This article, this article. What to say? Several major issues:
1. Maybe it’s because he was the dominant champion when most of today’s boxing press were young, maybe it’s because he fits peoples’ preconceptions of what a heavyweight champion should be, maybe it’s for the KOs, maybe it’s for some other reason- but Mike Tyson at this point is like everyone’s first girlfriend. He’s remembered far too fondly based on half-remembered superficialities from 20+ years ago, more for primacy and novelty than ability, and there seems to be sort of a collective agreement to try to forget the whole last decade and a half of his career when everyone realized (albeit briefly) that the sun did not in fact rise and set with this man. Look: Tyson was a very, very good heavyweight, a justified hall of famer, an intensely memorable figure; but in the list of top 10 heavyweights of all time he’s not #1, he’s almost certainly not top-5, and I’ve seen reasonable arguments that don’t even have him on the list. He was never as good as Lennox Lewis. Not ever. His dominance of the heavyweight division from his pro debut to the end of the myth in Tokyo was 4 years and 11 months, roughly a quarter of his career, and his best win in that time was a terrified Michael Spinks; second best was either Frank Bruno or the 39 year old post-retirement version of Larry Holmes, take your pick. The point is, Tyson got exposed over time; and if what he was wasn’t completely obvious at the start of his career (though it was to some, take a bow Teddy Atlas) then surely now, nearly 20 years after the Buster Douglas fight, it should be. Holding him up as a mythical measuring stick for dominance is both factually wrong and frankly silly at this point.
2. Lennox Lewis, by contrast, is STILL underrated by people obsessed with perceptions more than realities. Lewis lost exactly two fights in his career, both by KO: one to Oliver McCall and the other to Hasim Rahman, both later avenged with KO wins in one-sided fashion. What does that tell us? That Lewis fought through adversity and learned from his mistakes, two things which Tyson was never able to do. Lewis’s losses were non-repeatable and flukey; Tyson was repeatedly beaten in thorough fashion by Evander Holyfield, Buster Douglas and Lewis. Lewis’s best wins include Evander Holyfield, Vitali Klitschko and, yes, Mike Tyson (for name value), as well as a long string of solid contenders- David Tua, the hyped-at-the-time Michael Grant, Rahman, Briggs, Golata, Morrison, Bruno, Ruddock- every bit the equal (and in some cases the same) as Tyson’s. And yet for whatever inexplicable reason people STILL focus on the fact that Lewis could be hurt and fight through it to win as a negative because he supposedly had “a healthy dollop of vulnerability”. It’s just ignorant, frankly. Here’s a question: if you’re fighting someone, what’s scarier- a guy you can barely hit but maybe have a chance to hurt, but who walks thorough that and keeps coming- or a guy who’s scary for a little while, but who you know will mentally break if you hang around and keep fighting back? To my mind it says everything about Lennox Lewis that he concluded his career with one last fight at age 38 after a year long layoff- against VITALI KLITSCHKO- which he won by KO. That was not a fight he had to take, it was a fight where he seriously risked his reputation by facing a younger, stronger man who matched him in size, who had never been beaten in a fight (his lone loss was an injury retirement) and who had KO’d all but two of his opponents to that point in time. Lewis took it, won it, and thereby stamped his dominance not only on his own era but on the era which followed him.
3. “Not so with Vitali. He’s a chiselled figure, with a remarkable weight deviation of just seven pounds over the past decade, and he’s never been knocked down.”
It’s fucking boxing, not Mr. Olympia. Michael Grant looked great at the weigh-ins as well; then he looked horizontal in the fights. Grumble Grumble non-relevant criterion grumble…
4. “Most boxing observers would put Peter, Gomez and Arreola as a group ahead of Williams, Sanders and Kirk Johnson, his three opponents before his retirement in 2004. In other words, while the division ain’t exactly resembling the golden eras of the ’70s, or even mid-90s, it’s better than it was five years ago.”
…Because of the choice of three consecutive opponents by one fighter? Deeply silly. I’m willing to listen to the argument, but let’s have some real evidence for it.
