-of-Famers rather than representatives of the state, their parents have departed from. Unlike them, Tszyu is a product of the Soviet school of boxing, holds a Russian citizenship (dually with the Australian) and his ties with Soviet lands are as solid as they can ever be.
Some extra gifts were promised for passionate readers, and here they are. Aside ranking the best fighters from the USSR and the former Russian Empire on total points system, we shall also add average scoring to assess their credentials in greater details. A re-evaluation of the scores will also be performed in order to take the latest result into account.
It’s also an intriguing question how top “Russian” fighters rank among fistic warriors of the entire Eastern Europe. A short list of the best boxers from Poland, Hungary, Romanian, etc. was also created for this purpose. Finally, to graduate and to calibrate our scoring system I have re-visited career of several all-time greats to get a feeling of how accurate the applied criteria really are.
5. Louis “Kid” Kaplan (USA/Ukraine)
Weight class: featherweight/lightweight/welterweight
Record: 123-22-16, 28 KOs
Years active: 1918-1933
Titles held: World featherweight title (1925-1926; 3)
Champions defeated: 5 – Steve Sullivan (1922 and 1925); Jackie Fields (1927); Johnny Jadick (1929); Battling Battalino (1930); Sammy Mandell (1931)
Three biggest wins: Danny Kramer (68-13-18, 1925) – TKO 9; Babe Herman (68-18-17, 1925) – UD 15; Sammy Mandell (71-10-7, 1931) – PTS 10
Points: 27.50 – (4.50 – Steve Sullivan; 2.00 – Jimmy Goodrich; 4.50 – Danny Kramer; 4.00 – Babe Herman; 4.50 – Bobby Garcia; 2.00 – Jackie Fields; 2.00 – Johnny Jadick; 2.00 – Battling Battalino; 2.00 – Sammy Mandell)
Trivia: Was born in Kiev (modern Ukraine) in 1901, which was a part of the Russian Empire at that time… His family immigrated to the States when he was five years old and then settled in Meriden, Connecticut… Was trained by legendary Whitey Bimstein… Member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and the IBHOF member since 2003… Fought firstly under the name of Benny Miller… Was a gracious man in and outside the ring… Denny McMahon, Kaplan’s manager, “I was telling my sister I don't think there was any fighter who was a nicer boy outside the ring than Louis Kid Kaplan. I've never heard him curse in his life and I never heard him ridicule anyone.”
Career: Started his pro career in native Meriden at 16 years of age… Finally arrived as a notable contender three years later with a win over Sammy Waltz; the same year also scored victories over Billy DeFoe, Al Schubert and Freddie Jacks… Was very active in 1922 going 14-2-3, including a win over future junior lightweight champion of the world Steve Sullivan, victories over Andy Chaney and Hughie Hutchinson and a loss to Babe Herman in a close fight… The latest result opened a way for a defining series of Kaplan’s career: he fought Herman seven times to a 2-1-4 result; this rivalry almost culminating in summer 1923 with three back-to-back bloody draws… Quickly established himself as a contender in 1923 and 1924 with wins over future lightweight beltholder Jimmy Goodrich, tough Bobby Garcia and Loue Paluso, and a knockout victory over Jose Lombardo…
… Stopped Danny Kramer on Jan. 2, 1925, to make himself a late Christmas gift by becoming World featherweight champion, the title being vacated by old-time great Johnny Dundee… Defended his regalia thrice and went undefeated for almost two years since winning the title (and almost four years in total). A draw and a win over Babe Herman ended a rare rivalry in his favour; also retained his belt with the tenth-round stoppage of game Bobby Garcia… Was equally active in non-title fights, knocking out Steve Sullivan and Leo Roy and decisioning Billy Murphy and future great Billy Petrolle… Vacated his title after his win over Garcia as he could no longer make the 126lb weight limit…
Moved up to compete as a lightweight but the start was fairly rocky as Kaplan suffered knockout losses to unheralded Billy Wallace (KO 5) and all-time great Jimmy McLarnin (KO 8). Had some huge victories as well, with back-to-back wins over Al Foreman, future welterweight champion Jackie Fields and Bruce Flowers in 1927… Wasn’t as active in 1928 (two losses to Manuel Quintero came his way) but opened 1929 with a DQ 7 over another future titleholder Johnny Jadick… Won some and lost some on his way up in ranks but never got his second title shot, despite victories over undefeated Andy Callahan (17-0) and future champion Battling Battalino…. Ended 1930 with a loss to unbeaten Justo Suarez but ten months later got his possibly most impressive single success with a decision over tough Sammy Mandell… KO 1 loss to Eddie Ran in November 1931 ruined his championship hopes, and he retired after being outpointed by underrated standout Cocoa Kid in 1933.
Style: A short stocky (5’4”) fighter with serious physical strength… Kaplan was physically gifted, durable, and rugged and had a higher-than-average stamina… Kid wasn’t a one-punch knockout artist but could hit hard; Jimmy McLarnin once said he hadn’t been hit as hard by anyone as by “Kid” Kaplan in a fight he had his jaw broken in… Was a perpetual mover, an aggressive fighter who had never stopped punching.
Rold speaks: Too often forgotten in discussions of the great Featherweights, the Russian-born Connecticut native Louis “Kid” Kaplan was one of the great Jewish fighters, pressuring behind a volume of blows. His outstanding career mark of 104-18-12 was gained with a maximum of rounds; Kaplan had only 25 KO's to his credit along with 19 no decisions. A World champion from 1925-26, Kaplan defeated future Jr. Lightweight champion Steve Sullivan and future Lightweight champ Jimmy Goodrich on his way up the ranks. Despite the indications of his record, “Kid” Kaplan could score stops when he needed to. In a tournament to fill the vacant Featherweight throne, he scored two knockouts in three preliminary bouts. He vacated the title when his body demanded a move to Lightweight, adding wins against champions from Featherweight to Welterweight including Jackie Fields, Sammy Mandell, and Battling Battalino before he was done.
