The heavyweight division closed a chapter in two important fighters’ careers this week as it opened a new one for two others. American Heavyweight contender Tony Thompson put on a mesmerizingly adequate performance in his eagerly awaited rematch with Brit David Price, and loud-mouthed self-promoters David Haye and Tyson Fury signed a fight against each other. These fighters’ promoters would have you believe that these were both important fights that should keep your interest in boxing’s glamor division strong and consistent. I would beg to differ. While Thompson is a venerable heavyweight who plays a significant role as a gatekeeper in the division, the second knockout of David Price only serves to further denigrate the quality of the entire weight class. Why has a prime 6’9″ fit heavyweight been knocked out twice by a much older and less-than-athletic fighter? There’s a simple explanation that boxing fans love to start arguments about but which never yield much insight: the heavyweight division is in a slump. There just aren’t as many exciting matchups to be made as there were in previous eras. Usually there are big fights that disappoint, big fights that just don’t live up to the hype, and then the fights that never get made. That’s just not the case with modern heavyweights. There are no big fights. None being made and none to be made. The big news in the division is when one of the only two skilled heavyweights has a match against some unknown who will play punching bag for as many rounds as he can handle. The next farcical exhibition will feature one of the imitators sold to boxing fans as a developing legend, Alexander Povetkin, taking on Wladimir Klitschko.
Price was an intriguing name because of his size, but the gaps in his skill set were always painfully obvious. Thompson becomes more inconsequential and less fun to watch every day he ages. David Haye was virtually unknown to American viewers until he began turning his press-conferences into episodes of the Jerry Springer show, challenging the Klitchkos and being as inflammatory and as obnoxious as possible in order to draw enough attention to get a fight he didn’t deserve. Haye demonstrated how embarrassingly out-of-place he was from the beginning of their fight, staying far enough away that neither fighter could possibly mount an offense and running away ungracefully every time Klitschko closed the distance. Alexander Povetkin is an unremarkable fighter to be generous. His physique is less than impressive and his technique is even worse. Tyson Fury has managed to use his automatic size advantage and unrestrained arrogance to worm his way into public view, but just like all the other names listed here, his opposition has been incongruous to his fame. Even the success of Klitschkos is much more a product of size and power than of technical ability. To be fair, the wars between Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe owed little to technical prowess, and Mike Tyson was nothing but power and athleticism. But let’s be honest, Wladimir’s statistical longevity and accumulation of successful defenses signify nothing as impressive as such distinctions would traditionally bestow upon their honorees. Only two heavyweights surpass Wladimir’s title for consecutive defenses and years held: Larry Holmes and Joe Louis. I wouldn’t deny the Klitschko’s abilities nor would I trivialize their accomplishments, but I don’t think statistics like that fool any real boxing fans.
The bright side is that while every era has boring divisions, every era also has some exciting ones with endless wars to be waged between talented competitors. Today those divisions are probably between welterweight and super-middleweight, but it’s only a matter of time before boxing sees another batch of brutal big men go to battle.