“The Standing Eight Count”-
I See Hope For The Heavyweight Division

By Dave Wilcox

There was a time when the “Heavyweight Championship of the World” was the greatest prize in sports. Legendary figures such as Jack Dempsey with his brute like force and Joe Louis with his grace and style ruled the sports landscape in their times. Rocky Marciano would be the first and still only heavyweight Champion to retire undefeated. The Heavyweight Champions were treated as royalty and always had the front page of the newspaper. They were not only fighters, they were Heroes. Some served our country in World Wars, some married movie stars but all great heavyweight champions transcended their sport and were bigger than Boxing.

When Gene Tunney removed the title from Jack Dempsey in 1926, there were over 120,000 spectators in attendance. The rematch fell short of that number, but still drew just over 100,000 fans to watch the famous “Long Count”. Gene Tunney would retain his title in the fight and the Heavyweight Championship of the World was indeed the biggest prize in sports.

We would go on to see the stories unfold of Joe Louis and his incredible streak of title defenses. In his later days when he was being taken advantage of by everyone, including his very own country that he served so well, Louis himself would be the springboard that kick started Marciano’s career. The over the hill Louis, who was hurting for money took a fight with the up and coming Brockton, Massachusetts slugger and would be brutally knocked out in a horrible night for Boxing that to this day leaves a bad taste in my mouth. As noted above, Marciano would retire undefeated at 49-0 and then later would die in a plane crash on August 1st, 1969.

A young and brash Cassius Clay broke on to the scene after winning a gold medal for the USA in 1960. Clay turned pro on October 29th, 1960 and the rest as they say, is history. He changed his name to Muhammad Ali and Boxing would never be the same again. We’ll save that story for another day.

As we flash forward to 1976 and little eight year old Davie Wilcox goes to a drive-in theater to watch a movie called “Rocky” his world would never be the same. As I chronicled in an earlier column I wrote entitled, Rocky, Mason Dixon and Me, the movie Rocky took over my life it seemed and from then on I couldn’t get enough of the real stuff. Soon after watching Stallone do his thing, I would watch and read everything I could get my hands on that related to the Heavyweight division.

At about that time, Ali was coming to the end of his title reign. The first bout I remember really having a true opinion on while watching on television was the first fight between the great Muhammad Ali and fellow Olympic Gold Medalist, Leon Spinks. Obviously, that wasn’t a great fight, but it was indeed a great event. Leon Spinks won the fight against Ali and instead of defending against the mandatory #1 contender, Kenny Norton, he took return match against “The Greatest” for big money. While that was going on, Kenny Norton won a 15 round decision over Jimmy Young in what became a title fight by default. The WBC stripped Spinks for not fighting Norton and then gave it to the star of Mandingo without him actually winning it in the ring.

That brings us to the fight that hooked me forever.

On June 9th, 1978 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Kenny Norton stepped in the ring against a young upstart and former Ali sparring partner in Larry Holmes for the WBC strap. For 15 grueling rounds these men pounded on each other relentlessly. In arguably the greatest final round in Heavyweight Championship history, the two warriors dug deep and thrilled us with heart and passion. Larry Holmes won the decision and started a legendary run of his own.
Holmes ruled the Heavyweight landscape until 1985 when he was upset by Light heavyweight Champion, Michael Spinks in a close decision. Spinks went on to win a rematch in 1986 and HBO would “kiss Larry Holmes where the sun don’t shine, and since they were on HBO, it was his big black behind”.

“The baddest man on the planet” was next up as “Iron” Mike Tyson became the youngest Heavyweight Champion of all time when he knocked out Trevor Berbick on November 22nd, 1986. Tyson would unify the title belts in a unification series put on by good ol’ Don King with victories over Berbick, Tony “TNT” Tucker and James “Bonecrusher” Smith. All doubt was lifted as to who the best was when the unified champ met the linear champ on June 27th, 1988. Tyson destroyed Michael Spinks in 91 seconds to claim his stake at Heavyweight greatness.

Mike Tyson should have retired as the greatest of all time, but the lack of character, motivation and a bad attitude would prevent us from seeing that happen. Well, those things and Buster Douglas.

The 90’s in the Heavyweight division was a very nice decade. Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis would battle for supremacy. Riddick Bowe and Michael Moorer would have incredible moments of their own as well. We had a new “Great White Hope” in Tommy Morrison that was almost decapitated by another 90’s favorite in Ray Mercer. Of course how can anyone forget Reverend George’s joke of a comeback in the 80’s turn into a legitimate one in the 90’s as he challenged Evander Holyfield for the title and proved his comeback was in fact not a joke. Big George Foreman lost his bid for a title against Holyfield in 1991, but in 1994, history would be made. Twenty-six years after winning the gold medal in Mexico City, Big George shocked the world and knocked out Michael Moorer to win the Heavyweight Championship of the World. For good measure, he even wore the same trucks against Moorer that he wore in the ring when he first won the title against Joe Frazier. The trunks looked a little tighter in 1994.

As the new millennium hit in 2000, Holyfield faded, Bowe went “Jimmy Piersol” on us and Lennox Lewis took control of the Heavyweight Division. He was the acknowledged ruler of the division until his sudden retirement after a tough bout against Vitali Klitschko in 2003. This my friends, was the beginning of the end.