Critical assessment: Kaplan remains one of the most obscure Hall-of-Famers, even among old-timers. His title run wasn’t exceptionally long but in his prime (1923-1926) he was hardly beatable by anyone. Wins over Billy Petrolle, Sammy Mandell, Jimmy Goodrich and Steve Sullivan were as good and as deserved as they could ever be. Unfortunately for Kaplan, they came in non-title efforts although damn good ones. His accomplishments, however, can barely be denied, and his places in the history of boxing and in the history of Jewish sports are secured for good.
4. Benny Bass (USA/Ukraine)
Weight class: featherweight / junior lightweight / lightweight
Record: 190-41-9, 71 KOs
Years active: 1919-1940
Titles held: NBA featherweight title (1927-1928; 0); World super featherweight title (1929-1931, 3)
Champions defeated: Mike Ballerino (1927); Tod Morgan (1928); Johnny Jadick (1930 and 1934); Bud Taylor (1931); Red Cochrane (1937).
Three biggest wins: Red Chapman (56-14-1, 1927) – UD 10; Harry Blitman (29-0-1, 1928) – KO 6; Tod Morgan (67-14-24, 1929) – KO 2.
Points: 28.25 – (2.00 – Red Chapman; 2.00 – Mike Ballerino; 8.50 – Tod Morgan; 4.50 – Davey Abad; 4.00 – Johnny Jadick; 4.00 – Lew Massey; 1.25 – Bud Taylor; 2.00 – Red Cochrane)
Trivia: Born on Dec. 4, 1904, in Kiev to a Jewish family, his background being very much the same to that of his older counterpart Louis Kaplan… Family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1906… Started boxing at 15… Following his retirement in 1940, worked a desk job for the Philadelphia traffic courts for many years… Was fluent in five languages… Enshrined in Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame… IBHOF member since 2002... Was quoted saying “Everybody who needed money got it from me” regarding his retirement… Managed by Phil Glassman and Max Hoff, trained by Jimmy Coster… Like Kaplan, he is a member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
Career: His approximate amateur record is 95-5. Lost to outstanding flyweight Frankie Genaro in Olympic box-offs and came just one win short to represent USA in 1920 Antwerp Olympics. Genaro went to on to win a gold medal… Debuted as a pro either in 1919 (in age 15) or in 1921 soon after his loss to Genaro. Fought mostly in Philadelphia and Atlantic City at the very start of his career. Bass was fighting mostly inexperienced fighters and relative newbies for the first four years since his debut in prizefighting (lost several newspaper decisions to Pete Sarmiento on his way up and outpointed 27-0 Rosey Stoy among others)…
Bass started his transformation into a bona-fide featherweight contender just in time (the second half of 1925) when his virtual compatriot and townsman Kid Kaplan was already a champion. Literally cleaned out his weight class (several wins over Cowboy Anderson, Johnny Farr, Leo Roy, Lew Mayrs, Jose Lombardo, Babe Herman, two decisions against Joe Glick, and a revenge of an earlier loss to black notable Chick Suggs) to become a top contender and an undisputed challenger for a vacant title following Kaplan’s decision to move up in weight in late 1926… Scored a ten-round unanimous decision over Red Chapman in an all-action, bloody war in Aug. 1927 to become the NBA featherweight champion. Both fighters went down simultaneously in the epic ninth round, one of the greatest in the history of featherweight division, and continued fight on sheer will. Remarkably came back to the ring just one month later to outpoint former champion Mike Ballerino… Lost a split decision to NYSAC champion and all-time great Tony Canzoneri half a year later in a unification of the featherweight title, despite fighting for twelve rounds (no less!) with a broken collarbone.
… Came back after a lengthy recovery to knock out undefeated talent Harry Blitman in one of the greatest fights of his career. Blitman had never been the same again… Started 1929 with a decision over forgotten great Dave Abad and the first-round kayo over unlucky Red Chapman. Ended 1929 with the second-round knockout of long-time super featherweight champion Tod Morgan to win his title. There were claims of a fix after the fight so that the purses of both boxers were held up… Defended his world title thrice but in a “limited mode” (could lose the title only after being knocked out), stopping Abad, losing newspaper decision to Eddie Shea, and outpointing Lew Massey.
His most memorable victories were, however, in non-title match-ups as he stopped former (but faded) champion Bud Taylor (TKO 2) and diehard contender Eddie Mack (KO 3) and decisioned another champion in Johnny Jadick… Lost his title to “Cuban Bon Bon” Kid Chocolate via a not-so-sweet seventh round TKO in July 1931.
Continued to fight for nine years after that but was slowly fading out and never got his next chance at a world title. Bass scored several nice wins along the road, including another decision over Jadick, point victory in a fight with future welterweight champion Freddie (Red) Cochrane and wins over notables Joe Ghnouly, Tony Falco, Jimmy Leto, Buster Brown and others… Lost to the great Henry Armstrong in 1937 via the fourth-round kayo to effectively end his days as a contender and finished his twenty-year long career in 1940.
Style: Bass started his career as a flyweight, which shouldn’t come as a surprise as his height was between 5’1” and 5’3”, which isn’t too much even for a modern flyweight; yet he competed as a featherweight and as a lightweight for a majority of his career… Was stocky but powerfully built and had a tremendous physical strength… His chin was superior as he lost only two times by the stoppage with the only clear-cut kayo coming from the hands of a truly great fighter in Henry Armstrong… Bass was a good mover and could mix his elusiveness with effective aggression, throwing fast combinations and skillfully coming out of danger… “The Little Fish” was a decent knockout artist but could also outbox his opponents.
Rold speaks: Benny Bass was one of the great featherweights and one of Russia’s finest prizefighters, a two-fisted battler possessing incredible stamina. With an astounding career mark of 152-28-5 and 69 KO (not to mention more than fifty no decision bouts), Bass briefly held a share of the Featherweight crown in 1927 only to lose it promptly the following year to the great Tony Canzoneri. Bass would rebound to win the World Championship during the first incarnation of the Jr. Lightweight division, holding the crown from 1929-31. Bass impressively stopped the historically underrated Tod Morgan for the crown in two frames. His reign was ended at the hands of a fellow great, stopped in seven by Kid Chocolate. Bass continued on until 1940 without receiving another World title shot.
