By Cliff Rold
It doesn’t feel true but it probably is.
If 39-year old former World Cruiserweight Champion Jean Marc Mormeck (36-4, 22 KO) defeats reigning 35-year old World Heavyweight Champion Wladimir Klitschko (56-3, 49 KO) this Saturday, it’s the biggest Heavyweight upset these eyes have ever seen.
Bigger than Douglas-Tyson.
Bigger than Rahman-Lewis.
It’s so not going to happen.
For the last two weeks, fans have been treated to good and better among the big men. Over the last year, with the rise of Tyson Fury, Robert Helenius, Dereck Chisora, and the rise in weight of Marco Huck, Heavyweight has received an infusion of excitement not seen in years.
Klitschko-Mormeck doesn’t look like part of that equation.
On paper, this is one of the worst Heavyweight championship fights ever made. Ignore Mormeck’s previous accomplishments. They were long enough ago to merit irrelevance in sizing up what’s coming. Mormeck last mattered in 2007, scoring an early knockdown in defense of the 200 lb. crown before succumbing to a knockout at the hands of David Haye.
Out of the ring for two years, he returned in 2009 with an eight round decision win. He’s won twice since, both in 2010, by decision against Fres Oquendo and Timur Ibragimov. The latter victory came via split decision. Now, with another year and change of inactivity, he’ll try to cap his career in pursuit of the ultimate crown.
It will be head scratching to some that he’s even in this position. Certainly his modest win streak doesn’t scream ‘title shot.’ Unlike Douglas and Rahman, he’s nowhere near his physical prime nor does he boast similar heavyweight credentials coming in.
It looks about as competitive as Marvis Frazier’s challenge of Larry Holmes. And yet, fights like Holmes-Frazier point to the why of this contest and alleviate the need for cranial scraping.
Yes, the excitement level of the division is improving. The twin pillars of dominance at the top remain the same. Heavyweight is the Klitschko’s and everyone else. Sometimes, everyone else gets thin.
Klitschko-Mormeck points to the problem with two.
Dominant Heavyweights lacking in quality foes is nothing new. Joe Louis cut through the division like a knife through butter and found himself left with men like Tony Musto, Gus Dorazio, Red Burman, Johnny Paycheck, and Al McCoy. Holmes had the likes of Frazier and Lucien Rodriguez.
To be sure, there were more legitimate contenders for both. Louis still had Billy Conn, Buddy Baer, and Abe Simon. Holmes found threat in Carl Williams and Tim Witherspoon. Neither dealt with the sort of stacked fields Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali, or Evander Holyfield did in their times. It, in part, aided the length of their runs.
Heavyweight, which has always had serious peaks and valleys of talent, has often had a trade off. We can get depth or we can get dominance. Rarely do both occur at the same time.
The Klitschko’s longevity means they may stick around long enough to go from peak to valley to peak in terms of the overall quality of their field. For now, while new faces rise, while new contenders grow into the willingness to challenge…
…well, we get Klitschko-Mormeck.
Sure, a case can be made Wladimir could find a better foe than what’s on tap. It ignores that better might not want it. Men like Denis Boytsov and Kubrat Pulev aren’t ready. Alexander Povetkin hasn’t been willing.
What’s left is shared.
Unlike Louis, the Klitschko’s have to wade through shallow waters and split what occasional interesting challenges emerge. Holmes didn’t quite have the same problem as Louis due to the title being split during his reign, leaving many better Heavyweights scrambling to make name and cash without him. However, none of those other beltholders ever emerged as a dominant contemporary and he beat many of them before they got belted.
No one has ever had a situation like the Klitschko’s do right now. Dereck Chisora proved a compelling challenge for Vitali and likely would be for Wladimir as well.
Chisora could only fight one two weeks ago.
It’s a reflection of how thoroughly the Klitschko’s have lapped the field since the retirement of Lennox Lewis and how, sometimes, they actually play against each other in defining themselves historically. While Wladimir was battering recognized and well regarded (in this time) top ten contenders Ruslan Chagaev, Eddie Chambers and Samuel Peter, Vitali was left with Albert Sosnowski, a long past sell date version of Shannon Briggs, and undefeated underachiever Odlanier Solis.
Last year, they split the two best Cruiserweights of recent years in Haye and Tomasz Adamek. It was, at least, a chance for both to have foes fans wanted to see them against at the same time.
Were there only one Klitschko at the top, the chaff could be cut from the wheat. Arguments against the quality of their opposition could be quieted somewhat in that environment. Because the division is perceptually down, neither would be likely to get full credit for their careers until near the end regardless. However, if one or the other had, say, Haye and Adamek, it would be better for them personally than having to play the game of either/or.
It’s not an indictment of the Klitschko’s. It is an observation of their uniqueness and it works both as positive and negative. Between the two of them, they have five losses. Vitali has Chris Byrd and Lennox Lewis. Wladimir has Ross Purrity, Corrie Sanders, and Lamon Brewster. Of those, four have been avenged. Only one piece of vengeance came by the hand of the defeated man.
Wladimir won his return against Brewster. His other losses were handled by Vitali while Wladimir busted Byrd up twice over. They both whaled on Peter. That brotherly ability to share has been a big part of their allure.
As 2012 goes forward, there’s a chance we could see Vitali-Haye and Wladimir-Chisora develop. Neither would be a Mormeck or Briggs type affair in their build or regard and play into the strength of their twin reign, play into the desire of fans to compare and contrast the two. For the business of the Klitschko’s, that can be a blessing.
This weekend, we see the curse as well. Wladimir finds the cupboard temporarily bare. There’s just not always enough to go around.
The Weekly Ledger
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Updated Division Ratings: https://www.boxingscene.com/forums/view.php?pg=boxing-ratings
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Cliff’s Notes… Wrestlemanla 28 is so gonna’ rule…Who cares about the split in a fight that isn’t happening? Mayweather-Cotto is coming. So is Pacquiao-Bradley. No need to let the very good be the enemy of nothing…Dereck Chisora is banned from fighting for WBC belts? Whatever. Wladimir doesn’t have a WBC belt does he? Chisora should laugh to the bank first chance he gets…While there is no problem here with a Nonito Donaire-Cristian Mijares clash this summer, one wonders why Donaire is in this pattern. He moves up, beats someone in class, and then looks to foes better served at earlier divisions. But, hey, surely the name Nishioka will keep coming up as deflection, right? Never seen this record before...Roman Gonzalez versus Ramon Garcia? Yeah, that’s some quality at 108 lbs.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]