The big names were now all gone and all we had left were unknowns and with all due respect, a bunch of guys from Germany and the Ukraine that I couldn’t spell or pronounce their names. The American Heavyweight was all but dead. There was no network television to develop fighters with the public as there once was. In a Pay-Per View world, the mainstream fan that might have helped pack Soldier Field in Chicago back in 1927 could care less about the Heavyweight Division in 2003. Our great heavyweights were either playing power forward for the Lakers or linebacker for the Steelers.

The division was boring and lacked talent. You had guys that were more suited to being under the big top than in the ring. We had a “Quiet Men” that hugged his way to titles because quite honestly, there was nothing much better.

The one saving grace seemed to be in two brothers named Klitschko. Older brother Vitali made his name in the above mentioned bout with Lennox Lewis. He went on to win a title, but injuries forced an early retirement. Little brother Wladimir became more famous for water bottles and a glass jaw that he did with his skills.

As we stand in 2009, Vitali made his comeback and won a title back by beating Sam Peter and Wladimir has continued to win in recent years and has also continued to bore the hell out of me. How long do we have to wait for him to be great? He is a big guy with speed, talent and power and he fights scared. He is always trying to protect that china under his lip. As far as big brother goes, he is a better fighter than Jr., but he is too old and puts me to sleep when I watch him as well.

The division has gotten so bad, that I long for the “glory years” of Tony Tubbs, Pinklon Thomas and Gerrie Coetzee.

As Peter Finch once said, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” Well, actually I probably will take it because I’m the same guy who paid $55.00 to watch Kelly Pavlik and Miguel Cotto beat a couple Tijuana Taxi drivers the other day on Pay-Per View.
I want my champions to be fearless and fight coming forward. I don’t want a big and strong 6’ 6” Heavyweight champion to fight like he is in a track meet.

I want a guy who is a character and makes me want to watch him fight. Believe me, nobody is going to break the doors down to watch Ruslan Chagaev or Nikolay Valuev, unless of course the bearded lady is on the undercard.

Don’t worry my friends, I see hope coming by way of London, England and Riverside, California.
As I write this, Former Cruiserweight champion, David Haye is scheduled to challenge for Wladimir Klitschko’s belt on June 20th in England. I couldn’t be happier. I absolutely love David Haye. He is just what we need in the division. He fights good, he talks good and he looks good. Every time this guy opens his mouth, I want to be there to hear it. Do I necessarily think he is a “great” fighter at this point? The answer is no, but he could be, couldn’t he? Make no mistake, he has heavyweight power in that right hand and don’t you listen to anyone who says he is a blown up Cruiserweight. That is far from the truth. If anything, he was a starving Heavyweight when he fought at Cruiser. The big question for Haye is his ability to take a punch. He has been knocked down before at Cruiserweight and was rocked by Monte Barrett in his first fight at heavyweight. I don’t know how he will take a punch from a legit bomber like Wlad, but I do know I can’t wait to find out.

If Haye can manage to come out of that fight as The Heavyweight Champion, there is another intriguing young man out here in my neck of the woods.

This young man has way too many tattoos, he drinks too much, eats too much and swears too much. He is also one of the nicest guys I have met in quite some time. His name is Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola. He is also a guy that when he is on my television and I’m in the middle of something else, you can bet that I would drop what I’m doing to see what Arreola is up to.
The Heavyweights post Lennox Lewis era do the complete opposite to me. I can’t wait to miss their next fight. If Sultan Ibragimov is on the tube, I go ahead and make that root canal appointment for the same day.

I will choose to ignore the recent rumor that David Haye might pull out of the fight with little brother and be replaced by Arreola. My guess is its just posturing by the managers and the deal will get done.

In the meantime, Chris Arreola will take on “Big Time” Jameel McCline on the undercard of Winky Wright vs. Paul Williams on April 11th in Las Vegas.

Let me make this prediction right now. The biggest fight of 2010 will be David Haye vs. Chris Arreola for the Undisputed Heavyweight Championship of the World!

The big boys back on top…I love it!

Random thoughts:

-Speaking of Winky Wright vs. Paul Williams. Why is Winky getting top billing? Who does he think he is, Shelly Long?

-I will be in Vegas for the Williams-Wright bout next month. I will start my strict exercise routine so I can be in tip-top drinking shape. Viva Las Vegas!

-I don’t watch The Contender on television because I am morally against reality shows. I did however watch the finals on Versus because they format the finals like real a Boxing show. Was it just me, or did Tony Danza sound great as a broadcaster. He is smart, funny and knowledgeable as a former fighter himself. Wouldn’t it be interesting if someone gave him a crack on a big network? Heck, every time Slapsie Maxie opens his pie hole on the HBO telecasts, I feel like I’m being blasted on the jaw by an Earnie Shavers overhand right. Tone it down a notch Max.

-I love the thought of a Miguel Cotto fight against Joshua Clottey. That just proves what we already know. Miguel Cotto is the blue print of how fighters should behave. Humble, friendly and mean as a snake. That and he always takes the fights nobody else will. Having said all that, I want the Shane Mosley- Miguel Cotto rematch first. I think Shane earned it with his drubbing of Antonio Margacheato. Clottey can wait.

Thanks for reading and keep punching
Email - Dave@TalkinBoxing.com 
Website- www.TheDailySports.com

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