Critical assessment: “The Little Fish” came into his own as a successor of the man who listed just a notch about him in this list. Bass was following in Kid Kaplan’s footsteps and was remarkably successful doing so, getting a slight edge over his virtual counterpart in almost every department. The tiny battler also remains as one of the most heroic little fighters in the history of boxing, who was often dwarfed by bigger opponents but kept coming at them no matter what and in spite of any injuries (as was the case in Canzoneri fight).
Benny Bass is a two-time champion of the world in two weight classes (although he didn’t hold a full version of the featherweight title) and he was also one of the first boxing greats of the City of Brotherly Love. However, his name is eclipsed by the names of bigger, more significant figures in the history of the featherweight and junior lightweight divisions to be often forgotten over. Yet every time, after the archives are set and done and lists of former greats are compiled, “The Little Fish” slowly comes to the surface with his historical place already being well secured.
3. Vakhtang “Vic” Darchinyan (Armenia/Australia)
Weight class: flyweight / super flyweight / bantamweight
Record: 35-3-1, 27 KOs
Years active: 2000-…
Titles held: IBF flyweight (2004-2007, 6); IBF super flyweight (2008-2009, 2) and WBA/WBC super flyweight (2008-2010, 3) + minor: IBO flyweight (2005-2007, 5); IBO super flyweight (2007-2008, 0); IBO bantamweight (2010, 0); IBF Australasian super flyweight (2007-2008, 0); IBF Pan Pacific flyweight (2002-2004, 3); OBA bantamweight (2002, 0) and Australian flyweight (2001-2002, 0)
Champions defeated: Wandee Singwancha (2003 – twice); Irene Pacheco (2003); Victor Burgos (2007); Dmitry Kirillov (2008); Christian Mijares (2008); Jorge Arce (2009); Tomas Rojas (2009).
Three biggest wins: Irene Pacheco (30-0, 2004) – TKO 11; Christian Mijares (36-3-2, 2008) – KO 9; Jorge Arce (51-4-1, 2009) – TKO 11
Points: 42.25 – (2.50 – Wandee Singwancha; 2.50 – Irene Pacheco; 2.00 – Mzukisi Sikali; 2.00 – Jair Jimenez; 2.00 – Diosdado Gabi; 2.00 – Luis Maldonado; 2.00 – Glenn Donaire; 3.00 – Victor Burgos; 0.75 – Federico Catubay; 2.50 – Dmitry Kirillov; 6.50 – Christian Mijares; 8.50 – Jorge Arce; 3.50 – Tomas Rojas; 2.00 – Rodrigo Guerrero; 0.50 – Eric Barcelona)
Trivia: Native of Vanadzor, Armenia… Started boxing at the age of seven under the tutelage of top Armenian amateur trainer Vazgen Badalyan… Represented Armenia, Ukraine and Russia in unpaid ranks… His birth name is Vakhtang; his wife is Russian… Vic is in friends with Kostya Tszyu and Victor Oganov among others; Oganov is of Armenian origin… Received Australian citizenship in July 2004… Nicknamed “The Raging Bull”… Was trained by Jeff Fenech, Billy Hussein and Angelo Hyder throughout his professional career.
Career: A good if not stellar amateur (158-18), Darchinyan took part in a number of unpaid competitions (including world and Euro championships and Goodwill Games) culminating in a quarterfinal of 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics… Turned pro with Jeff Fenech almost immediately after that and in just three years was rapidly developed into #1 bantamweight contender… Was very active in starting three years as a pro (7 wins in 2001 and in 2002 and 5 more wins in 2003), competing between flyweight and bantamweight limits and getting Australian and Oceanic titles along the road… Most notable wins on his way up were achieved in 2003, including two short destructions of former and future champion Wandee of Thailand and a multi-knockdown drubbing of Alejandro Felix Montiel over ten rounds…
Became IBF flyweight champion in December 2004 stopping long-time Colombian champion Irene Pacheco (30-0 at the time) under harsh circumstances, which included a blackout during the fight… The first ethnic Armenian to hold a version of the world title… His title run at 112 lbs was as furious as it was dominant. Darchinyan defended his title six times total and never heard the final bell in those fights… 2005 proved to be a year off with kayos of fading veteran Sikali and unworthy challenger Jimenez. In 2006 Darchinyan, however, conquered American market with three back-to-back dominations over legitimate opponents. His win over “Titi” Maldonado was the main event of the Showtime card in June 2006 after Jose Luis Castillo failed to tip the scales resulting in a cancellation of his third fight with late Chico Corrales… Stopped horribly overmatched former champion Victor Burgos in the twelfth round in brutal fashion. Burgos suffered a life-threatening brain hemorrhage but luckily survived… Lost his IBF/IBO titles to previously almost unknown Filipino Nonito Donaire in 2007 - Ring's kayo & upset of the year…
… Came back as a super flyweight to make history… However, it all started with a spirited and controversial draw with Pinoy Z Gorres… Went on to stop Russian IBF super flyweight champion Dmitry Kirillov with a terrifying beatdown… On Nov. 1, 2008, became the first fighter in the history of this weight class to unify at least three world titles after a dominant knockout of respected WBA/WBC champion Christian Mijares… Added another sound name in February 2009 with a stoppage of Mexican icon Jorge Arce… Probed bantamweight waters but was unable to get past credible IBF champion Joseph Agbeko, losing a close decision… Came back to his new citadel to dispatch future WBC champion Tomas Rojas in just two rounds… Finally, transformed himself into a bantamweight in 2010 but suffered a minor setback in a close loss to Mexican Abner Mares… Next scheduled to take on Yohnny Perez on April 23.
Style: Southpaw puncher Darchinyan boxes in a highly unorthodox way which is much more similar to a crab than it is to a raging bull… Impends over his opponents with an aura of danger and threat; uses widely open stance with wide but chillingly fast and punishing blows from both hands… Doesn’t use his jab well but Vic’s overwhelming physical power results in him stalking his rivals around the ring… Is opened for a quick and technically sound counterpuncher with some power in his hands which exactly was the case in Donaire fight… Can take a punch but his chin isn’t of the highest quality, and he can be wobbled in the bout… Possesses immense punching power… Easily hit with a jab and has holes in his defense.
