Four Title Holders And No Champion
If any of you can figure out what is going on with the light heavyweight division, you have a better grasp on things than I do. We have four different champions, limited rising prospects and since the return of Roy Jones, the Ring Magazine title has changed hands more times than a Vegas poker chip at the $5 limit table. It went from Antonio Tarver to Jones, back to Tarver, then from Tarver to Glen Johnson, then back to Tarver again.
Tarver defends it once against Jones in their rubber match before going on hiatus to make the film Rocky 6 while reminding us in interviews (but not in the ring) that he is "The Legend Killer" and number one fighter at 175 lbs. Tarver then meets ex-middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins a few months back and is given the boxing lesson of his life before fading into the background.
After winning the belt, Hopkins just throws it away like it was pocket lint and retires. It has been almost impossible to keep tract of who is at the top in the light heavy division without minute-to-minute updates. At least for me.
So with no actual Ring Champion, we as fans have to decide for ourselves who is the best of the four belt holders. This of course is easier said than done obviously, or else we would have a Ring Champion, no? I mean, the truth is, out of the four belt holders, none have actually dominated with top competition.
Two of the titlists are ready for retirement within their next few fights while the other two are undefeated but have yet to fight more than one or two worthy opponents. What’s more, if you add all four champions' appearances outside of European boxing rings, with or without the belt, it adds up to about six bouts.
Our top ten is one made up of ex-champions and guys who have yet to fight a ranked opponent. There is no real light at the end of the light heavyweight tunnel as of yet. This is boxing and any one of these guys may step up to the plate soon or then again they may just drop off the radar all together. Either way, we can't be any worse off then we are now.
This is how I see our current state of the division:
WBC Champion Tomasz Adamek, 31-0 (21): Adamek reminds me in a way of a smaller Wladimir Klitschko, with his stand up straight style and punches, but the big difference between the Polish light heavyweight and a real Klitschko is their resumes. Wladimir has an impressive one while Adamek needs to build one. Also, unlike Klitschko, Adamek has proven his beard is semi tough and he will stand toe to toe if needed be.
I would just like to see Adamek in a good tough fight with someone other than Paul Briggs or look impressive by knocking out a top fighter other than Thomas Ulrich, who seems to be on the losing end whenever a title is at stake. Adamek has the appeal to keep the fans happy and even become a draw in the US if he would fight here more than twice. Right now, the question is still out on him but if I had to guess, he will be the star of the division for the next few years.
IBF Champion Clinton Woods, 40-3-1 (24): The man from Sheffield, England was once considered Roy Jones' biggest threat. That is, until he met Roy Jones in the ring. In Woods' only venture outside of Europe, he was dismantled by Jones in less than six rounds and was saved by his corner throwing in the towel. He has stayed in the contender mix however, and managed to become champion despite the thrashing. Woods holds a 1-1-1 series with Glen Johnson, has a win over former WBO Champion Julio Gonzales and a victory over ranked prospect Rico Hoye. Plus, in 44 fights, he has been stopped only once and it took a prime Roy Jones to do it.
Woods is 34 years old now and time is getting short; if he is ever going to be the man in this division he would have to do two things. One - leave England and two, do it NOW! No one is now or have they ever been beating a path to Woods' door, with the reason being that no one wants to give him the home advantage. Clinton seems to be content where he is and in my opinion, he will make a few more defenses of the belt, look for a big money fight by the end of next year and then most likely retire.
WBA Champion Silvio Branco, 55-8-2 (34): The 40 year old Italian champion has been around a long time, starting out in the super middleweight division 18 years ago. He has far more experience and the best resume of all the other title holders. Over the years, he has faced Verno Phillips, Thomas Tate, Sven Ottke, Glen Johnson, Thomas Ulrich and Fabrice Tiozzo, the man that ended Branco’s first WBA title reign.
Silvio won the WBA Interim title this past July by beating Mann Siaca and has been awarded the full version of belt after Tiozzo retired earlier this year. Branco is not the most active of fighters and at 40, is most likely looking for one big fight before retiring. If he is still around this time in 2007, I will be shocked.
WBO Champion Zsolt Erdei, 25-0 (15): Erdei is actually the longest reigning champion in the division, having won the WBO belt from Julio Gonzalez in January 2004. Earlier this year, Erdei beat Thomas Ulrich, the biggest name other than Gonzalez on Hungarian's resume so far and that is something to question. No one actually knows if Erdei can go with the best if needed and I think that Zsolt is happy with the way things are going for him and he won't be leaving Hungary anytime soon to seek out top competition.
