By Eric Raskin
The heads of three major sanctioning bodies a few weeks ago discussed the possibility of instituting a super heavyweight division to accommodate giants like the Klitschko brothers, meaning the existing heavyweight division would have a weight limit. Of course, the alphabet bodies like the idea of an 18th weight class at least in part because added sanctioning fees would make them richer. However, if they go through with it, it could be harmful to the sport on many levels.
It wasn’t easy, but somehow the cretins running boxing’s for-profit sanctioning bodies – men and women gifted with the divine ability to turn wine into water, diamonds into coal and Ricky Frazier into a mandatory – have succeeded in turning the word “super,” a term previously free of negative connotations, into one of the most dreaded words in the English language.
It started nearly a decade ago with the WBA’s introduction of the “super champion” concept, whereby they found a way to give title belts to two fighters in the same division. And it threatens to get worse in the months ahead if the alphabets succeed in creating a “super heavyweight” division.
The heads of the WBA, WBC and IBF, Gilberto Jesus Mendoza, Jose Sulaiman and Marian Muhammad, respectively (that’s the only way you’ll ever see the seven letters that form the word “respect” share a sentence with those names), met in Cancun earlier this month to see whether they could more effectively rape and pillage our sport. One order of business was initial discussion of introducing a super heavyweight division.
It doesn’t take a genius to see why this idea would appeal to the alphabets: An 18th weight class equals new opportunities to extract sanctioning fees.
But if you’re a boxing fan, this idea should hold zero appeal. Those sanctioning fees won’t land in your pocket. And the value of what once was the most prestigious title in all of sports – heavyweight champion of the world – will be rendered almost nonexistent.
We all know hard times have fallen upon the heavyweight division in recent years. But as bad as things are, splitting the heavyweight division in two will make it even worse. It could become so bad that we someday look wistfully back upon the bygone Klitschko Brothers era as something we wish we could recapture.
For starters, consider the talent pool. There isn’t enough to properly populate one heavyweight division right now. Look at the RING rankings. Alexander Dimitrenko and Tony Thompson are both still in the Top 10. If you divide the division into “heavyweights” (presumably with a weight limit of 220 or 225 pounds) and “super heavyweights,” you’re making each division twice as diluted as heavyweight currently is.
Almost everyone agrees that the NBA and NHL have over-expanded and watered down their products, but at least they did so just a couple of teams at a time; they didn’t go around doubling the number of teams in the league. That’s approximately what the creation of a super heavyweight division would do from a depth-of-talent perspective.
And following right in line, the addition of a super heavyweight division would destroy the cachet of titles in either weight class. Suddenly, “heavyweight” would become a second-rate title, given approximately the respect that “cruiserweight” is given now. And “super heavyweight” would not inherit all of the prestige “heavyweight” once held, because there is no history behind the term.
Imagine that you’re one of the Klitschkos. If your heavyweight belts are suddenly replaced with super heavyweight belts, then you’re no longer a part of the same all-time-great discussions as Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali. Every debate about where to rank you among the legends of the division becomes complicated and perhaps altogether moot. Is Vitali Klitschko a Top-25 all-time heavyweight? Well, he’s not a heavyweight at all, so can we really have that discussion?
Similarly, if the 220-pound Alexander Povetkin claims one of the new “heavyweight” titles, can he be properly assessed in the annals of history if he never has to defend his belt against the best big men of his era, namely the Klitschkos?
There’s an argument out there that it isn’t fair for 220-pounders to fight 250-pounders, that they don’t stand a chance of winning. We heard some of this chatter after Cris Arreola lost to Vitali Klitschko last September (it was a rather comical argument since Arreola was himself a 250-pounder, just not as tall a 250-pounder as Klitschko) and then ironically we heard it again after Arreola was the bigger man pummeling 218-pound Brian Minto in December.
If Minto feels he’s too small to compete against these guys, well, it’s not like anybody’s forcing him to fight them. He can go ahead and compete exclusively against guys like Povetkin, Eddie Chambers, Ruslan Chagaev or David Haye. But he’ll find that the results are the same. He’ll lose to those fighters because he’s just not as good as them. Minto is an honest heavyweight who tries hard and can beat some of the B-level guys, but he’s not at the world-class level.
History has shown us that smaller heavyweights who are world-class fighters can beat heavyweights who have three or four inches and 20 or 30 pounds on them. How else would you explain Lennox Lewis getting knocked out by both Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman? Or Wladimir Klitschko getting KO’d by Lamon Brewster? Or Vitali Klitschko losing to Chris Byrd? Jack Dempsey hammered Jess Willard, and Max Baer brutalized Primo Carnera. More recently, Chambers schooled Dimitrenko. And Haye outpointed Nikolai Valuev despite giving away nine inches and 99 pounds.
The Klitschkos are obviously much better fighters than Dimitrenko and Valuev, but the reason they keep winning isn’t that 220-pound heavyweights can’t beat them. It’s that at this moment there aren’t any 220-pound heavyweights good enough. We likely wouldn’t be having this discussion about whether the Klitschkos are too big for everyone if Ali or Larry Holmes or a prime Evander Holyfield were around right now.
Yes, times have changed, athletes have grown and most 195-pounders wouldn’t stand a chance against the Klitschkos. But that problem was already addressed with the creation – and later, the 10-pound limit increase – of the cruiserweight division. (And you’d still have a hard time convincing me that Louis, at about 202 pounds, wouldn’t have a realistic shot at upending one of the Klitschko brothers.)
Should we penalize Wladimir and Vitali by inventing this new division just because the current 220-pounders aren’t good enough to beat them?
Lurking within that question is the solution to this potential super heavyweight problem: As the most powerful – and, importantly, the most financially valuable – names in the heavyweight division, the Klitschkos need to stand up to the alphabet boys. Wladimir holds two alphabet belts. Vitali holds one. If they refuse to play ball, if they talk to Sulaiman or Muhammad or Mendoza before this thing becomes official and they tell them, “We’re heavyweights and we’re not paying sanctioning fees on super heavyweight titles,” then there’s a good chance this atrocious idea never gets off the ground.
Wladimir and Vitali, the boxing world needs you to step up right now. I don’t know exactly where I’d rank you among the all-time heavyweights. But it’s up to you guys to make sure I’m at least engaging in that discussion after your careers are over.