Bazdrev’s take: Just when we thought the game is over for mighty Armenian, he came back and destroyed the top guys at super flyweight division. Darchinyan still has some fuel in the tank, but his punching power, physical strength, reach and counter uppercut from the southpaw stance are not a factor at bantamweight. But Vic has always had las cojones big enough to stand up to the pressure and fight back. And he definitely will. Thinking of his legacy and influence, the timing is great for Darchinyan to come back and kick some ass in Armenia as he did in Australia and US. The story is not written yet. At least I’d like to think this way.
Belenkiy’s take : Vic Darchinyan is surely one of the most memorable and one of the best figures in the history of post-Soviet boxing. His name will be remembered for a long-long time, years after his career is finally over. Competing in such obscure weight classes Vakhtang was able to attract so much attention that it really makes him a unique exemplar. By virtue of his total dissimilarity to a vast majority of all other fighters in the world Darchinyan made a name of himself. His fights gave us so much drama and thrill that he will never be forgotten – that’s for sure!
I can’t say that Darchinyan is better than Arbachakov or surpasses the old Russian in terms of his achievements. But Vakhtang is so uniquely built and he bears so little resemblance to any fighter in the world that his name will always pop out when the best flyweights are remembered. Once again – and I’ll put it in explicit form – if one has ever seen this little giant fighting he will never forget him in the future. I would like to avoid any comparisons with Arbachakov – they are very different little boxers – and I’m not sure that Darchinyan is better than Yuri but, yeah, he will be ranked considerably higher by mainstream experts when all records and achievements are set plain straight. Speaking of his adopted homeland and influence it has exerted upon Darchinyan, I’m not quite sure that he would have waned in obscurity had he competed in Japan or even in Thailand. American TV bosses and local boxing promoters do their job brilliantly, so Vakhtang would have been spotted anyway.
Given his weight, his years and his tear and wear, I don’t think he will become a champion once again. He may win a title or even defend it a couple of times but he most probably will never be at the very top for the second time in his illustrious career. He is slowly degrading, and his biggest accomplishments are left behind his back.
Critical assessment: It’s a tricky question if Darchinyan is indeed as good as his achievements really are. It’s a difficult question even if he is better than Yuri Arbachakov, who is listed several positions lower in these ratings. What cannot be argued though is that the short Armenian wrecking ball is by far the most accomplished little fighter from Eastern Europe in a long history of prizefighting and, on a par with modern great Jeff Fenech, the best tiny pugilist from Down Under.
Interestingly, Darchinyan is defined by two feats with entirely different impression between each other. On the positive, Vic’s legacy is set straight and bright with a unique achievement and three Hall-of-Famer caliber wins. Darchinyan became the first ever de facto undisputed super flyweight world champion (after his win over Cristian Mijares and subsequent departure of Fernando Montiel to compete as a bantamweight) since Thai icon Khaosai Galaxy was de facto a dominating force in late 80’s. His wins over long-time flyweight king Irene Pacheco and a one-sided demolition of Mexican star Jorge Arce were career-setting victories as well and brought him deserved accolades.
On the negative, Darchinyan will be forever linked with a brutal loss to Nonito Donaire as he will also be eclipsed by achievements of the tiny Filipino if he isn’t able to get revenge. Nonetheless, the Armenian banger has already accomplished enough to get a very strong consideration as a future member of boxing Valhalla and even more to be remembered for a long-long time by pugilistic aficionados. And don’t forget, it’s Donaire we are speaking about – a loss to whom is nothing to be ashamed of.
2. Wladimir Klitschko (Ukraine)
Weight class: heavyweight
Record: 55-3, 49 KOs
Years active: 1996-…
Titles held: WBO heavyweight (2000-2003, 5; and 2008-…, 5); IBF heavyweight (2006-…, 9) + minor: IBO (2006-…, 9); NABF (2005-2006, 0); WBO NABO (2005-2006; 0); WBA I/C (1999-2000, 3; and 2003-2004; 1); WBC International (1998, 2; and 2000, 0); EBU (1999-2000, 1).
Champions defeated: Chris Byrd (2000 and 2006); Ray Mercer (2002); Samuel Peter (2005 and 2010); Lamon Brewster (2007); Sultan Ibragimov (2008); Hasim Rahman (2008); Ruslan Chagaev (2009).
Three biggest wins: Chris Byrd (31-1, 2000) – UD 12; Samuel Peter (24-0, 2005) – UD 12; Ruslan Chagaev (25-0-1, 2009) – TKO 9.
Points: 48.50 – (0.75 - Axel Schulz; 0.75 – Lajos Eros; 7.00 – Chris Byrd; 1.50 – Derrick Jefferson; 1.50 – Charles Shufford; 1.50 – Francois Botha; 2.50 – Ray Mercer; 1.50 – Jameel McCline; 5.00 – Samuel Peter; 2.00 – Calvin Brock; 2.00 – Ray Austin; 3.00 – Lamon Brewster; 3.50 – Sultan Ibragimov; 3.00 – Tony Thompson; 6.00 – Hasim Rahman; 4.00 – Ruslan Chagaev; 3.00 – Eddie Chambers)
Trivia: Like his elder brother Vitali, Wladimir wasn’t born in Ukraine but in infamous Kazakhstani nuclear testing area of Semipalatinsk… Was first trained as a pro by Fritz Zdunek but now works with Emanuel Steward (unlike Vitali who is still being guided by the veteran German coach)… Nicknamed “Steel Hammer”… Has a Ph.D. in Sports Science… Wladimir is multilingual and speaks five languages: Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, German and English… Unlike his elder brother, the younger Klitschko isn’t a driving force in Ukrainian politics… Still he is a huge celebrity in both his actual (Ukraine) and adopted (Germany) homelands… In a relationship with Hollywood starlet Hayden Panettierre… Renowned philanthropist and UNESCO ambassador who takes part in multiple charity programs all over the world… Known as a good chess player and a passionate golfer… Wladimir starred in Ocean’s Eleven alongside Lennox Lewis.
