By Brent Matteo Alderson
The heavyweight championship lineage has only been broken three times in heavyweight history. The first time was when Gene Tunney retired in 1928, the second time was when Rocky Marciano retired in 1956 and then the third time was when Lennox Lewis retired in 2003.
Now other fighters have retired as heavyweight champions, but they all came back to pass on the lineage to their conquerors. Jim Jeffries retired in 1905 after he cleaned out the division and lost to the great Jack Johnson in a futile comeback attempt and Ali came back and lost to his former sparring partner Larry Holmes in 1980.
Now this Saturday, Wladimir Klitschko and Ruslan Chagaev are going to fight in a match-up between two of the best three or four heavyweights in the world. Klitschko 52-3, a 1996 Olympic gold medalist has won two of the four major organizational titles with wins over Chris Byrd (IBF) and Sultan Ibrigamov (WBO) and Chagaev 25-0, a former amateur standout with two rare victories over Cuban legend Felix Savon, won the WBA heavyweight championship by majority decision over the then undefeated Nikolay Valuev. Thus even though those three titles are not at stake because of political shenanigans, they should be because neither man has lost those titles in the ring.
Recently the editors of Ring Magazine and its advisory panel which consists of some of the world most prominent authorities on the sport, have decided to award the Ring magazine championship to the winner of Klitschko-Chagaev. Nigel Collins an International Boxing hall of fame inductee and the editor and chief of the Ring stated,”We have that rule that under certain circumstances the number one and number three ranked contenders can fight for the title and to our way of thinking this is the ideal circumstance to evoke that rule because you are never going to see a fight between number one and number two since they are brothers.”
Before I move on, let me make a couple of comments. First off Ring Magazine was founded in 1922 and is older than the Heisman trophy. Except for one incident in the seventies with Don King’s United States Championship tournament, which involved one writer who hasn’t worked with the magazine for three decades, the editors of Ring have been positive advocates for boxing and have fought the good fight with the intention of improving the different facets of the sport for almost a century.
Now I’ve worked as the Spanish language correspondent to the Ring since 2005 and regularly have correspondence with Nigel Collins and find him to be a man of integrity and think it’s ludicrous when members of the media and different people involved in the industry make innuendoes about the Ring Championships being controlled or manipulated to the benefit of Golden Boy Promotions.
Ever since the magazine was bought by a subsidiary of Golden Boy Promotions, even Bob Arum has periodically made derogatory remarks about the sanctity of the Ring Championship policy, but if you actually look at the Magazine’s ratings, you will find them to be one of the most comprehensive and accurate appraisals of accomplishment and talent in the sport today. And it will be apparent that the ratings are objective and that Golden Boy Promotions has not exerted any influence on the Ring's Championship policy which was reinstated in 2002.
That being said I am opposed to recognizing the winner of Klitschko-Chagaev as the Ring’s Heavyweight champion. This isn’t the super-flyweight championship of the world. This is the heavyweight championship of the world and because of the history and legacy of Ring Magazine, winning the Ring Magazine heavyweight championship should conclusively re-establish the heavyweight championship lineage and next Saturday’s bout between W. Klitschko and Chagaev fails to do that.
Yes Wladimir is probably the best heavyweight in the world. He’s improved tremendously under the guidance of Emanuel Steward and has gone through an assortment of solid challengers with relative ease. Even some of his easy touches like Tony Thompson and Ray Austin would be tall orders for most of the world’s heavyweights in this day of mediocrity, but I’m still not so sure that Wladimir is better than his brother Vitali. He definitely has better technique, but he’s not as durable as his older brother and his stamina isn’t as good.
Compare the performances of the two brothers against Samuel Peter. Wladimir was knocked down three different times and was in dangerous waters the entire way and used his boxing skills to win the fight while Vitali gave the Nigerian powerhouse a beatdown of a lifetime that left him sitting on his stool in trepidation. Even Boxrec.com’s computer rating system has Vitali ranked as the world’s number one heavyweight.
And recently Vitali has beaten a very high caliber of opponent in a dominant fashion to re-stake his shaky claim to the heavyweight throne which was also once erroneously supported by the Ring before his last retirement in 2005.
That was in 2004 after Vitali beat Corries Sanders who was coming off a surprise knockout win over Wladimir and I was vocally opposed to the Ring awarding the title to Vitali then, https://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=2497 , just as I am now to it bestowing its recognition upon the winner of next Saturdays bout.
Vitali never lost the Ring title in the ring, and now his brother could win it by beating a fighter that never won it in the ring. I’m not so sure that future generations of boxing aficionados will recognize either Klitschko as the heir to Lennox Lewis and historians will probably refer to this era as the time period when the brothers dominated a morbid heavyweight division without ever having established their own individual supremacy.
Yes it sucks that there isn’t a heavyweight champion, but we have to deal with it. Someone will come. Someone always does. After Tunney retired in 1928, five different men held the title during the course of the next seven years and not one of them could establish a lasting greatness and then along came Joe Louis in 1937.
