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Life After King Klitschko

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When world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko retires from boxing in the not too distant future, one thing is certain. Nothing will ever be the same. Maybe that’s a good thing, but it’s probably not. At 39, the seemingly unbeatable champion has done more than fully harvest a once ripe heavyweight division. In fact, Klitschko has hammered it into submission so severely that its future as a viable enterprise in the modern boxing landscape appears as uncertain as it’s ever looked at the end of any comparably great championship reign. Klitschko’s dominance into his late 30’s is on par with 38 year-old, recently retired 49-0 superstar Floyd “Money” Mayweather. Boxing eras are ending fast, friends. Will new ones begin in their place?

Reigning and defending for nearly a decade with double digit title defenses, Klitschko (64-3, 53 KOs) holds four individual “major” title belts (WBA, IBF, WBO & IBO) and ALL of them will become vacant when and if “Dr. Steelhammer” leaves boxing as its universally recognized heavyweight champion.

That means four “new” champions to go along with an already “regular” WBA belt holder in Ruslan Chagaev and a dubious WBC titlist named Deontay Wilder, the current American King of the nowhere gang. You do the fuzzy math fight fans, that’s four (or five) illegitimate claims to an otherwise endangered species. That’s right, the heavyweight championship of the world as we’ve know it to be–a real thing–is at risk of becoming extinct.

If a new consensus world heavyweight champion somehow emerges from the alphabet soup group’s scrambling and the boxing media’s posturing, this would surely be an accident, albeit a welcomed one. Unfortunately, no official mechanism in boxing currently exists to produce a legitimate lineal successor to Klitschko when he inevitably vacates after a couple more successful title defenses.

In the “good old days” of our sport, the number one contender would fight the number two contender and the winner was the new champ. When Rocky Marciano retired as undefeated heavyweight champion of the world in 1956, it was decided that Floyd Patterson would face Archie Moore for the vacant title. Today, nobody can even say who the two top heavyweight “contenders” actually are, let alone make them face off for the universally recognized heavyweight championship.

Today, more than ever, the governing bodies of boxing, whose worthless belts will be up for grabs, exist to be independent money making organizations. Unifying and consolidating their various titles for the benefit of posterity is not in their economic interests and they will not do it voluntarily—if at all. “Boxing is not like other sports,” is to put it mildly. Truthfully, it’s the traveling circus of gypsies, tramps, and thieves.

The same muddled scenario was true when Lennox Lewis retired as heavyweight champion in 2004. The one and only heavyweight championship of the one and only known world was left vacant for an unusually long time. This was detrimental to the reputation of a title once held by ring legends Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson, and Evander Holyfield.

American audiences more or less tuned out the past ten years while heavyweight championship boxing turned into an endless AC/DC—Red Hot Chili Peppers concert series in Europe. “Nobody’s putting up a fight,” is right. “Knock out, but boy you better come to,” rings true. It’s been a long time since anyone not named Klitschko has been heavyweight champion of the world. Critics who deride Wladimir as bad chinned and boring should at least appreciate him and his brother Vitali for respecting the world heavyweight championship enough to piece it all back together after Lewis left it shattered.

For that, boxing ought to be grateful to the Klitschko brothers, not resentful. Despite their refusal to ever fight each other for the heavyweight championship of each other, they were good stewards of a singular title once thought to be the most prestigious in all of sports. Like Mayweather Jr., the Klitschkos will only be fully appreciated when they’re long gone and never coming back. When the aforementioned Lewis retired as champion after a controversial TKO win in 2003 against the now retired Vitali Klitschko, we at least knew the heavyweight division had a future in the two young Klitschko brothers.

They were rightly viewed as the heavyweight heir apparents. Today, the heavyweight division is an old, tired weight class, beaten down over time by the dull wielding of an aging champion’s trusty steel hammer. With the exception of 26 year-old British Olympic hopeful Anthony Joshua, (14-0, 14 KOs) there are no equivalent up and comers out there today.

