|WITH A SHOCKING UPSET, BOXING'S HEAVYWEIGHT DIVISION GETS ANOTHER CHANCE TO SCREW EVERYTHING UP.|
By Eric Gillin
With one punch, Corrie Sanders might have saved the heavyweight division of boxing.
On Saturday night, Sanders, a 37-year-old South African journeyman, stunned the world by beating Wladimir Klitschko, a 26-year-old fighter many though was the heir to the heavyweight throne, for the WBO heavyweight title. The victory was as decisive as it was shocking, with Sanders knocking out Klitschko 33 seconds into the second round after dropping him three times in the proceeding minute.
The loss is a huge setback for Klitschko, who will have to stand at the end of the line to get a shot at Lennox Lewis, the top man in the division. But it's an utter nightmare for HBO, which recently signed the fighter to a nine-fight deal in hopes of having the European crack the American market. And puts some much needed fun into the sport's most dysfunctional division, which has been thrown into utter chaos.
Three weeks ago, Mike Tyson tattooed his face with a Maori design, then tattooed Clifford Etienne's face with punches in a 49-second knockout. Last week, Roy Jones Jr., the former middleweight and lightweight champ of the world, bulked up to 193-pounds for a fight with John Ruiz, a man 30 pounds heavier, and walked away with the WBA belt. And now Corrie Sanders is WBO heavyweight champ.
At 37-years old, Sanders may be a latter-day Buster Douglas-type clinging to the WBO strap, but many think Roy Jones Jr. is the real deal. He broke into boxing at 160 pounds, as a middleweight, and has won titles in every class he's fought. After demolishing Ruiz, he could be greatest pound-for-pound fighter in the history of boxing and now he's stepping up to the heavyweight spotlight, where the paydays are immense.
Then there are the other titleholders. Up-and-comer Chris Byrd is the IBF heavyweight champ, after battering Evander Holyfield into submission a few months back. At 32 years old, he's only lost twice in his career, once four years ago against Ike Ibeabuchi and then two years ago, in a 12 round-decision to Wladimir Klitschko.
And atop the heap is Lennox Lewis, who holds the IBO and WBC and WBA belts, is widely considered the sport's "real" champion. But at 37 years old, the vain Lewis wants to go out gloriously, so he's ducking Byrd and looking for payday number three with Tyson, who said he isn't sure he wants to fight a third time.
With Wladimir Klitschko's loss, the number of people who can legitimately get a shot at the title for a big-money fight has been thrown wide open.
On the money drawing side, you've got Tyson and Evander Holyfield, who is 40 years old, injured and still willing to get in the ring for one more fight. And Iron Mike says he may not be ready for Lewis, but he's coming off a 49-second knockout win and needs to keep fighting. Neither are title contenders, but they're entertaining circus sideshows people pay for.
On the competitive side are the Klitschkos, Wladimir and his 31-year-old brother Vitali, who is the top contender to Lennox Lewis' belt. Both of these men are giant sized Europeans, like twin Ivan Dragos from Rocky IV, both have excellent records, and both are virtual unknowns here in the United States. In a sport that has always attracted a shady element, both Klitschkos have doctorate degrees in sports science and philosophy and play each other in chess. Many hoped that Wladimir would represent boxing's new class, in more ways than one.
Sadly, many of these guys won't ever square off. The goal of the sport's boxing promoters has never been to crown a champion, so much as crown a champion they could control and profit off of consistently. But in order for boxing to regain any legitimacy in the eyes of the PPV-buying public, who can now order events easier than ever with a touch of a button via digital cable, the new goal should be to crown an undisputed world heavyweight champion of the world.
A year back, the middleweight division did something similar, pitting the division's biggest names against each other in a small tournament to crown one, undisputed champion. While the logistics took time to hammer out, it was an easier thing to throw together, since the fighters were all controlled by HBO, more or less. But in the heavyweight division, getting the fighters, promoters, managers, cable networks and assorted hangers on to all agree to a tournament would be impossible.
Too bad, there are some incredible fights that are plausible at the moment. Roy Jones Jr. could continue fighting as a heavyweight and take on Evander Holyfield, who might be willing to hang it up with a loss against a fellow Hall of Famer. Or he could take on Mike Tyson in a multi-million dollar payday and fight someone who's also 5' 11".
The Klitschko brothers won't consider fighting each other, but a rematch between Chris Byrd and either of the Klitschkos would be very interesting. And either of the Klitschkos could match up with Lewis, from a size perspective. But the only fight that's been confirmed isn't very interesting. Lennox Lewis just announced his next fight will be against Corrie Sanders, who Lewis also manages, so he can presumably retire with the belts and his pretty face intact, never to pass the torch.
Nonetheless, Corrie Sanders' knockout blow caps an incredible month of action for a division best known for its lack thereof. Somehow, the fates have handed the heavyweight division another opportunity to create fights and fighters that fans will pay money to see.
It will take a miracle to pull off some of these dream fights, but as Sanders shows, the sport of boxing may just have a few surprises and miracles left after all.