Career: The younger Bro enjoyed an outstanding amateur career, which culminated in 1996 Atlanta gold medal in super heavyweight division. Wladimir is also the 1993 Junior European and 1995 Military world gold medalist. His overall unpaid record is an impressive one: 134-6, with 65 KOs, and wins over future professional standouts Luan Krasniqi, Lawrence Clay-Bey, Attila Levin and Sinan Samil Sam among others.
After the Atlanta Olympics, signed with Universum Box-Promotion to start his pro career in Germany alongside the elder brother under the tuition of Klaus-Peter Kohl and Fritz Zdunek. Debuted on Nov. 16, 1996, with the first-round kayo of Fabian Meza (4-1-1) and was astoundingly active since then, going 24-0, 22 KOs, in less than two years. Stopped veteran journeymen Steve Pannell, Eli Dixon and Jerry Halstead and fellow prospects Cody Koch and Najee Shaheed and captured half-valuable WBC Intl. belt on his way up. Ended 1998 in an unexpected stamina-related defeat from dangerous gatekeeper Ross Puritty, a TKO loss, which was later avenged by Vitali in a painful way. Klitschko came back in style and put on a nice series of ten straight stoppages over somewhat serious opposition in just a year and a half after that; his victims being David Bostice, Monte Barrett, Axel Schulz and old-time rival Paea Wolfgramm, who failed to avenge his loss in the Olympic final.
Moved up in class to wipe out WBO champion Chris Byrd in twelve one-sided rounds to avenge Vitali’s earlier “loss”. Wladimir then posted a nice title run with five back-to-back knockouts of credible American contenders Jameel McCline and Derrick Jefferson (who carried a big momentum after his victory over Oleg Maskaev), not-so-credible Charles Shufford, and fading veterans Francois Botha and Ray Mercer to get himself a reputation of an emerging heavyweight superstar.
Survived a career-threatening chain of setbacks in 2003-2004, starting with a sudden kayo loss to unheralded South African policeman Corrie Sanders in a two-round shootout (the one who was shot was Wladimir), continuing with a mysterious punch-out defeat (look to David Haye’s loss to Carl Thompson as another clean sample of this sort) by Lamon Brewster for a title, vacated by Sanders, and then struggled mightily against Davarryl Williamson but took a technical nod over his opponent.
Re-invented himself under a guidance of Emanuel Steward and remains almost invulnerable since then. The start was rocky, however, as Klitschko was put down thrice in his memorable battle with Samuel Peter; he went on to win 114-111 decision on all the judges’ scorecards in a technically brilliant performance. In April 2006, overcame any doubts regarding his abilities with a dominant stoppage of poor Chris Byrd for the second time to get himself the IBF portion of the heavyweight championship. The first three wins (all inside the distance) were impressive on paper and brutally effective in its cruelty in real life but came against flawed opposition: Calvin Brock was relatively high-regarded but unproven; Ray Austin was nothing more than a late Christmas gift, and Brewster had vision-related problems. A tedious and boring safety-first clinic against the WBO champion Sultan Ibragimov wasn’t impressive at all but it gave Wladimir his second major strap (not to count the IBO title he had previously acquired).
Added a quality win over rugged Tony Thompson, one of his rare challenges, before sending old and useless Hasim Rahman into submission to make 2008 really a sound year. 2009 was less active as it was largely fueled by a feud between K2 and David Haye. The Brit finally withdrew a couple of weeks before the pre-scheduled date, and the WBO/IBF/IBO unified champion delivered a hopeless beating to a quality late sub in WBA reigning (?) champion Ruslan Chagaev in what was really a unification but, due to boxing bureaucracy, without the Uzbek’s title at stake. 2010 added more recognition to the champion when he ice-stoned mandatory challenger (and the best active American heavyweight) Eddie Chambers with a frightening left hook to the chin, which ended matters seconds before the end of the 12th round. He followed it up with another blowout, stopping a familiar figure in Samuel Peter.
At 35, Wladimir is probably at the peak of his powers and has a couple of years to clean out already half-an-empty division. To make a black hole of it, he needs to overcome David Haye in triple unification of the belts, his biggest career challenge in terms of public appeal, fan interest, and financial reward but hardly his most dangerous opponent (though Haye can be close to that). The fight is tentatively set for this July and can become a sparkling and shining end for a Hall-of-Fame career.
Style: One of the most imposing boxers of the era (but still not as physically solid as Vitali Klitschko) Wladimir can use his size advantage with a frightening effectiveness. Despite his physical stature the Ukrainian star is blessed with good-to-excellent foot and hand speed… Possesses a devastating knockout power in both hands which is obvious after his numerous wins, including those over Eddie Chambers (short left hook) and Calvin Brock (straight right hand) among others... Nevertheless, Wladimir prefers a cautious approach, setting his hard jab into opponent’s jab to measure a distance and to keep his for at bay. Jab is a natural power punch which can easily wear the victim down even before Klitschko starts to use his other money punch which is his right cross… Ties opponents on the inside when it starts to get hot… The chin is iffy as was proved by Samuel Peter and Corrie Sanders in their fights, yet it’s increasingly hard to land a punch on Klitschko’s soft spot.
Bazdrev’s take: I’m not sure if Wlad is great for boxing. He scares the challengers to death and none of them are even thinking about going after his pretty face to knock some sweat from it. I seriously doubt his jaw is really as fragile as we used to think. I really doubt that Klitschko wants to fight David Haye. His punches are deadly, but he is boring to watch and he is one dimensional – his fans never cared about his perfect jab and murderous right hand cross. Wlad is winning, simply getting his work done (after matchmakers had done theirs, you know…) and this is reality we’re facing. They love to see him win, building a reputation of a half-man half-machine, one of the best ever…
I’m not buying it, not until he is done with those endless contract term negotiations and precautious style in the fight. Just go out there, destroy Haye, then Haye, Valuev and others whoever they put in front of him. This will immortalize Wladimir and make him a legend. I know I don’t like his fighting style, and the way of doing his thing outside the ring, but I want to see Klitschko scary as hell, brutal and aggressive.