The name of the next world heavyweight champion is anyone’s guess. In an April 2014 interview with KO Digest, Klitschko’s hammer might have hit the nail square on the head when he said, “It’s always been in the history of boxing that suddenly some guy, like a Mike Tyson, just pops up and conquers. Suddenly he was right there in the picture.””Maybe there is somebody [out there] we didn’t even talk about,” added Klitschko to the conversation. “If you look at the scale of the markets, it goes up and down. In boxing, it’s the same. You have some times that are exciting, and you have some times that are less exciting. It’s always been like that,” the calculating champion concluded.

The U.K.’s 6’9 Tyson Fury could’ve “popped up and conquered” on October 24 when the giant gypsy was to challenge King Klitschko for the championship in Düsseldorf, Germany on HBO. Fury, 27 and unbeaten at 24-0, with 18 KOs, talks a good game, something that’s been sorely lacking in heavyweight boxing under Klitschko’s über dignified rule. To wit: Fury had promised to “l–k this Klit,” insisting Klitschko has never fought a “Gypsy King” like him. According to Klitschko, Fury is “young and wet behind his ears.” That fight, as we know, has been postponed, because Wlad got injured. Regardless, it looks increasingly likely that the herculean Ukrainian will soon retire as world heavyweight champion. That leaves a motley crew of disjointed fighters to pick up the pieces and fill in the blanks. Alexander Povetkin, Bryant Jennings, Czar Glazkov, Bermane Stiverne, and Andy Ruiz Jr. are the best of a sad lot.

The future of boxing’s former glamour division doesn’t look quite so bright, does it? As the late great Yogi Berra once famously said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.”In fact, life after King Klitschko looks downright depressing.

Can Tyson Fury or Deontay Wilder or Anthony Joshua be the next Mike Tyson?Only time will tell if boxing’s heavyweight market can recover from its long recession.

Credentialed boxing writer Jeffrey Freeman grew up in the City of Champions, Brockton, Massachusetts. A member of the RingTV expert writer prediction panel for three years, the author also serves as Editor-in-Chief of the popular boxing website KO Digest (WWW.KODigest.TV) where he is affectionately known as “KO” by his many friends and readers in the boxing community.

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2015 Fight of the Year – Francisco Vargas vs Takashi Miura

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The WBC World Super Featherweight title bout between Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura came on one of the biggest boxing stages of 2015, as the bout served as the HBO pay-per-view’s co-main event on November 21st, in support of Miguel Cotto vs Saul Alvarez.

Miura entered the fight with a (29-2-2) record and he was making the fifth defense of his world title, while Vargas entered the fight with an undefeated mark of (22-0-1) in what was his first world title fight. Both men had a reputation for all-out fighting, with Miura especially earning high praise for his title defense in Mexico where he defeated Sergio Thompson in a fiercely contested battle.

The fight started out hotly contested, and the intensity never let up. Vargas seemed to win the first two rounds, but by the fourth round, Miura seemed to pull ahead, scoring a knock-down and fighting with a lot of confidence. After brawling the first four rounds, Miura appeared to settle into a more technical approach. Rounds 5 and 6 saw the pendulum swing back towards Vargas, as he withstood Miura’s rush to open the fifth round and the sixth round saw both men exchanging hard punches.

The big swinging continued, and though Vargas likely edged Miura in rounds 5 and 6, Vargas’ face was cut in at least two spots and Miura started to assert himself again in rounds 7 and 8. Miura was beginning to grow in confidence while it appeared that Vargas was beginning to slow down, and Miura appeared to hurt Vargas at the end of the 8th round.

Vargas turned the tide again at the start of the ninth round, scoring a knock down with an uppercut and a straight right hand that took Miura’s legs and sent him to the canvas. Purely on instinct, Miura got back up and continued to fight, but Vargas was landing frequently and with force. Referee Tony Weeks stepped in to stop the fight at the halfway point of round 9 as Miura was sustaining a barrage of punches.

