Snips & Snipes: The state of the heavyweight division

heavyweight division
Action Images/Lee Smith
Eric Armit explains why the heavyweight division is a mess once again

SO far so very good for the World Boxing Super Series. The fights they have presented so far were either outstanding or ones that whilst not producing a great fight have been interesting on paper. They have also been smart in realising there are some good fights to be had at cruiser and super middle and as they progress through the tournament the fights will get tougher and tougher.

It is lucky that the WBSS did not decide to include a heavyweight tournament as the division is once again in a mess. No blame attached to Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder and only on a small question against New Zealander Joseph Parker for just squeezing past Hughie Fury but at least he had the courage to take his fight into the other guy’s territory and deserves praise for that.

After that it gets very messy. There are positive tests allegations hanging over Alex Povetkin, Luis Ortiz and both Tyson Fury and Hughie Fury. On November 4 Wilder is going to fight Bermane Stiverne who he beat by 13, 11 and 11 points in May 2015 and who will be 39 three days before the fight. Stiverne has had only fight in the 33 months since losing to Wilder and has not had a fight since November 2015 so should not even be in the WBC ratings let alone a ridiculous No 1. Stiverne was due to fight Dominic Breazeale on the 4 November show so the show must go on and he is available. A rubbish match.

heavyweight division

Alex Povetkin reportedly gave a positive test when due to fight Wilder in May 2016 and then Pole Andrzej Wawrzyk who was to be the next challenger to Wilder also gave a positive test. With that history it was a risk nominating Ortiz as a challenger to Wilder and his second positive test probable surprised no one.

To muddy the waters even further in a typical move the WBA have said Ortiz will remain No 1 in their list but right now, with that second positive test, any thoughts of Ortiz challenge Joshua is another piece of rubbish talk. If that’s not bad enough now the WBA have agreed to Alex Ustinov vs. Manuel Charr for their interim title even though Joshua is defending their title later this month. These are the guys who proudly announced their aim to have just one world champion in each division. More rubbish. Ustinov is the WBA No 2. He will be 41 in December, was outclassed and knocked out by Pulev in 2012 and since then has not fought anyone coming off a win. Since losing to Pulev he has risen from No 11 to No 2 for beating Ivica Perkovic, a 41-year-old David Tua, Chauncey Welliver who had lost his previous two fights inside the distance, Travis Walker who had lost his last six fights, a 39-year-old Maurice Harris who was 1-4-1 in his last 6 fights, Konstantin Airich who had lost 6 of his last 7 fights and Brazilian travelling loser Raphael Zumbano who in his next fight was stopped inside a round by former top amateur Filip Hrgovic. If you think I am being too harsh on the WBA then just consider that Charr was knocked out in five rounds by Mairis Breidis and has two plastic hips. Hey that’s the good news they could have nominated Fres Oquendo to whom they have to give a title chance after he won a court case. Oquendo has not fought since July 2014 – he is their No 3 above Charr. Come on Fres add to the pain and take out an injunction on them for overlooking you. Somehow rubbish just does not seem a harsh enough word.

Povetkin may be under suspension from the WBC but they have no jurisdiction over him. They are a title sanctioning body not a licensing body and when they suspend a fighter the words missing are “from the WBC ratings and WBC title fights” because that’s all they have power over. After all this time the situation with Povetkin’s positive test is still not resolved and it is the same with Tyson and Hughie Fury. Povetkin is fighting Christian Hammer on 15 December and when Tyson Fury said he will not apply for licence from the BBB of C he did not say he was not going to seek a licence from another body such as the Luxemburg Board so let’s keep an eye on that situation. And the WBC are thinking of introducing a super-heavyweight division – oh please no!

Last word on the heavyweights. For those interested in money Joshua is reportedly getting around $20 million for the Pulev fight and the Bulgarian’s pay will be about $5 million. The estimated total take for the fight could go as high as $40 million.