Belenkiy’s take: If one looks at a number of conducted defenses, titles won, opponents defeated and the other stuff like that, Vitaly is in inferior position in comparison with Wladimir. But it’s really difficult to compare their achievements as they are so different between each other. Their mentality, their cores – they are all very much different, and they supplement each other perfectly. One expert (I don’t remember his name) said that two Klitschkos taken together are ten times (not twice!) stronger than their opponents. Their team spirit and their mutual determination are unsurpassed.
People often say that Wladimir is psychologically flawed and that he gives some mental power away to his opponents. Personally, I think this is just a piece of nonsense. How many fighters do you know who were able to revive their careers in a way Wladimir did? Most fighters are fading away immediately after their first crushing defeat. The younger Klitshko was crushed twice in almost back-to-back fights with Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster, and he came back better than ever. Every time, after each fall, he found something in him to get up and to continue. I can hardly imagine anyone who would have got through what Wladimir overcame in his career. He was aided much by Manny Steward though which shouldn’t be forgotten as well. Steward is getting more and more deserved props from the European media, which weren’t that friendly to him at the beginning.
As for their legacy, it’ll continue to grow up. I noticed there appeared a number of complimentary articles about Klitschko brothers recently, and their all much similar. Many experts say they (Klitschko brothers) would have beaten everyone, including Larry Holmes, Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis. Their recognition is still lower than I expect it to be in the future. Time will pass by, and nostalgia will appear. Many will remember this present time as the Klitschko era and rightfully so. They will be missed.
Critical assessment: A few years ago a question was: “Is Wladimir really a dominating force in the heavyweight division or is he just another champion in a hard time for the sport’s elite weight class?” Now this question should be reformulated the following way: “Is he on par with the best heavyweight kings in the history of boxing”?
The answer is “yes” or “no”, depending on what does one mean by “greatness”. If the IBHOF in Canastota is mentioned, then Wladimir is a great fighter without any doubt. Every dominant heavyweight of any era and almost every undisputed world champion (in this weight class) with a couple of defenses behind his back is a bona fide Hall-of-Famer. Both Klitschko brothers, and especially Wladimir (two-time and three-title world champion with no less than five successful defenses of any belt), are no exclusions to the rule. An argument can be put forward if these achievements are really worth mentioning, given the fact that the big guys of boxing are so weak nowadays. The answer to it can be split into two reasons. Firstly, it’s not Klitschkos’ fault that their competition is so weak. Interestingly though, they will surely get some “blame” automatically as they are so dominant. It’s not that their challengers are all that weak but it is a beating they gradually (and constantly) take and it is a mind-boggling one-sidedness which makes Klitschko reign look so perfect. That is their feat, however, not their fault. And, secondly, both brothers still get some very nice-looking wins, including those over Chris Byrd (twice), Ruslan Chagaev, Samuel Peter (not without a scare though) and Eddie Chambers – all by Wladimir – who were either reigning champions or top-notch contenders at the time of their collisions with the younger brother.
More intriguing is a question how the little Klitschko does in comparison with all-time greats of the past. In this reporters’ mind, he would have been competitive with any of them (including Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Larry Holmes and Mike Tyson) just because of his unique mixture of an imposing physique and fundamental boxing skills, honed by years at unpaid ranks. Wladimir has his weak part as he is sometimes getting confused and panic under heavy fire and it could have let him down against any of the fighters mentioned above. But he would also have more than a nice chance of scoring a shutout or a single punch kayo. The key here is different though. Heavyweights of the past were mostly smallish; they would have been dwarfed by a majority of elite fighters nowadays. And size does matter today. Had Louis or Marchiano been of the same stature with Tony Thompson or Ray Austin, Wladimir’s title reign could very well be shorter than it is. But, sadly or luckily, they aren’t as big. And Wladimir continues his dominance.
1. Kostya Tszyu (Russia/Australia)
Weight class: light welterweight
Record: 31-2, 25 KOs
Years active: 1992-2005
Titles held: IBF (1995-1997, 5; 2001-2005, 3); WBC interim and WBC (1998-2004; 8) and WBA (2001-2004; 4)
Champions defeated: Juan LaPorte (1992); Sammy Fuentes (1992); Livingstone Bramble (1993); Jake Rodriguez (1995); Roger Mayweather (1995); Calvin Grove (1998); Rafael Ruelas (1998); Diosbelys Hurtado (1998); Miguel Angel Gonzalez (1999); Julio Cesar Chavez (2000); Sharmba Mitchell (2001 and 2004); Zab Judah (2001); Jesse James Leija (2003)
Three biggest wins: Miguel Angel Gonzalez (43-1-1, 1999) – TKO 10; Sharmba Mitchell (47-2, 2001) – TKO 7; Zab Judah (27-0, 2001) – TKO 2
Points: 53.00 – (0.50 – Juan Laporte; 0.75 – Sammy Fuentes; 0.50 – Livingston Bramble; 2.50 – Jake Rodriguez; 3.00 – Roger Mayweather; 1.50 – Hugo Pineda; 1.50 – Corey Johnson; 1.50 – Jan Piet Bergman; 0.75 – Calvin Grove; 0.75 – Rafael Ruelas; 1.25 – Diosbelys Hurtado; 2.50 – Miguel Angel Gonzalez; 1.50 – Ahmed Santos; 7.50 – Julio Cesar Chavez; 8.00 – Sharmba Mitchell; 2.00 – Oktay Urkal; 9.50 – Zab Judah; 3.00 – Ben Tackie; 4.50 – Jesse James Leija)
Trivia: Born on Sep. 19 in Serov, deeply in Ural Mountains… His father is of Korean and Mongol origin; his mother is Russian… Tszyu started boxing at the age of nine being brought to the gym by his father… Emigrated to Australia after 1991 Sydney world championship. Now Tszyu holds both Russian and Australian citizenships… Kostya is married to Natalia Anikina since 1993 and has three children: two boys and a girl… His elder son Tim is a promising amateur boxer… Tszyu is in good relationship with Russian sportive and political elite; he has founded or developed several charity programs in Russia including Tszyu School of boxing… Kostya was involved into creation of the International Kostya Tszyu Cup (now SuperCup), a local (Siberian) tournament of prizefighters… Nicknamed “The Thunder from the Down Under”… Sported a single short pigtail at the back of his head (Lenny Zappa in Miguel Vasquez fight is a close reminder).
