By Cliff Rold
Drawing up this latest installment of the year in review on the same day as EVANDER HOLYFIELD-nicolay valuev (not a typo), it would be easy to look at the sports biggest men and act on raw emotion. It would be really easy to cite Holyfield’s turn back the clock moment as the bridge to Heavyweight of the year. The December 20th bout, for the few who saw it, will be one which perpetually causes the shake of the head that says, “It’s Boxing,” in the bad way. It demands some justice.
But to do so here would be injustice for the man who truly earned the spot…oh, wait. Did someone earn the spot? The heist of Holyfield makes him a late sentimental favorite, but the fight wasn’t exactly good or anything; more a nostalgic rush. Wladimir Klitschko finally unified a couple of the belts, but in a dreary eyesore of a bout with Sultan Ibragimov. Knockout follow-ups merely maintained his position as presumed World’s best heavyweight but did nothing to resolve the, to date, longest vacancy of the lineal Heavyweight crown.
One other name ultimately was the best of 2008, handing in his first and only fight not only of this year but since 2004.
Heavyweight Fighter of the Year: Vitali Klitschko (36-2, 35 KO)
There was a hint of absurdity to it all. Klitschko, off a retirement brought up by injuries and other physical ails, was named the WBC’s ‘Emeritus’ champion, entitling him to a title shot any time he deigned to return. The position wreaked havoc on the division for parts of 2007 and 08 and seriously screwed with the careers of active fighters Oleg Maskaev, Sam Peter, and even Jameel McCline. On October 11th, it was finally Vitali versus Peter…and all the politics were forgotten.
Boxing was just glad to have the more reliably exciting Klitschko back.
Over eight one-sided rounds, Klitschko laid a whooping on a Peter who was both younger and presumably should have been sharper. It was the best off the bench performance in Boxing since Ray Leonard turned 1 fight in just shy of five years into an upset for the World Middleweight title in 1987. When Peter stayed in his corner to start the ninth, the dramatic, triumphant return was complete. There can be a case it wasn’t what was best for Boxing, creating a blockade on the road to filling the vacant throne because, seen as the two premiere big men by most, the brothers Klitschko won’t fight and good for them…that would be too sick a sideshow even for Boxing.
Still, in a Heavyweight division dying more for excitement than unification (like having all the belts instead of two would make more Americans really give a damn about Wlad), Vitali’s return is welcome.
Heavyweight Fight of the Year: Chris Arreola TKO3 Travis Walker
It wasn’t skilled or refined; it was fun. Sometimes Boxing being fun is good enough. The winner raised more questions about whether or not he truly has it in him to be something more than just fun, but fans will watch to find out. It’s the blessing of a Heavyweight who comes to scrap. As reported at: https://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=17213
Ultimately, it was three rounds and four knockdowns of wild altogether as 27-year old Chris Arreola (26-0, 23 KO) held off a spirited effort from 29-year Travis Walker (28-2-1, 22 KO), 231, of Houston, Texas. Arreola leaves the ring still highly touted but with renewed questions about his professional dedication. He came into the bout a soft 254 lbs., some fifteen more than his previous HBO outing against Chazz Witherspoon.
Walker began aggressive, jabbing and landing a left hook and right hand to force Arreola to the ropes. Arreola responded with a hard right uppercut. The next hard shots would be all Walker’s. A hard jab set up a series of power shots to the head which wobbled Arreola’s knees along with loose skin on his back and sides. A left hook to the body followed by a right hand furthered Walker’s assault in the closing seconds.
Both men let loose with power shots to start the second but it was a straight right from Walker which paid off best, dropping Arreola to his haunches. It was a wake-up call for the favorite. Arreola got his feet beneath him and used Walker’s aggressiveness against him as the round wore on, eventually blasting through with a hard right to the temple, then another following a glancing left before a last right to the jaw sent Walker to the floor.
Arreola was just getting started. Continuing to thread the defenses of a buzzed Walker, Arreola would turn in the final thirty seconds to a left hook along the ropes followed by another right hand to send Walker towards the canvas for the second time. Walker rose by the count of four, nodding his head to say he was okay and the battle was reengaged. Walker let fly a long right hand to little affect and Arreola responded with a hard left hook, then right hand and two more left hooks. Walker held on as the two men tripped towards the ropes and the bell sounded on a thrilling frame.
Walker’s hopes for any sort of comeback in round three were dashed right away. Luring Walker into another wild exchange, Arreola delivered a crushing left hook, launching his foe towards the ring turnbuckle and prompting the referee to leap in right away to wave off the action. The official time was :13 seconds of round three. Arreola advanced to a #2 ranking by the IBF whose current titlist Wladimir Klitschko rates as perhaps the division’s best.
Discussing the knockdown, Arreola honestly assessed that, “I just got caught man…he was a strong guy and I felt him right away.” He was just as frank in discussing the bouts final blow. “Left hook right on the button. I thought it was beautiful.” Arreola addressed the Klitschko question by saying he’d need to be ready, “ready meaning in better shape.” The enthusiastic crowd reaction to the Southern California native and dearth of American Heavyweights could mean being ready sooner than later.
Heavyweight: The Year in Results
Since last January, BoxingScene has produced quarterly ratings for each of Boxing’s seventeen weight classes. Ratings for the first quarter of 2009 should be available at the New Year; for now, here’s a look back at the critical Heavyweight results of 2008.
01/19: #2 Ruslan Chagaev (24-0-1, 17 KO, WBA) UD12 Matt Skelton (21-2, 18 KO)
02/16: #6 Nicolay Valuev (47-1, 34 KO) UD12 #9 Serguei Lyakhovich (23-2, 14 KO)
02/23: #1 Wladimir Klitschko (49-3, 44 KO, IBF/WBO) UD12 #5 Sultan Ibragimov (22-1-1, 17 KO)
03/08: #3 Samuel Peter (30-1, 23 KO, WBC Interim) TKO6 #4 Oleg Maskaev (34-6, 26 KO, WBC)
05/03: #10 Alexander Dimitrenko (28-0, 18 KO) TKO5 Derric Rossy (18-2, 10 KO)
07/12: #1 Wladimir Klitschko (51-3, 45 KO, IBF) KO11 #9 Tony Thompson (31-2, 19 KO)
07/19: #5 Alexander Povetkin (16-0, 12 KO) TKO4 Taurus Sykes (25-5-1, 7 KO)
08/30: #4 Nicolay Valuev (49-1, 34 KO, WBA interim) UD 12 #6 John Ruiz (43-8-1, 29 KO)
09/27: Juan Carlos Gomez (44-1, 35 KO) UD12 #10 Vladimir Virchis (24-2, 20 KO)
10/11: #3 Vitali Klitschko (36-2, 35 KO, WBC) TKO8 #10 Samuel Peter (30-2, 23 KO)
11/15: #6 Alexander Dimitrenko (29-0, 19 KO) KO3 Luan Krasniqi (30-4-1, 14 KO)
12/13: #1 Wladimir Klitschko (52-3, 45 KO, IBF/WBO) TKO7 Hasim Rahman (45-7-2, 36 KO)
12/20: #4 Nicolay Valuev (50-1, 34 KO, WBA) MD12 Evander Holyfield (42-10-2, 27 KO)
Other divisions in 2008 reviewed:
Jr. Bantamweight: https://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=17572
Jr. Flyweight: https://www.boxingscene.com/index.php?m=show&id=17514
Check in tomorrow for more of BoxingScene’s 2008 Year in Review.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com