Luckily we have some real quality stuff going on in the other divisions. The Vasyl Lomachenko vs. Guillermo Rigondeaux fight on December 9 is already sold out. It is a great match but styles make fights so there is no guarantee these two will produce a classic. For Lomachenko to win and for the fight to be a classic he has to make Rigondeaux fight his fight but at least the fights we want to see are being made. The next in the WBSS cruiser series will see Murat Gassiev put his IBF title on the line against former WBC champion Krzys Wlodarczyk in Newark on October 21 in another good 50/50 match.

It is not only the heavyweights who are dogged by positive tests. There are allegations that Jesus Rojas tested positive for a banned substance after winning the WBA interim title by halting Claudio Marrero last month but very few detail have been released so far on that one.

You never know what is around the corner. When Gary Corcoran took a split decision over Larry Ekundayo in July he would never have believed that by December 15 he would be heading for Brisbane and fighting for the WBO title against a fighter who had beaten the great Manny Pacquiao. He had done most of his recent work at super-welter but he has his chance. He must start as an outsider but then so did Jeff Horn against Pacquiao. For both of them the potential rewards are huge with a fight against Pacquiao in April being mooted for the winner. No Gar y-no one is going to punch you and you won’t wake up to find it is all a dream.

Still on Australia despite his best instincts former IBF champion Barry Michael has found himself tempted back into promoting. Barry will be partnering Jake Ellis the son of Lester Ellis – the man Barry beat for the IBF title back in 1985 – for a show in Melbourne on December 9. Jake has been promoting for a few years and Barry is helping Jake train one of his sons Darcy Ellis who had his first pro fight in August winning on a first round knockout. It was a big benefit to Australian boxing to have two such talented fighters as Barry and Lester active at the same time and in the same division. Their 1985 fight was one of the few occasions when it has been Australian vs. Australian for a world title. Barry made three successful defences of his title before losing it to Rocky Lockridge. They did a documentary on Barry and Lester entitled “A Melbourne Story” and there is talk of a film, Just make sure they don’t take artistic licence too far and change the result of the fight Barry.

The WBA have elevated Dmitry Bivol to be their champion at light heavy. With their super champion Andre Ward retiring and Badou Jack relinquishing the secondary title there was a gap and that’s how they filled it. Bivol’s November 4 defence against Trent Broadhurst will no longer be for the interim title but for the full title. The winner of Bivol vs. Broadhurst must defend against the highest rated challenger within 120 days.

Panamanian Jezreel Corrales will put his WBA super feather title on the line at the Turning Stone Resort and Casino against unbeaten Puerto Rican banger Alberto Machado who is 18-0 with 15 wins by KO/TO.

With Jesse Magdaleno injuring a wrist and unable to defend his WBO super-bantam title on November 21 in Fresno against No 1 Cesar Juarez there is talk that Juarez will fight Filipino Marlon Tapales who is No 2 for the interim title. Tapales management are hoping to get more time to prepare but the show will go ahead with a couple of real quality fights with Artur Beterbiev fighting German Enrico Koelling for the vacant IBF light heavy title and a bout between unbeaten super light fighters Juan Carlos Ramirez 20-0 and Mike Reed 23-0 which should be worth the admission price alone.

Miguel Cotto’s last pro fight against Sadam Ali has been confirmed for December 2 in New York. He will be taking on the Brooklyn-born “The World Kid” in his own back yard but should be too experienced and go out with a win-and hopefully stay retired after a great career. There is also talk of Danny Garcia vs. Brandon Rios in New York in December and if it comes off it could be the Last Chance saloon for Rios.

Roman Gonzalez has set out his plan for the future. He said that he would probably go after WBA champion Khalid Yafai and then move on to a return with Srisaket. Let’s hope that was just a bad night in Carson in September because he can’t afford to take the unbeaten Yafai lightly. He was talking about having Felix Trinidad Snr. as his trainer but Trinidad has said no.

An all-Mexican affair may see Miguel Berchelt defending his WBC super feather title against perennial challenger Orlando Salido on December 9 but no venue yet and confirmation of the fight awaited.

