|It was July of the year 2000 and Lennox Lewis was set to bask in the warmth of a homecoming to England. The British fans at the London Arena witnessed their undisputed champion in all his glory dispatching of South African heavyweight Francois Botha via an authoritative second round knockout.|
Lewis still desired the ultimate confrontation with Mike Tyson, but a contingency plan had evolved as insurance against the possibility of Tyson remaining elusive through his unpredictable antics. Wladimir Klitschko would either succeed Lewis, or provide a final challenge to overcome in the Briton’s long, illustrious career. Klitschko took seven rounds to convince the British audience of his legitimacy, unleashing several slashing right hands that repeatedly committed his opponent to the canvas. That opponent was Monte Barrett. Barrett struggled to his feet, dabbing hopelessly at the streams of blood flowing from his face towards the ring floor. Remembering his beaten body cradled by members of his team, I never expected Barrett to achieve what he has today, the chance to compete for either the WBC or IBF world heavyweight championships.
Barrett still bleeds and struggles through his fights, but he wins, and more than that, he has become an insurmountable obstacle for many young heavyweights. The consensus opinion regarding Barrett in the industry was that he was a sideman, an under-sized heavyweight with mediocre skills and punching power to match, despite his adopted moniker of “Two Gunz.” The beating I watched him take at the hands of Wladimir Klitschko was the last I thought I would see of Barrett, but like a true fighter, he won’t give up.
In the perspective of any reasonable boxing fan, Barrett’s result against “Baby” Joe Mesi was a draw at worst, and if the judges were a little too generous to Mesi, it was generosity that he did not have long to savor. Undaunted, Barrett fought then unbeaten Dominick Guinn and was once again expected to provide the sacrifice for another more highly regarded prospect. Guinn fell to defeat at Barrett’s hands the same way that another formerly undefeated heavyweight Owen Beck went last Saturday. In one respect, Barrett is the scourge of the young heavyweight harvest, scything down the pretenders from the contenders, putting an end to the unskillful (Beck) and the unwilling (Guinn). Alternatively, with each new conquest, Barrett strips away more of our hope that the new generation of heavyweights might yield us a star sometime soon. Perhaps that star was never going to be among those fighters adorning Barrett’s victim list, but one can live in hope.
Upon proving that the heavyweight new blood was merely a diluted batch unfit for mass exposure, Barrett may want to turn his hand to a spot of giant killing. However, if the WBC’s Vitali Klitschko is one of the worst heavyweight champions in history, he has one redeeming feature to equalize the threat that Barrett would pose: extreme physical size. Klitschko’s height and reach, combined with his respectable power would appear to impose severe limitations on Barrett’s ambitions. But in truth, the likelihood of Barrett being able to challenge Klitschko remains remote at best; Klitschko must first find a way past Hasim Rahman, a feat that will be no formality.
From one giant killer to another, Barrett may opt to negotiate with IBF heavyweight champion Chris Byrd. Three heavyweights have achieved the distinction of having put Byrd down: Ike Ibeabuchi did it first, Wladimir Klitschko also managed it before his mysterious career capitulation, and Jameel McCline took Byrd’s legs away, but not his championship. The Ibeabuchi and Wladimir Klitschko fights were losing efforts for Byrd, but just looking at that list of opposition makes it harder to discredit him. Chris Byrd represents something that fighters almost twice his size cannot, and that is being a fighter who will always seek out the best challenges, regardless of the disadvantages and the odds stacked against him.
After disposing of Beck, Barrett’s deluded sentiment that John Ruiz “is a good champion too,” could not deflect the accuracy of one of his other statements. If any one of the current heavyweight champions deserves to be recognized as the true champion, Chris Byrd is that man. Byrd is one of only two fighters to have beaten Vitali Klitschko and that fight, in which Klitschko retired voluntarily, citing an injured shoulder has become the primary source of contention in Klitschko’s career. Until Vitali Klitschko fights and defeats Chris Byrd, common sense should prevail, acknowledging Byrd through his achievements and his ethics as the closest thing we have to a true heavyweight champion.
Of course, Byrd represents a proportionately less intimidating challenge for Barrett in terms of size, but an altogether more frightening one in a technical context. Against whomever Barrett decides to set his aim, he has withstood many challenges and now, he glimpses a chance of becoming a champion at last. In 2005, we will discover whether the gatekeeper himself can unlock the door to the heavyweight championship.
Jim Cawkwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org