Miura still had a minute and a half to survive if he was going to get out of the round, and it was clear that he was not going to stop fighting.

A back and forth battle of wills between two world championship level fighters, Takashi Miura versus “El Bandido” Vargas wins the 2015 Fight of the Year.

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Jan 9 in Germany – Feigenbutz and De Carolis To Settle Score

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This coming Saturday, January 9th, the stage is set at the Baden Arena in Offenburg, Germany for a re-match between Vincent Feigenbutz and Giovanni De Carolis. The highly anticipated re-match is set to air on SAT.1 in Germany, and Feigenbutz will once again be defending his GBU and interim WBA World titles at Super Middleweight.

The first meeting between the two was less than three months ago, on October 17th and that meeting saw Feigenbutz controversially edge De Carolis on the judge’s cards by scores of (115-113, 114-113 and 115-113). De Carolis scored a flash knock down in the opening round, and he appeared to outbox Feigenbutz in the early going, but the 20 year old German champion came on in the later rounds.

The first bout is described as one of the most crowd-pleasing bouts of the year in Germany, and De Carolis and many observers felt that the Italian had done enough to win.

De Carolis told German language website RAN.DE that he was more prepared for the re-match, and that due to the arrogance Feigenbutz displayed in the aftermath of the first fight, he was confident that he had won over some of the audience. Though De Carolis fell short of predicting victory, he promised a re-vamped strategy tailored to what he has learned about Feigenbutz, whom he termed immature and inexperienced.

The stage is set for Feigenbutz vs De Carolis 2, this Saturday January 9th in Offenburg, Germany. If you can get to the live event do it, if not you have SAT.1 in Germany airing the fights, and The Boxing Channel right back here for full results.

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2015 Knock Out of the Year – Saul Alvarez KO’s James Kirkland

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On May 9th of 2015, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez delivered a resonant knock-out of James Kirkland on HBO that wins the 2015 KO of the Year.

The knock-out itself came in the third round, after slightly more than two minutes of action. The end came when Alvarez delivered a single, big right hand that caught Kirkland on the jaw and left him flat on his back after spinning to the canvas.Alvarez was clearly the big star heading into the fight. The fight was telecast by HBO for free just one week after the controversial and disappointing Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao fight, and Alvarez was under pressure to deliver the type of finish that people were going to talk about. Kirkland was happy to oblige Alvarez, taking it right to Alvarez from the start. Kirkland’s aggression saw him appear to land blows that troubled the young Mexican in the early going. Alvarez played good defense, and he floored Kirkland in the first round, displaying his power and his technique in knocking down an aggressive opponent.

However, Kirkland kept coming at Alvarez and the fight entered the third round with both men working hard and the feeling that the fight would not go the distance. Kirkland continued to move forward, keeping “Canelo” against the ropes and scoring points with a barrage of punches while looking for an opening.

At around the two minute mark, Alvarez landed an uppercut that sent Kirkland to the canvas again. Kirkland got up, but it was clear that he did not have his legs under him. Kirkland was going to try to survive the round, but Alvarez had an opportunity to close out the fight. The question was would he take it?

Alvarez closed in on Kirkland, putting his opponent’s back to the ropes. Kirkland was hurt, but he was still dangerous, pawing with punches and loading up for one big shot.

But it was the big shot “Canelo” threw that ended the night. Kirkland never saw it coming, as he was loading up with a huge right hand of his own. The right Alvarez threw cracked Kirkland in the jaw, and his eyes went blank. His big right hand whizzed harmlessly over the head of a ducking Alvarez, providing the momentum for the spin that left Kirkland prone on the canvas.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez went on to defeat Miguel Cotto in his second fight of 2015 and he is clearly one of boxing’s biggest stars heading into 2016. On May 9th Alvarez added another reel to his highlight film when he knocked out James Kirkland with the 2015 “Knock Out of the Year”.

Photo by naoki fukuda

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