Career: Make no doubt about it: with 259-11 unpaid record Tszyu was an international amateur superstar even though he has ultimately failed to get the top honors in the Summer Olympics. The Soviet fighter twice captured gold medals at the European (1989 and 1991) and once (1991) at the world amateur championships. Tszyu twice lost to Andreas Zuelow in major competitions, which prevented him from getting the highest honors both at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and at the 1989 Moscow world championship. Both of these losses were later avenged. Tszyu had victories over future world champions Terron Millett and Vernon Forrest in ther unpaid ranks.
Turned pro on March 1st in Melbourne (as a part of Jeff Fenech vs Azumah Nelson rematch undercard) and impressively stopped Darrell Hiles in a single round. A month later Tszyu knocked out Nedrick Simmons (12-21-2) after just 58 seconds; Simmons is the only fighter with a negative record in his ledger. The rise of the Thunder was extremely rapid. Tszyu made a punching bag of heralded veteran and former champion Juan Laporte, winning a silly shutout decision over ten one-sided rounds in just his 4th fight as a pro; Laporte went on to challenge for the world title twice more in 1993 and in 1994. More accolades came with the 54-second annihilation of capable Sammy Fuentes who later became the WBO light welterweight champion. Another notable victim was former lightweight beltholder Livingstone Bramble who was brought to school a year later. Tszyu finally emerged as a bona fide contender with a hard decision over Hector Lopez and two back-to-back stoppages of Angel Hernandez (40-1-2) and Pedro Sanchez (26-1-2) to close a strong 1994.
The first title run followed. In January 1995 Tszyu drubbed IBF 140lb champion Jake “The Snake” Rodriguez and finally stopped him in the 6th round; that was Tszyu’s 14th professional contest. Kostya’s two-and-a-half year long reign was quite obscure as he fought mostly in his adopted homeland. Yet the thorough research shows an underrated quality of opposition. Roger Mayweather was a two-time champion of the world and both hard-punching Columbian Hugo Pineda and South African Jan Piet Bergman were undefeated at the time of their fights with Tszyu. The reign, however, was derailed suddenly by American Vince Phillips, who was thought to be a spent bullet, but went on to stop the Russian Australian in nine bloody rounds; Tszyu later admitted he ran into a muddle with amino-acid bases before the fight. May 1997 loss to Phillips was a huge setback and it was also 1997 Ring Upset of the Year.
Tszyu took little time in proving his major letdown was just a fluke. He scored three consecutive stoppages over world-class opposition, including former champions Calvin Grove and Rafael Ruelas, and got an interim version of the WBC belt in a memorable two-way five-round thriller with Cuban defector Diosbelys Hurtado, which saw both fighters on the canvas several times. This victory also brought 1998 Ring Comeback of the Year award to Tszyu. Several months later Tszyu began the most significant period of his HOF career with a horrific destruction of Miguel Angel Gonzalez (43-1-1), who had never been stopped before, to get a full version of the title. A year after Tsyzu posted one of his biggest victories retiring Mexican all-time boxing icon Julio Cesar Chavez (103-4-2) in six. More was coming his way in 2001, the defining year of his boxing life.
Tszyu started it with a dominant technical knockout of the WBA champion Sharmba Mitchell (47-2) to begin major unification at 140lbs. Underrated and technically sound Oktay Urkal (28-0) was decisioned in a rugged fight in June, and in November Tszyu got his biggest single victory in a two-round knockout of Zab Judah (in a fight which needs no further reminders) to become the undisputed WBA/WBC/IBF light welterweight champion.
The win over Judah was a peak of Kostya’s career. Wins over Ben Tackie and veteran Jesse James Leija were easy but did little to enhance his credentials. Tszyu was then set to fight Sharmba Mitchell in Moscow but that fight fell through due to both organizational complexions and Tszyu’s unlucky chain of injuries. He did come back though after almost two years off the ring and, with still imposing right hand, battled Mitchell into submission in the rematch. That was Kostya’s last success. In June 2005 he travelled to the United Kingdom and dropped what was left (IBF) of his triple kingdom to rising Brit Ricky Hatton via a painful retirement after eleven rounds of mauling and hitting delivered to him by Hatton. That was Kostya’s last career fight.
Style: Possibly the most entertaining fighter ever to come out of the former Soviet Union, Tszyu experienced some major changes in his style throughout his lengthy career. With a fascinating amateur background, he started his pro time as an already developed prizefighter which needed just a bit of polishing before a major breakout. Kostya was a well-rounded boxer with more than just fundamental skills.
As years went by he became more and more possessed with his naturally given ability – a punishing power, especially in his right hand. Tszyu had always been a puncher but later he started to rely more and more both on the dynamite in his gloves and on his imposing physical strength and lost a bit of his brilliant technique in favour of entertainment. Many would call him the strongest junior welterweight of all time, and an argument can be given for that. Tszyu was barely movable in close quarters and just broke and grind his opponents down. He has finally transformed into a cool-minded (and well-timed) but still crowd-pleasing boxer puncher in late 90’s.
The bet on power was two-fold. His previously superior defense suffered to a degree and his better than average (but still not the best) chin let him down several times in his title clashes. Tszyu wasn’t also the quickest fighter and his speed was average for an all-time great. However, he was able to make up for that by excellent footwork and underrated ring intelligence; the prime sample of both his weaknesses and his strengths being the fight with young Zab Judah. A victory over Judah showed that the latter by far outweigh the former. It also opened a door for Tszyu of old to re-appear as he suddenly revived his technical skills and gave a glimpse of perfection in one-sided wins over Sharmba Mitchell (after two years of inactivity) and iron-chinned Ben Tackie.