Most likely, Erdei will continue to fight between there and Germany for the remainder of his career. Unless someone seeks him out for a big fight, you can expect Erdei to continue staying in his backyard and padding his record.
Roy Jones JR., 50-4 (38): The former pound for pound number one fighter in the world is not the man he used to be in the ring that much is certain. He has lost three of his last five and two by devastating knockout. Although he showed a glimpse of his former self this past July by beating Prince Badi Ajamu to win the NABO title, I don't think Jones can do it on a regular basis anymore. Does he have what it takes to mix it up with this crop of fighters? I think he can hang with half of them but one more KO loss and his career is over for good. A bout against Manny Siaca may be happening in Philadelphia in December and the results should give a good snapshot of where Roy Jones is as we head into 2007.
Antonio Tarver, 24-4 (18): I for one have never been impressed with Tarver. Not even after he beat Roy Jones, did I think much of him and his constant bragging and never living up to what he says is part of it. After trading titles with Jones and Johnson, the southpaw decides to spend more time making movies and bragging than actually fighting.
Not that Antonio doesn't have the skills to be on top of the division, but he seems to lack focus. His one sided loss to Hopkins may have done damage mentally to Tarver and taken even more of that focus out of him. We will have to see who his next opponent is and how well he fares before I make the judgment call on him.
Glen Johnson, 44-11-2 (29): Johnson has not only been at the top of the division but pretty much has fought anyone, anywhere during his career. After a long string of close or questionable defeats, Johnson proved that he has what it takes by beating Jones and Tarver in 2004. Funny thing about Glen is that he runs hot and cold. If he is on target, he is one of the best and most experienced fighters in either the super middleweight or light heavyweight divisions and his experience could be a threat to any of the four belt holders listed above.
I expect Johnson to get another shot at a title even though he just lost to Clinton Woods. But it will depend if he is having one of those hot or cold nights when he gets that shot that will decide if he wears another belt.
Julio Gonzalez, 40-3 (24): Julio won't wow you with anything fancy but is as fundamentally solid as they come. He has gone the distance with Roy Jones, beaten former champion Montell Griffin and exposed Dariusz Michalczewski when he lifted the WBO belt from him a few years back. He was also the first person to beat the hard punching but dearly departed Julian Letterlough.
When Julio is in shape, he is a tough opponent for anyone. Add that to his experience and any of these current champions could lose to him on any given night. At 30 years of age, he is also younger than all but Adamek and if Gonzalez is successful on November 11 against Ukrainian journeyman Vitaly Kopikto, he should be in line for a title shot soon. It wouldn't be an upset if he wore a strap by the end of 2007.
Chad Dawson, 23-0 (15): He is ranked. He is bad. He can hit. He hasn't fought anyone worth a nickel. The biggest name on "Bad Chad" Dawson’s resume is Eric Harding, who has been past his best for years. In his next fight, Dawson takes on European Champion Stipe Drews, a tall, fellow southpaw with a good record and who is ranked, but also can't punch hard enough to take out a piÃ±ata if needed, in a WBC title eliminator.
This tells me that Dawson may not have the beard to go with the bravado. His camp has steered away from anyone with a punch thus far so they may already know something we have yet to see. I think Dawson will fare well with the type of competition he has been going against but first time that he gets in with a puncher, he will fold like a wallet.
Paul Briggs, 25-3 (18): An Australian who has had two very tough and very close fights with current WBC Champion Tomasz Adamek that could have gone either way. "The Hurricane" is a tough guy who can stand and go toe to toe with you and he also has heart to go with it. I have only seen about four of his fights, but I liked what I saw in them.
I think Briggs needs a few more bouts to gain some experience and after that, go after another champion. But he should stay clear of Adamek again, not because he was beat up in those fights but as the old adage goes, "styles make fights" and their styles don't mesh well for a win on Briggs behalf, it seems. I would like to see Briggs get another version of the belt other than the WBC and then go for a unification fight with Adamek but until that time comes, he should pursue another champion. I would say that he will hold one belt or another by 2008.
Well folks, that’s how I see it for now. Of course I have been wrong on many occasion in the past and with the unsteadiness of the light heavyweight division, anything definite is tough to call. We have a bunch of everything and a bunch of nothing at the same time. Four years ago, I wouldn't even be writing this article because with the way that Jones dominated the belts, they were going nowhere but home with him every night. That time is past now and the division is rebuilding the best it can, I just hope it can rebuild a little quicker for all of our sakes.