I don’t think we should recognize Wladimir Klitschko as the linear heavyweight champion of the world just because it’s inconvenient not to have a heavyweight champion. That’s something those slimy organizations would do and that’s what the WBO did in its inception when they sanctioned a fight between Francisco Damiani and James Johnny Duplooy for their version of the heavyweight championship of the world.
And the division has experienced this type of uncertainty involving the vacant title in an incident that still sparks debate among historians. After Jeffries’s retirement in 1905, Jack Root and Marvin Hart fought in a bout that many people recognized as a fight for the vacant heavyweight title. Today a lot of historians don’t credit Marvin Hart’s claim to the championship and view that bout as an important elimination bout leading up to Tommy Burns’ coronation.
In fact numerous books on the history of the heavyweight title forego a section on Hart and go straight from Jeffries to Burns. Even Jim Jeffries himself, who was reportedly paid one thousand dollars to referee the match, retracted his support of Hart’s claim to the title, “I have no power to confer the world’s championship upon any man. The championship rests with the people. They and the press will be the best judges.”
And Jeffries was right. The world isn’t going to recognize the winner of Saturday’s bout as the undisputed linear heavyweight champion of the world. You might think it doesn’t care, but that’s not true, the world does care and the next fighter to clearly establish himself as the heavyweight champ will never make less than 20 million dollars a fight.
If Klitschko-Chagaev was really for the universally recognized linear heavyweight championship, don’t you think both HBO and Showtime would have gone to great lengths to televise it?
Not to demean the bout, it’s a damn good match and it’s an important elimination bout that will bringer us closer to eventually crowning a heavyweight champion, kind of like how Joe Frazier’s wins over Buster Mathis and Jimmy Ellis for the New York State and WBA heavyweight titles were important steps in his ascendance to the championship. I just don’t recognize Klitschko-Chagaev as a fight for Lennox’s Lewis’s vacant crown or in Ring Magazine’s view, a title bout for the crown that Vitali vacated in 2005.
Surprisingly most people in the industry support Ring Magazine’s assertion that the winner should be considered the heavyweight champion of the world, Henry Ramirez, one of the top young trainers in the game today feels that a win over Chagaev would validate Wladimir’s claim to the lineage.
”He’s beaten everybody in front of him the last eleven or twelve fights. Now he’s going to fight another young undefeated heavyweight ranked number three by Ring Magazine. I feel it’s justified. I would pick Wladimir over Vitali. I think he’s a much better fighter, better athlete, more fluid. The only thing you can say that Vitali has over Wladimir is a chin and a set of balls. Wladimir has really come into his own and seems more relaxed. To me he’s the best heavyweight in the world."
"I think my guy [Chris Arreola] would give him a hell of a fight, actually I think we beat him, but until we get into the ring and actually fight him I will say that Wladimir Klitschko is the best heavyweight in the world. Even if we fight Vitali and knock him out I wouldn’t feel like Chris would be the heavyweight champion because I would feel like we would have to beat Wladimir because I think he’s a better fighter. The number one guy is beating the number three guy and the number two guy is his brother so what more do you want?”
I want conclusiveness. I don’t want there to be any dispute revolving around the identity of the heavyweight champion of the world. In any other division I whole heartedly support the Ring’s championship policy, but this is the heavyweight championship, a title that not too long ago was once considered the most prestigious title in all of sports. This has to do with a heavyweight championship legacy that was first established by John L. Sullivan in the 1880’s and was successfully carried on by such luminaries as Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, and Muhammad Ali and such an honor should not be bestowed upon a man until he either wins the title in the ring or unquestionably and emphatically establishes himself as the best heavyweight in the world.
When Jack Johnson was heavyweight champion the establishment implemented various measures restricting the practice of the sport throughout the nation, so when Jack Dempsey became champion and the laws started to change, promoter Tex Rickard didn’t want a black challenger fighting for the title because he felt that it would again be bad for the boxing business and commented that a black champion, “Isn’t worth a bucket of warm piss.”
I ran into Andre Dirrell at the Thompson Boxing card last week and he told me that he will be fighting for a world title before the end of the year, probably in a bout against Carl Froch, “It’s going to happen, probably in November,” commented Andre. Dirrell is really an imposing figure and has that Tommy Hearns-Bob Foster type of frame. He’s listed as a lithe 6’2, but he may even be 6’3. Henry Ramirez also noted the 2004 Bronze medalist’s physical prowess and commented, “I didn’t know how big Andre was!”
Brent Matteo Alderson, a graduate of UCLA, has been part of the staff at BoxingScene.com since 2004. Alderson's published work has appeared in publications such as Ring Magazine, KO, World Boxing, Boxing 2008, and Latin Boxing Magazine. Alderson has also been featured on the ESPN Classic television program “Who’s Number One?” Please e-mail any comments to BoxingAficionado@aol.com