The possibility of a fight between Terry Flanagan and Felix Verdejo seems to have disappeared in the mist. Although Verdejo had a fight in February and was No 1 in their August ratings another injury for Verdejo saw the WBO drop him from No 1 to No7 in their September ratings. Ray Beltran will be the beneficiary of that as he moves into the No 1 spot to challenge Ferry Flanagan. Beltran drew with Ricky Burns for the WBO title in 2013, a fight many thought Beltran won. He then challenged Terrence Crawford for the same title in 2014 and has earned his third shot with inside the distance wins over Mason Menard and Jonathan Maicelo and a decision over Byron Vasquez.

So good to see Bruce McTavish honoured with the “Referee of the Year “award by the WBC. New Zealand-born but a long-time resident in the Philippines Bruce was awarded the same honour in 2013 and 2015 and deserves them all. He has refereed more than 1,500 fights including over 100 world title fights. Every bit as important is the philanthropic work Bruce does. He made a huge contribution when President of the local Rotary Club in the fight against polio and continues to do other charity work. Well deserved my old friend.

According to Russian sources Denis Lebedev will defend his WBA cruiser title against Fabio Maldonado who has a record of 24 wins by KO/TKO in 25 fights. Looks impressive but the opponents were of the sort who would be honoured to be labelled third class. No date or venue and Maldonado, well known in Russia for his MMA achievements, is not in the WBA ratings – yet.

Lebedev is doing some excellent work outside the ring. He is actively involved in the Denis Lebedev Future Generations Foundation which is going to work on the popularisation and development of sport in Russia. Their initial aim is to finance the opening of sports clubs in twenty major cities. The Foundation is not just about sport but also aims to provide support to a variety of disadvantaged individuals. Good to see Lebedev putting his ring earnings to such a good cause as do many other boxers.

Two South African boxers are being recognised for their achievements. Former WBA flyweight champion Peter Mathebula received a Lifetime Achievement award. When he beat Tae-Shik Kim in South Korea for the title in 1980 he became the first black boxer to win a world title. The other award will go to Gerrie Coetzee. When the “Boksburg Bombe” beat Michael Dokes in 1983 for the WBA title he became the first South African boxer to win the heavyweight title. Coetzee’s award will be a Sports Lifetime Achievement Award and will be presented in Hollywood at the African Prestigious Awards ceremony next month. There is talk of a film of Coetzee’s life with Denzil Washington in the cast list.

It is so good to see George Groves donating money to help his ex-opponent Eduard Gutknecht. There has been a lot of activity in Germany to support Gutknecht’s wife Julia and his three children as a considerable amount of cost will be incurred in ongoing care for Eddy who is still unable to walk or talk. A charity event raised over Euro 50,000. Eddy worked at VW and was a member of the IG Metall works union who contribute a sizeable sum. There was even a “boxing match” where Firat Arslan crossed gloves with the Chairman of Porsche- it ended in a draw! And Gennady Golovkin attended and donated Euro 25,000.

Spanish fighter Saul Tejada is in a similar situation to Gutknecht but is a much more low profile case although just as serious. Tejeda suffered an epidural hematoma when being knocked out in a fight in October last year. Tejeda is making progress but it is slow. Again the ongoing care costs will be substantial and there have been a number of money raising events and the WBC made a contribution. Boxing is a dangerous sport and always will be and the boxing community rallies round when help is need and always will do.

One of the most frightening things I have seen in many years was a video I watched today involving MMA and not boxing. The video showed a fighter who was so dehydrated he could not walk unaided. Two people helped him to the scales and had to practically lift him on. When he was there they held his elbows until they felt he had enough balance to stand up but remained ready to catch him if he fell. He went through with his fight and lost on points. Thank goodness we are better than that in boxing.

Back to the heavyweights for a closing note. We had Vitali Klitschko saying he might think about coming back to get revenge for Wlad by beating Joshua. Please Vitali stick to the day job surely being mayor of Kiev keeps you busy enough and anyway your name is there as a candidate for this year’s Hall of Fame election and if you fight before the results are in you will have to wait another five years to qualify for the Hall. Please tell me you were joking.

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