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Sep 19th
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Home Boxing Is The Heavyweight Division Doomed To Irrelevance?
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Is The Heavyweight Division Doomed To Irrelevance?

heavyweightIt is commonly believed that when the top division in boxing suffers, the sport suffers with it. It’s an idea parallel to the trickle-down theory of economics. All good things trickle down from the top. The heavyweight division, like rain, falls on the land to be filtered and purified by rock strata before pooling in underground aquifers, thereafter providing life-giving hydration to the rest of boxing community.  No water, and you have a desert. No heavyweights, and you have a boxing wasteland.  And some believe we are currently going though such a drought.

Let me start by saying I’m not a huge fan of the heavyweight division. I think it harbors too many lazy cruiserweights who never learned to push themselves away from the dinner table. My favorite division is middleweight. Men small enough to have speed and large enough to have power. But I’m in a distinct minority.  Many paying fans prefer to see the big fellas swing away in slow motion like satin-clad lumberjacks in some quaalude-induced hallucination. These are the fans who feel Jake La Motta’s pain, sharing his angst that he was never able to fight Joe Louis. The thought here is that, if you can’t beat the biggest man in boxing, what’s the point of boxing?  These fans scornfully view Pound-For-Pound Best Fighter ratings as crumbs thrown to the lesser divisions, hoping the tidbits will subdue a revolt from the plebeians until a new great new heavyweight monarch reveals himself.

But the fact is: Mother Nature has thrown a monkey-wrench into the mêlée. Less than fifty years ago, when heavyweights tipped the scales at a little over 200 pounds, a six-and-a-half foot fighter like Jess Willard was considered a giant. Now, both Klitchko brothers and numerous heavyweight contenders top the 6’6” mark, and weigh as much as small Jaguars. Unfortunately, they’re not nearly as fast.

I have nothing against Lennox Lewis, the Klitchko Duo, or a spate of gargantuan Eastern Block fighters who have suffused the sport in the last decade. Just the opposite. I deeply appreciate the fact that many are actually capable of forming a coherent sentence. But their arrival on the scene demands that any heavyweight with aspirations of becoming a contender must be of goliath proportions.  This new species of fighter, in true Darwinian fashion, has inalterably mutated the sport.  How can men fifty pounds lighter and a half-foot shorter compete against these colossal creatures? The fact is they can’t. Every now and then a fleet-footed fellow like Chris Byrd will defy the odds and squeak his way to a nail-biting decision. But these opponents will be few and far between.

When considering possible solutions to this problem, one has to question whether this evolutionary shift toward bigger is here to stay. At 5’ 10” I used to stand above most people in a bus and subway. Now I look upward at most young people, both men AND women, and don’t expect this trend to reverse itself any time soon. Homo Sapiens have been getting larger and taller since Cro Magnon came onto the scene about 30,000 years ago. So what’s to stop the trend now? And what should boxing do about it?

There’s been a call for a long time to create a Super Heavyweight division in professional boxing, as there is in amateur boxing. But this has gone over about as well as President Obama’s Health Care Plan. Frankly, I’ve never understood the opposition to a Super Heavyweight division. It would provide more titles for the fighters and more revenue to the governing bodies.  Seems like a win/win.

My colleague, Wray Edwards, in his article “The Case for a Super Heavyweight Division,” writes this: “Does it make any sense that for the first one hundred pound range of boxer bodyweight there are seventeen divisions, while the next one hundred pound range has just one? Perhaps the Cruiserweight division should be scrapped and a heavyweight division from 195 to 225-230 would form a more manageable range for the first category of big guys.”

Steven Pink in a similar article wrote, “… simply adding a new weight division is not without its problems. In doing so boxing runs the very real risk of devaluing the very championship many fans value most. The Heavyweight champion would no longer be the biggest and baddest man on the planet, merely the junior partner to the titans at the pinnacle of the sport. Is this a worthy legacy for the successors of Dempsey, Ali and Tyson?”

Pink goes on to say, “So boxing fans find themselves in something of a Catch-22 situation, possibly damned should the sport choose to innovate, beset by potentially fatal lethargy if it allows things to further stagnate as they are.”

klitchkoAnd so the plot thickens. What do we do when we’re not only talking about practical issues like weight and height, but the legacy and history of a sport that stimulates so many masculine barstool conversations?  And if we dare tamper with the sanctity of the heavyweight division, perhaps the other divisions need to be reevaluated as well. I seem to recall Thomas Hearns towering over Pipino Cuevas on his way to winning his first world title. And Kearns’ KO of Roberto Duran, where his long arms kept Duran out of punching range, was almost a no-contest.  Then, of course, we had Deigo Coralles who stood head and shoulders above his lightweights opponents.

While it would be extremely difficult to squeeze or stretch the other divisions without destroying the time-honored framework and historical perspective of the sport, it seems that the top division has unquestionably outgrown itself, and some reapportionment might be considered.

It has often been said that as the heavyweight division goes, so goes boxing. Well … I don’t know about that.  I, for one, could live without it dominating the pugilistic landscape.  I could even live with imposing an upper limit to the division, say 240 pounds. After all, the other divisions have weight limits.

But we may not have to resort that. As fighters get bigger and slower, a natural entropy is likely to collapse the upper division like a house of cards. Eventually, there will be a point when men of increasing size will no longer have the skills to participate in the sport. I mean, can you see a draft horse running in the Kentucky Derby?  Of course not!

Perhaps the Darwinian principles that brought us to this crossroads will be our ultimate salvation. If not, do what I do. When the heavyweights enter the ring - flip to another channel.

 Charles Long

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Ah Mr. Long, You really hit the charts with this article. The 'Swell' heads in boxing need to take notice. These monsters posing as heavyweights may not be mutated by Darwinian standards and today's confirmations, but truly as you mentioned, most are a bunch of overweight Cruiserweights posing as heavies. I am with you, tradition be damned, the times and the game have changed; so to has the public and they are turning to MMA in groves.
If we consider not only your VIP 'Trickle Down Theory' but include the Steroid and HGH Revolution" and of course a diet much different from the Great Depression days, then you have hit the nail on the head; the heavyweight division will just attract bigger bufffoons and Hippopatamus' and in due time it will become an irrelevant division causing a fearful evaporation of monies for the much more talented lighter divisions.
Give me middleweights like Harry Greb, Tiger Flowers, or Sugar Ray Robinson, and I know that gab fests will once again emerge all over the land and boxing once again respectable.

p.s. I totally agree with you about the heavyweight division being cut off at 240 pounds. Mine That Bird won the Kentucky Derby in 2009 at 50-1 odds. The 'Bird' was some 75-80 pounds lighter than the other 3 year old contenders and smaller at the girth. He won because of strategy and a little luck. Akin to your knowledge, if the horse he beat weighed 2-300 more pounds than him, then they would be pulling Budweiser Wagons.
Have a happy
El Visitante |
Great article.

I personally enjoy heavyweight boxing myself because I feel that the others, especially the light weights punch way to fast for my brain to comprehend what is happening. Things happen in a blink of an eye when watching the lighter weight fighters. Please note that I am not the biggest boxing fan, maybe that has something to do with what I feel.
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