Bazdrev’s take: I seriously doubt there will ever be world champion as dominant and popular in Russia as was Tszyu. He was winning but he was also bringing the drama, the courage and desperation unseen before. There were plenty of blemishes on his reputation and his record is far from perfect. There was a time when 3 undisputed champions ruled the world of boxing: Lennox Lewis, Roy Jones jr. and Tszyu. We can only think how great Jones and Tszyu could be if they only had won rematches. Jones avenges his loss to Griffin, and ran out of luck afterwards losing to Tarver and Hard‘Nard. Tszyu never really tried to meet either Vince Phillips or Ricky Hatton once again. The great irony is that those two were maybe the best of his fights. Tsyzu looked very smart fighting great old warriors in Roger Mayweather and Julio Cesar Chavez and he was spectacular stopping Diosbelys Hurtado, Sharmba Mitchell and Zab Judah. The last two were mobile fast and lefthanded. Southpaw stance was never an advantage in the fight against Tszyu. He easily found the way for his deadly right hand as he did in the amateurs unexpectedly stopping Orzubek Nazarov.
In my personal opinion the Hatton fight was the greatest display of Kostya’s power, accuracy, and efficiency, ability to fold under pressure and fight back. Infighting and boxing from the outside, counterpunches, bodyshots, dirty boxing – we’ve seen it all in this battle. As you remember very well, Tszyu never did answer the bell for the 12th round. He was a spent bullet and broke down somewhere heading to the championship rounds. We are starting to forget the Great Tszyu – the undisputed one. And still he can’t make himself up to announce retirement. Tszyu is heading to the Hall of Fame now. And, yes, no matter what happened then in Manchester he is THAT good.
Belenkiy’s take: It will not be a pleasing song for someone’s ears but, if successful against David Haye (which by the way is a relatively odd bet; I cannot give that much of a chance this fight really comes into reality), Wladimir will probably overcome Kostya’s achievements, and he should be ranked higher in the list in this case. Klitschko needs a bright performance against an overhyped fighter to get past Tszyu in public conscience.
Judah was Kostya’s biggest victory and the brightest one but it was long ago. Tszyu’s credentials were considerably spoilt by his performance against Ricky Hatton. We all know he was injured and he was a faded version of his former self in that fight. But it happens sometimes, when all circumstances are just plain bad like it was a case for Muhammad Ali in his battle with Leon Spinks more than thirty years ago. I was watching Tszyu’s battle against the Brith alongside Gena Komar (Gennady Komarnitskiy), an old friend of mine. He said, when Tszyu was just making his ring appearance, that he would lose the fight. It was even before the bell to start the first round but it was well felt. And I felt the same.
I don’t know if it was a right decision for Kostya not to make a comeback attempt. I think we just haven’t enough information for any certain conclusions. Maybe Kostya knew something we have never known of him. It’s just a feeling. Maybe a serious trauma, maybe some health issues. But I’m sure that Kostya knows himself better than any of so-called experts. So his decision is right on the button if he has made it himself.
As for his achievements, Tszyu has probably accomplished everything he could accomplish with his abilities. It is true that he never fought Oscar De La Hoya in the prime of their careers. But you can never fight every given boxer. You cannot fight everybody; it’s just impossible. He could have started his career in America but that doesn’t matter in a long run as he fought all of his major battles in the States anyway. So, personally, his achievements are assessed adequately, and he is placed exactly where he should be placed.
Critical assessment: You cannot be any higher than Muhammad Ali. Or Sugar Ray Robinson. Or (maybe) Roberto Duran and Henry Armstrong. That’s beyond any debacles. However, you can be the first-ballot Hall-of-Famer (as is the case with Kostya Tszyu); yet your place in history isn’t at the very top alongside the aforementioned fighters.
Make no doubt about it. Tszyu is the biggest star ever to come out of Eastern Europe and the brightest one. Once you have seen him fighting you will never forget Kostya and his crowd-pleasing offense-minded performances. His achievements make him the best junior welterweight in more than two decades, and he will be always mentioned when polls for the best fighters in this particular weight class are made up. Yet he wasn’t a dominant figure in the history of one of the sport’s hottest divisions like Jimmy Wilde was for flyweights, Ricardo Lopez – for strawweights, or Roberto Duran – for lightweights. Such greats as Julio Cesar Chavez, Aaron Prayor or even Antonio Cervantes can be ranked higher than him. Wladimir Klitschko can surpass his accomplishments if successful against Haye.
It doesn’t matter in a long run though. Kostya achieved his greatness in less than forty fights as a pro. His average scoring (in terms of points per fights) is bigger than unity and much higher than that of both the Younger Bro and the Raging Bull, a feat Wladimir Klitschko is still to achieve by the way. And, scores aside, the perception that Tszyu is the best Russian fighter (for whatever that means) is still felt around world boxing community. He is at the top of this list, and he is now an official Hall-of-Famer, which is a right merit rating for a truly great fighter.
Some final remarks
So, all fighters are in their places but some ending conclusions are still due. What are the prospects of the list?
Firstly, we have a virtually irremovable bronze medalist in Vic Darchinyan. It’s hard to imagine he will get enough recognition and, more important, enough points to overcome a deficit between him and either Klitschko or Tszyu. On the other hand, Vitaly Klitschko, the closest active prizefighter on the list, is more than 15 points away, which makes up for a margin, well to big to be covered in foreseeable future.
The Bigger Bro, however, can easily put himself up to the top five (and no less than onto the fourth position) with a single win. A victory over two-time two-division belholder Tomasz Adamek will allow Vitali to earn at least three points to get past both of our old-timers. Negotiations are well under way to make possibly the biggest fight in the history of Eastern European boxing, so expect a possible move up in ranks by the omnipotent Ukrainian giant.
Even more intriguing is a possibility of the younger Klitschko surpassing Kostya Tszyu as (arithmetically) the best fighter from the former USSR. There are four-and-a-half points between two standouts. Klitschko, as a holder of two-and-a-half worthy belts (we include IBO trinket here as well), will earn no less than 2.5 points for each successful defense. However, a single knockout of, say, Dereck Chisora won’t do the trick. David Haye (two-time, two-division and four-belt champion), however, fills in perfectly allowing Wladimir for 6.5 points at the very least, which will surely place him ahead of Tszyu. And not only arithmetically! According to Alexander Belenkiy, whose opinion is well supported by a considerable number of Russian and Ukrainian fight fans, if he is able to stop Haye, Wladimir will emerge as the best fighter from the former USSR regardless any formal criteria.