The sport’s promoters and TV networks need to get together and begin negotiating a heavyweight tournament for when Wladimir Klitschko leaves the sport to determine a true champion. Showtime managed to put together the Super Six World Boxing Classic in 2009 to determine the successor to the peerless Joe Calzaghe at 168lbs. Can it be done again to revive boxing’s bellwether and glamour division?
Given the precarious situation ensuing in the Ukraine in recent weeks it comes as little surprise that Vitali Klitschko has confirmed he won’t be returning to the ring. UDAR party leader and former WBC heavyweight champion will run for the presidency in the scheduled snap elections in May. The 42 year old has drawn his glittering career to an end during very trying circumstances and an anguished period for his country – in the midst of a geopolitical chess match fraught with danger for all sides.
I’ll leave the international relations / foreign policy analysis to others and there is plenty of time to consider the complete career and legacy of Vitali Klitschko in detail. Despite no discernible signature win, the granite-chinned “Dr Ironfist“ exits the stage with a 91% KO ratio and an impressive record of never been dropped and losing only on technical decisions in fights he was winning on the cards. The elder Klitschko is as close to leaving undefeated as Lennox Lewis did (beating every opponent he fought and avenging all losses), indeed as any modern heavyweight champion can do.
Of greater interest to us boxing aficionados is what the approaching post-Klitschko era will look like and what will happen along the way. Some would argue we are already in such a timezone – in the same way a tribal Republican would describe Barack Obama as a lame duck President, perhaps Wladimir’s relevance has dwindled to the same extent. Fighting the Leapai’s, Pianeta’s and Wach’s of the world doesn’t lend itself to grabbing the sport’s attention after 15 one-sided title defences. Just ask Sergio Martinez how easily fans dismiss you and begin to crown an unproven rival as your successor even before you’ve hung up the gloves – and Martinez has taken on all-comers in the middleweight division since 2009. When “Dr Steelhammer” walks down to ring in Germany next month to meet Alex Leapai he will have been a heavyweight champion for 8 years. No small feat, but such a reign will have been far, far too long for some purists and those predisposed to the romantic, American view of the sport’s most historically relevant weight class.
Given that title unifications are so rare nowadays never mind a single fighter holding all, if not most of a division’s belts, the prospect of the first undisputed champion since Lennox Lewis should be welcomed right? Wrong. Wladimir’s seemingly perennial reign is surely coming to an end, after his stated public desire to unify the vacant WBC strap with the rest of his trinkets. What would be left for him to achieve over and above acceding the mantle of “undisputed heavyweight champion of the world”? What would be the point in hanging around in a shallow division fighting nondescript mandatory’s, shorn of obvious challenges or lucrative paydays post-Alex Povetkin and David Haye. Few people get to leave the sport the way Joe Calzaghe, Lennox Lewis and even Vitali Klitschko have in the last decade or so.
Let’s cut to the chase and assume that Wlad challenges the winner of the Bermane Stiverne/Chris Arreola/Deontay Wilder triumvirate at some point by the end of 2014 or early 2015 and (as he’d be expected to) annexes his brother’s old WBC championship. This is of course assuming that the Ukrainian could bypass a further defence anticipated by the WBC from the winner of Bryant Jennings and Mike Perez. Wlad, then maybe has one “farewell” defence perhaps in his native Ukraine, or adopted Germany and rides off into the sunset, leaving a gaping heavyweight vacuum, occupied only by shiny, now unclaimed belts. Perhaps then there is already in place an unprecedented heavyweight championship, with 6-8 candidates ready to battle until there is only one, undisputed, true king of the division to follow the likes of Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Joe Frazier et al.
The format and criteria of this tourney would no doubt be debated no matter how they’re organised, but the names that spring to mind from cursory glances at some of the rankings include Kubrat Pulev, Alexander Povetkin, the winners (and possibly also loser) of Tyson Fury v Derek Chisora in July, perhaps the winner of Tony Thompson v Odlanier Solis also and whoever is in the ascendancy from the 5 names involved in the mandatory process for the vacant WBC belt. It may also be difficult to discount David Haye were he to return from his retirement/long-term injury/sabbatical. At the risk of derision, other fringe and maverick contenders who could fight their way into contention include Amir Mansour, Antonio Tarver, Christian Hammer, Manuel Charr, David Price, Vyacheslav Glazkov and Andy Ruiz Jr.
Of the names, UK-based Tyson Fury and David Haye alone would have the sheer personality and presence to shape this multi-polar era after the departing brotherly duopoly. Signed to fight each other last year, the clash promised to electrify a stagnant weight class and intrigued casual and committed fans alike until they were inevitably let down by postponements and cancellations. But the 200 lb-and-above division is boiling again for the first time in a long while and is set to change substantially over the next 2 years. Why don’t the promoters take a leaf out of the World Boxing Council’s book, and agree a competition framework to regenerate heavyweight interest again? A Super Six would help create a whole greater than the sum of its parts, reaffirming also, the last great champion’s mission to “rid the boxing profession of all its misfits.”