King no 'Valuev' to boxing

In spite of the best efforts of promoter Don King, his majordomo (the IBF) and his boxer, Ray Austin, Wladimir Klitschko is still the IBF heavyweight titlist and arguably the best fighter in the depleted division.

Klitschko ambushed Austin with five quick left hooks and scored a second-round knockout in an HBO-televised event from Mannheim, Germany, on Saturday.

Although he was nearly as tall as "Dr. Steelhammer" - 6-foot-6 - and at 247 pounds was a half-pound heavier, Austin was in so far above his head that he didn't belong in the same area code - much less the same ring - as Klitschko.

Austin got his title shot for two reasons and two reasons only: King owned - er, promoted - him and the IBF does a little jig whenever Mr. Electric Hair claps his hands together.

In its infinite wisdom, the IBF saw fit to give Austin the title fight because someone in the sanctioning body seemed to feel that the journeyman defeated Sultan Ibragimov in their title eliminator last year. Never mind that the judges ruled the fight a draw.

If there was even a United States boxing commission, the IBF would've been nailed to the floor for such a vulgar display of malfeasance - only the latest one in a series of misdeeds that would require a thick book to record them all.

While it was no fun to root against everyman Austin, it was titillating to find out that the verbose King, who can spend hours ranting and filibustering on any given topic at the snap of a finger, didn't so much as show up to the post-fight press conference.

Not only did Klitschko, now 48-3 with 43 knockouts, put Austin's lights out with his left hand, he even did what was thought impossible by shutting up King as well. For that accomplishment alone, he deserves to be called the undisputed heavyweight champion.

But alas he's not. King still owns half the division in WBO strapholder Shannon Briggs and WBA titlist Nicolay Valuev.

King recently bought a slice of heavyweight contender Samuel Peter from promoter Lou Duva and, if he has his way, will be able to get him a title shot against WBC beltholder Oleg Maskaev, who is trying to face Wladimir's comebacking brother, Vitali, the organization's "champion emeritus."

If boxing's Giapetto - King - can once again pull his strings with the WBC, Peter will get the shot against Maskaev instead of "Dr. Ironfist," who is returning from a short retirement caused by an injured knee.

Wladimir owns a victory over Peter, who showed some improvement in his second so-called title eliminator against James Toney, whom he twice beat.

But regardless of who fights Maskaev, King's once iron grip on boxing's premier division is growing shaky.

King's hold on the WBA and WBO belts is tenuous at best. Briggs, 48-4-1 (42), carries a ton of power, but he is musclebound and asthmatic and, in addition to his lack of endurance, has a questionable chin.

Briggs will be lucky to get by his next opponent - southpaw Ibragimov, 20-0-1 (17) - in Moscow in an April bout. And even if he does get by the Russian, Briggs won't have his belt for long.

And don't think King isn't aware of that. Although Briggs has a puncher's chance against Wladimir, Vitali - who's a bit sturdier and a better technical boxer than his younger brother - would clean house with "Shannon the Cannon."

It's doubtful that King would risk Briggs and the WBO strap in an unification match against either Klitschko, which leaves his 7-foot, 330-pound crown jewel - Valuev, 46-0 (34) - as his most coveted possession.

But if Valuev is King's gold, he is also fool's gold. His toughest opponent to date was a used-up Larry Donald (whom he defeated - some say unfairly - via majority decision).

Valuev also scored a majority decision over the ungainly John Ruiz to win the WBA belt (many thought Ruiz won the bout). And the big Russian can thank King for such a pathetic list of "contenders" to his throne: Owen "What the Heck" Beck (TKO 3), Monte "Two Gunz" Barrett (TKO 11) and Jameel "Big Time" McCline (TKO 3).

Perhaps none of the challengers was more appropriately named than Beck, as in, What the heck is going on when such a limited fighter can get a title shot? After losing to Austin and Barrett (from Donald to McCline, all are King's fighters), Beck defeated Darnell Wilson in an eight-rounder.

This merits a shot at Valuev?

Barrett was coming off a loss to Hasim Rahman before falling victim to Valuev's big guns. And McCline had beaten a succession of five journeymen and one unimpressive fighter in Terry Smith to earn his shot.

McCline was reportedly holding his own against Valuev before falling to the canvas on his own with a knee injury.

Valuev's greatest strength is his size. He'd be more than 80 pounds heavier than either Vitali or Wladimir. He's also 4 inches taller than Vitali and nearly 6 inches taller than Wladimir.

But all of that size doesn't make Valuev's chin any stronger and Barrett made him do a little two-step on a couple of occasions.

The Brothers Klitschko own a significant skill advantage, both are faster and can punch harder - at least sharper - than Valuev. Both would be good fights.

Now for the $64,000 question: Is Don King willing to risk his flagship fighter against either brother and possibly lose control of the heavyweight division? It's tantamount to George Steinbrenner playing a shell game with his ownership of the New York Yankees on the line.

If King gambles on one of his belts, it will be with Briggs. King is busy tucking Valuev away in far away places like Switzerland (where he fought McCline) against a hand-selection of stiffs while he pursues Rocky Marciano's heavyweight division record of 49-0 with 43 knockouts.

Maybe the talent level in the heavyweight pool isn't as deep as it has been in the past - in fact, it may be at its lowest ebb ever - but at least Dr. Steelhammer and maybe even Dr. Ironfist have got King sweating and at a loss for words.

And for that, we must all be grateful.


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