Friday, February 29, 2008

Go to the mirror, boy

Last week offered a good chance to take a look at the wonderful world of professional boxing, heavyweight division. It's the funhouse of sports, where everything you see is a little distorted.

During the past 20-25 years, boxing came up with the idea that if one world champion was a good idea, two would be even better. More "championship bouts" that way, you see, and thus a bigger gate attraction. Which led to three world champions per weight classification, and then four. Let's repeat that -- there are four world champions. It's a reminder of the good old days of professional wrestling, when there were so many regional organizations around the country that you couldn't turn on your television on a Saturday without seeing two or three different world champions ... and that was just for Cleveland.

Two of the champions actually got in the same ring and fought last week. Wladimir Klitschko took on Sultan Ibragimov in a unification bout that was shown on HBO. OK, it's not an overstatement to say Ibragimov got in the ring, but it might be one to say he "fought" that night. He looked about as happy to be in the ring with Klitschko as I might be. Ibragimov was so inactive that it looked like Jerry Quarry could pick him apart (kids, ask your parents -- this is not exactly high praise). The crowd in New York got to see Klitschko throw a left jab every so often for 12 rounds with the occasional right hand, and it was easily enough of a performance to claim the additional title. As HBO dramas are concerned, "The Sopranos" it wasn't.

This leaves us with an unusual situation. Wladimir may be the world heavyweight champion according to two sanctioning bodies, but he's probably not the best fighter in his family.

Vitali Klitschko was a pretty fearsome fighter at one point a few years ago. One time he was the headliner on a card that featured Buffalo's Joe Mesi, and his performance made Mesi look like he was trying out for the junior varsity. Klitschko retired for a while but is back in training now. Vitali isn't a great fighter, but he's at least quite good when healthy and he's got to be better than most of the tomato cans out there.

I can't say I could come up with the names of the other heavyweight champions without a Google search, but it really doesn't matter. We're still waiting for that charismatic heavyweight champion to come along. You know the type -- Mike Tyson promised excitement whenever he climbed between the ropes, even if his career had some, um, baggage along the way. I'm not saying that fighter has to be an American, although it wouldn't hurt ticket sales in Las Vegas or New York. Even another Lennox Lewis would be welcome; Lewis wasn't always interested but he might have been one of the top 15 heavyweights ever when he put his mind to it.

It's time, then, to walk away from the funhouse for a while, and give heavyweight boxing some more time to sort itself out. If tradition holds, the views will be just as distorted in the years ahead.

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