Sorry state of heavyweight division

The heavyweight division is filled with so many ifs and buts that it can drive you nuts.

If all of the so-called titlists fought each other, maybe (and we're reaching here) the average sports fan could at least tell you who is the heavyweight champion of the world. After all, people used to know it was Mike Tyson, Larry Holmes, Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson, Rocky Marciano, et al.

But none of the beltholders - Hasim Rahman (WBC), Chris Byrd (IBF), Nicolay Valuev (WBA) or Sergei Liakhovich (WBO) - will fight each other. That's because promoters like Don King and Bob Arum are more interested in padding their pocketbooks and satisfying their egos than doing what's right for the sport of boxing and its fan base.

OK, to be fair Saturday's fight between Liakhovich and former champion Lamon Brewster was one hell of a figh t.

But what the hell gave Liakhovich, now 23-1 with 14 knockouts, the right to challenge for a world title? Because he hadn't fought since December 2004, when he beat Dominick Guinn? That he'd had only seven fights in more than four years (52 months, to be exact)?

Let's take a look at the top heavyweights out there today and see if there's any hope of having a real heavyweight champion in the near future. Let's start with the giant Valuev, 43-0 (31). Yes, without a doubt he is one mass of humanity. He's a 7-footer and he weighs in the 330-pound range.

But Valuev can't fight. Reports from Europe say he needed help from the judges to take away that WBA trinket from John Ruiz as well as in his victory over hapless Larry Donald. Valuev is such a questionable fighter that The Ring magazine (which has recognized no heavyweight champion since Vitali Klitschko retired) lists Valuev only No. 10 in its rankings.

If that's the case, one may ask, where is Ruiz ranked? How about No. 5. That Ruiz is even ranked by The Ring tells you the sorry shape of the heavyweight division. We've all seen Ruiz fight - jab once, throw a right, clutch and hold. I'd rather skinny-dip in a pool full of jellyfish than watch the "Quiet Man" box.

The only fighter in the world more boring to watch than Ruiz is Byrd, who is ranked No. 1 by The Ring.

If Byrd, 39-2-1 (20), is the best heavyweight in the world today, then people would be better off watching curling. The Ambien Man put to sleep Reno and whoever else watched him on Showtime last November, when he defended himself and occasionally slapped his way to a victory over equally inept and boring DaVarryl Williamson (appropriately nicknamed "Touch of Sleep").

If Byrd is ranked No. 1 by The Ring, who is No. 2? That honor goes to Rahman, 41-5-2 (33), who just got reamed by the judges, who somehow gave him only a draw in his fight with James Toney.

If Toney deserved a draw in that fight - which was as ugly as Michael Jackson without makeup (or even with makeup) - then poker belongs in the summer Olympic Games.

Toney, 69-4-3 (43), ranked No. 3 by The Ring, was outworked, overpowered and moved backward by Rahman's punches, while not being able to do anything offensively himself.

Toney is as slick as an eel and it was quite extraordinary that he was able to compete as a heavyweight with Rahman even though starting out his career as a middleweight.

But the 5-foot-9 Toney looked more like a large inner tube than a boxer, gorging his way up to nearly 240 pounds for his fight with Rahman. Is this the way someone gets in the best shape of his life to try and claim the highest honor in boxing - the heavyweight championship of the world?

As for Rahman, he should've listened to his trainer Thell Torrence and stayed on the outside and used his jab.

But Rahman, who was handed the WBC belt without ever fighting for it (the WBC "interim" title notwithstanding) chose instead to come after the slick-as-a-greased-pig Toney and smothered his own punches by being to close to his rotund opponent, who will probably weigh 250 pounds for his next fight.

These are but just two examples of boxers who don't listen to their trainers' advice and fight the wrong fight or not get in good shape. Others, like Brewster, drop the right trainer and get the wrong one to fit his particular style.

If Brewster, now 33-3 (29) and who was ranked No. 4 by The Ring, had stuck with trainer Jesse Reid instead of switching to Buddy McGirt, he'd still be champion. Reid was responsible for bringing out the aggressiveness in Brewster, which enabled him to knock out Andrew Golota in one round.

McGirt, who is a great trainer, did what he usually does with a fighter and teaches him to box. This wasn't what Brewster, a short heavyweight needed. Do you think Rocky Marciano, another short heavyweight, needed to jab and box more, or do you think his style of knocking his opponents the hell out fit his style more? A 49-0 career record should answer that question for you.

Speaking of knocking out opponents, what of Nigerian nightmare Samuel Peter, 26-1 (21)? Peter is another guy who can put his man to sleep with a single punch.

If he can work his way in, that is. Peter is the best prospect to bring fans back to the sport and credibility to the division. However, Peter (ranked No. 9 by The Ring) lacks the one thing you can never teach: speed.

Speed is what allowed Tyson (and no, he's not a part of this heavyweight equation) to land his combinations to begin with, which in turn allowed his power to do the rest for him. Without speed, Peter will never have the kind of combination punching that will enable him to make the most of his prodigious punching power and someday rule the division like Tyson (and Foreman, Frazier and other bangers) once did.

But what about Klitschko, I hear you ask. Well, Vitali is retired and into politics. He just lost in an election back in his native Ukraine and won't be coming back to boxing. His little 6-foot-6 brother, Wladimir (ranked No. 8 by The Ring) will be fighting Byrd (who is finally rid of that old shoe Don King) in Germany on April 22.

Klitschko owns a victory over Byrd (back in 2000) and is coming off a performance where he looked like Ali, dancing and jabbing and banging his way to a win over Peter.

But we all know Klitschko, 45-3 (40), doesn't have good whiskers. And even though he should beat Byrd, one of the sluggers in the division will get to him before he becomes The Man.

But how can I leave new titlist Liakhovich and contenders Calvin Brock and Monte Barrett (ranked No. 7 and No. 6 by The Ring, respectively) out of this discussion? Liakhovich doesn't listen to his trainer enough and just won't be a dominant fighter. Brock is undefeated and has some good skills, but lacks that something special that every real heavyweight champion needs: passion. Without it, he'll never rise to the top.

Just ask Barrett, who showed so little passion in his fight with Rahman that he lost and is now neither heard from, nor lamented in his absence. In short, Liakhovich, Barrett nor Brock are nor will be anything special.

"If" is at best the middle word of "life." But only looks good if you add another T to the word. And, no ifs, ands or buts about it, the heavyweight division is in serious trouble right now.


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