Boxing Bracketology at light heavy
Appeal Sports Writer
Roy Jones Jr., Michael Spinks, Bob Foster, Archie Moore – these are the hallowed names that once made the light heavyweight division relevant and spawned legions of boxing fans to tune in and show up to arenas whenever they fought.
Now, whether by ingenious plan or, more likely, happenstance, the powers that be have collaborated with a half-dozen 175-pounders in setting up the sport’s version of Bracketology and March – actually, April – Madness.
In the same kind of elimination-style format that made “The Contender” an attraction to mainstream viewers, April 12 begins a series of matchups that should culminate late this year with one champion that sets himself apart from the rest of the division and once again brings some cachet to the 175-pound ranks.
In a pair of Showtime-televised bouts from St. Pete Times Square in Tampa, Fla., IBF titlist Clinton Woods, 41-3-1 with 24 knockouts, will meet former undisputed light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver, 26-4 (19), and WBC beltholder Chad Dawson, 25-0 (17), goes up against another former undisputed 175-pound champion in Glen Johnson, 46-11-2 (31).
The following week at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas (televised by HBO), the recognized world light heavyweight champion, Bernard Hopkins, 48-4-1 (32) with 1 no contest, will face undisputed super middleweight champ Joe Calzaghe, 44-0 (32), who is moving up a weight class after defending his crown a division record-tying 21 times.
While the current plan has the winners of Woods-Tarver and Dawson-Johnson meeting sometime in the late-summer or early-fall, the winner of Hopkins-Calzaghe could advance to meet the 39-year-old Jones around the same time.
Then, if a pair of promoters have enough sense to see a golden opportunity, the two survivors should be matched up late in the year to resolve the question of who is really the man at light heavyweight.
Although WBO strapholder Zsolt Erdei, 28-0 (17), would beg to differ, there’s no reason he couldn’t step up and face the eventual winner and, at least for a brief, glorious time, help draw some viewers and fans back to the same division that once boasted such Hall of Famers as Bob Fitzsimmons, Maxie Rosenbloom, and Gus Lesnevich, among others.
With the exception of Calzaghe and Dawson, the rest of these competitors aren’t exactly strangers to each other.
Jones won his first belt – at 160 pounds – by taking a 12-round unanimous decision over Hopkins in 1993. He also stopped Woods in six rounds in 2002 and took a majority- decision victory over Tarver in ’03.
Jones was not so lucky in his next two meetings with Tarver, getting stopped in two round in the 2004 rematch and dropping a unanimous decision to “Magic Man” in the 2005 rubber match.
And in his only tangle with Johnson, “RJ” was knocked cold in the ninth round of their 2004 encounter.
The 39-year-old Johnson, known as the “Road Warrior,” was stopped by Hopkins in 11 rounds when he challenged him for B-Hop’s IBF middleweight crown in 1997. Before dispatching Jones, Johnson fought to a 12-round draw with Woods in 2003, but came back to notch a win over his English rival the following year.
The Road Warrior scored a split decision over Tarver in 2004 to lay claim to the undisputed crown, but lost the 2005 rematch. He also lost his third fight with Woods via 12-round split decision in 2006.
Some will rightfully argue that this is much ado about nothing, as “The Executioner” bullied around and defeated Tarver for the linear championship in 2006. It is this title – recognized by The Ring magazine and boxing traditionalists (like myself) – that will be on the line when the 43-year-old Hopkins and the 36-year-old Calzaghe mix it up.
This shouldn’t detract from these potential meaningful bouts, which can only help the sport as a whole.
For an analysis on these respective matchups, here is my version of boxing Bracketology: Even though Tarver hasn’t been impressive since he won his rubber match with Jones, he should still be too much for the 35-year-old Woods and score a unanimous decision.
Dawson shows lot of promise – and some liabilities. While his power is not suspect, his chin is. And “Bad Chad’s” youth – he’s only 25 – isn’t automatically an advantage against the rugged old Road Warrior.
Nonetheless, I’ll go with Dawson and the axiom “youth will be served” in a close, perhaps controversial bout.
As long as I’m being axiomatic, I’ll go with the proposition that styles make fights and Calzaghe’s is the same style that has beaten Hopkins three times before. As with Jones and Jermain Taylor (twice), Calzaghe should be able to exploit his hand and foot speed and go in-and-out and use angles effectively enough to beat a counterpunching Hopkins.
Then, in a matchup of two southpaws from Florida, I’ll go with old age and experience over youth and choose Tarver in a stinker over Dawson.
Jones has expressed a willingness to travel to Germany – something he never did with former WBO light heavyweight champ Dariusz Michalczewski – and face former WBC super middleweight titlist Markus Beyer.
Taking on Calzaghe makes more sense and regardless of whether he fights Beyer – whom he should beat – it will happen. And Calzaghe will be too much for Jones, possibly even stopping him. Then he’ll move on to meet and beat Tarver retiring – and leaving Erdei in the cold, along with the rest of the light heavyweight division, which will once again have to start its search for a linear, undisputed champion.
In the meantime, regardless of who wins this de facto boxing Bracketology blowout, action at 175 pounds will once again be not only relevant, but exciting as well.