5. “And people also need to know about the long view. Many of the dozen years Joe Louis held the crown were desultory and the division in the mid-to-late ’50s was lacking.”
Fighters faced by Joe Louis in his run as Heavyweight champion: James Braddock (current champion), Max Schmeling (former champion), Jersey Joe Walcott (future champion), Ezzard Charles (post-title relinquishment by Louis, then recognized as champion), John Henry Lewis (current light heavyweight champion), Billy Conn (former light heavyweight champion) who Louis faced twice, and the combined records of Louis’ opponents whom he faced as champion, including Charles, was 1409-304-87 when Louis faced them, in a much more brutally competitive era. No, this is not perfect evidence and no, this era was not the mid-70’s, but let’s be serious: in their era guys like Charles, Walcott and Schmeling were much, much better than guys like Chris Arreola or Sam Peter. Hell, you could probably make a half-assed case that Chris Arreola is the modern Tony Galento, and Galento was not really considered all that great a fighter in his day.*
As for the mid-late ’50s, sure, not the best era; but it had the beginning of the famous and memorable three fight series between Floyd Patterson and Ingemar Johansson, Patterson becoming the youngest heavyweight champion to that point, Archie Moore, and most importantly a mechanism in place to develop new fighters to replenish the division. Today’s heavyweight division is washed-out football players, solid but uninspiring ex-Soviet professionals, and Klitschkos, and who knows where the next star is coming from? More importantly than that though for the present argument: please go back and watch some of the fights from this era, which are available on youtube and elsewhere- the skills difference from even a weak era like this to present heavyweights in the same general range of the division is often really glaring. Modern fighters would hold their own head to head due to training and size differences, but if you could normalize for those factors I honestly think there’s very few heavyweights from the current era who could have thrived in the old days. I wouldn’t argue that the old days are always better mind you- the Klitschkos would have been competitive in any era and possibly dominant because of their size- but guys like Arreola or Kevin Johnson or Nikolai Valuev as major contenders is very much a product of the modern era.
As for the rest of the article- sigh. Kevin Johnson is not a serious contender, Fast Eddie, though talented, is basically the cut-price Chris Byrd and would make a better challenger to Chad Dawson or Tomasz Adamek than a Klitschko, Alexander Dimitrenko just lost to Eddie Chambers, and while Alexander Povetkin is also a talented fighter against either Klitschko he’s screwed for size, reach, power and cardio. Some of these guys could have solid fights against each other or against a Ruslan Chagaev (or David Haye if he ever fights a serious heavyweight), but none of them are a threat to the title, all of them have massive, gaping technical flaws or athletic limitations, and some of them have already fought each other to a complete lack of public interest or acclaim.
Anyway. I don’t meant to pick on this author too much, but a lot of the weird takes on boxing history contained in his article seem to me to be common and particularly glaring ones. I understand the urge to try and defend the current state of boxing from all the overblown boxing-is-dead stories, but to my mind the best way to do that is to highlight the talent in lower divisions, rather than try to build a weak case for a weak division. Times have changed, and boxing can’t live or die with the heavyweights- and given that the biggest two draws in the sport currently fight at welterweight, it really doesn’t.
*Fun with old boxing records. Galento faced the following fighters in his career: Unknown Winston, Battling Bozo, “Italian” Jack Herman, and the wonderfully monickered Roy Lazer.
Let’s get this out of the way up front: Arreola has very, very, very little chance in this one and I fully expect Klitschko to win by KO by, at the latest, the 8th. Arreola’s major asset is that he hits decently hard and can throw very good combinations for a heavyweight, but he’s going against the granite-chinned Klitschko brother and you can’t throw a combination against Mount Klitschko until you get past the jab. Not sure that one’s in the cards. Into the bargain Arreola is pretty easy to hit and nearly got KO’d by Travis Walker two fights ago- not a good sign. For Arreola to win he either needs to hit the perfect punch, or he needs Klitschko to suffer some sort of injury during the fight, or perhaps one in the last couple of days before the fight which hampers his ability to throw a jab and control distance. Maybe a dedicated body attack will bother the big man. I am really clutching at straws here.
The timing of this one is what surprises me. There’s an argument to be made which runs: this is the biggest money fight available to Arreola and likely to be the biggest one he’ll ever have a chance at, so take it now before Vitali decides he wants to go in another direction and you’re left fighting Jameel McCline types again. I can certainly understand that, but here’s a counter-argument: because all the money in heavyweight boxing right now is attached to a Klitschko fight, once you’ve had that fight your career is essentially winding down if you don’t win. Prior to that fight you can get HBO bouts for decent money on the basis of HBO featuring you as a potential Klitschko challenger on the rise. Once you’ve reached the top of the mountain and fallen off there’s not much of a story left to tell, and HBO is likely going to be looking at moving on to the next featured challenger. At that point Arreola is still in his athletic prime at age 28 and still has excellent skills for a heavyweight which make him likely too dangerous as an opponent for the next Klitschko challenger to build himself up with; where does he turn for a money fight then? If he’s looking to cash out of boxing and move on with life none of this matters, but if not he’s got a chance to end fighting Ruslan Chagaev or Nikolai Valuev for mediocre money in Germany in front of unfriendly judges.
I can’t shake the sense that given his entertaining style and Mexican heritage Arreola would/could/should be an independent draw in California if properly promoted, which would give him something to fall back on if he can’t defeat Vitali. Right now he’s not there, but perhaps if the HBO feature period could be leveraged…ah well. Too late to worry about that now, I suppose.
Like Vybz Kartel said, “Bwoy a run like a wounded daaaag, bruck Usain recoooord….”
As a general rule I try to temper my criticism of professional athletes in general and fighters in specific; they get more than their share of shit to begin with, and nearly any man willing to strip to the waist and fight another man for a living is deserving of respect for physical courage if nothing else. David Haye though…oh, this man. This fucker. This was his plan:
1. Move up to heavyweight.
2. Challenge Wladimir Klitschko.
3. Piss him off by wearing a t-shirt depicting the Klitschkos decapitated and Haye standing over them in triumph.
4. Talk an egregious bag of shit for months.
5. Pull out with a questionable back injury amidst reports that he looked terrible in training and got whacked in sparring.
6. Negotiate for a bout with Vitali Klitschko instead, still talking shit.
7. Pull out of an agreed-upon bout to take an easier, less well-paying fight against a non-puncher. STILL talking shit.
Best case scenario, you read this as Haye using the Klitschkos to get his name out there without any intent to fight them, which makes him an unethical lying snake. Worst case scenario, he’s a coward who realizes he’ll get killed dead by either brother and has engaged in bad-faith negotiations to preserve as much of his reputation as he can save without running the risk of ever having to cash the check his mouth’s been writing. Either way, as a fan, I’m done with him- I have zero intention of watching the fights of a guy who’s unserious about his own career and doesn’t have any interest in fighting the best, and a year or so ago I was a big fan of Haye. How not to promote a career, in 9 easy steps.
To the extent that anyone’s defended this stuff from Haye the argument has been that it’s a business move- worth short term money and long term negotiating leverage. Here’s a question: if you’re either of the Klitschkos and are in a position to all but hand-pick your opponents, what possible incentive could you have for ever negotiating again with this dickweed? He cost you serious time which in the fight game is money, he or his people are outright liars, right now he’s not worth that much money, and there’s zero reason to believe he’ll substantially improve any of these factors in the future if the best he’s got now is fighting Nikolai Valuev. Haye’s gone from being one of the more interesting potential Klitschko challengers to just another clown in the heavyweight circus, and make no mistake- the biggest money, really the only big money, in heavyweight boxing is fighting a Klitschko. Haye may have closed off not just one but both of those potential opportunities for the sake of 6 months of lip war. He and Tom Atencio need to get a beer or something, if they can afford it.