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Two Klitschkos and the Invisible Heavyweight Division

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Let me first just say it’s not their fault. I know this. Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko had nothing to do with the porous nature of their competition. They were simply born at the wrong time. Both of them are smart, skilled, and powerful fighters who do exactly what they are supposed to against inferior opponents. Methodically knock them around until they are on their backs.

They do it well.

However, I fear it will be nearly impossible to ever appropriately rate the two brothers, because for the better part of the last decade plus, the only decent fight the two could have made would have been against each other. No one can blame them for not wanting to play the feud.

Still, the thing is still the thing. Just take a look at the other alphabet champions outside of the Klitschkos since Lennox Lewis left the stage. Chris Byrd, Roy Jones Jr., Corrie Sanders, John Ruiz, Lamon Brewster, Hasim Rahman, Nikolai Valuev, Siarhei Liakhovich, Oleg Maskaev, Shannon Briggs, Ruslan Chagaev, Sultan Ibragimov, Samuel Peter, David Haye, Alexander Povetkin, and finally (whew) Berman Stiverne. That list reads like no one’s “who’s who” of anything.

Outside of Roy Jones Jr. and his carefully crafted successful challenge against the most unwatchable heavyweight champion of all time, John Ruiz, is there a single hall of famer in there? Seriously, take a look at that list again. The best of that crowd is probably—with apologies to Stiverne, who’s still building his resume—Rahman and Brewster. That’s not to say these guys aren’t or weren’t good fighters, but how many were particularly memorable beyond Jones, Rahman, and I suppose Brewster?

For all their dominance, the crowd of “contenders” they have been surrounded by has robbed the Klitschkos of what anyone would call a signature win. Neither fighter has lost a bout in over ten years (Vitali retired in 2012 after beating someone named Manuel Charr), but if you were going to make a list of their great wins, would you even need to sharpen your pencil?

To be fair to Vitali, he may have well been on his way to such a victory when his fight with Lennox Lewis was stopped in the 6th due to a nasty gash over his left eye. He was ahead on all three judge’s cards at the time, but because the injury was caused by a punch, the TKO loss fell on Klitschko. Lewis retired before giving Vitali a rematch. Vitali’s only other career loss was suffered in much the same fashion when he was forced to retire in the 9th after injuring his shoulder against Chris Byrd.

While many often viewed Vitali as a bit of an overachiever, his brother Wladimir went through a significant period where his heart, stamina, and most significantly, his chin, were challenged. It may be hard to believe now, but the more gifted Klitschko suffered a blow out 1st round KO to Ross Purity, a 2nd round TKO to Corrie Sanders, and 5th round TKO to Lamon Brewster. These are losses so stunning they rate up there with Lennox Lewis’ twin beatings from Rahman and Oliver McCall on the shock level.

Wladimir wisely hired Emanuel Steward as a trainer before the first Brewster fight. While that bout ended unceremoniously for the duo, the match would prove to be well made between boxer and guide. Steward not only improved Wladimir’s conditioning, but perhaps more importantly got him to take better advantage of his natural gifts, namely his size and reach. Standing at a towering 6 feet 6 inches tall and with arms to match, Steward taught the younger brother that he didn’t need to take so many chances. He could be patient, win and control rounds, and then when the opportunity presented itself, attack with his massive right hand.

It has served him brilliantly. Unfortunately, there has been no great resistance or challenge to his reign since. Oh sure, David Haye could certainly out-talk him, but he sure as hell couldn’t out fight him. Plus, the cautious style seldom made for crowd-pleasing fights.

Both brothers have often employed their long left arms against the craniums of their opponents in ways that almost remind you of the old comic strips where the muscle bound guy holds off the angry, furiously swinging pipsqueak by simply holding the palm of his outstretched arm against the smaller man’s forehead. That pretty much describes the entirety of the Klitschko reign. Underwhelming, overmatched opposition for more than ten years. It has not been fun to watch.

It has now gotten so bad that Wladimir—the active Klitschko—doesn’t even bother to fight in the States anymore. If you want to see his occasional fights live, they are likely to be on pay cable at 5PM in the afternoon. This is the heavyweight champion of the world and it feels like no one cares.

I know people around the fight game want us to get excited about Saturday’s tilt between Stiverne and KO artist Deontay Wilder, and while they may be a good match for each other, I feel like I’ve already seen this movie before. Chris Arreola, anyone? Wilder does have one solid win over former champion Liakhovich, but the rest of his record consists largely of beat downs over moonlighting postal worker types. Stiverne dusted Arreola twice, but also owns a draw against Charles Davis and a 4th round TKO loss against Demetrice King. Are these guys supposed to make Wladimir quake?

Maybe I’m wrong about these two. I certainly hope I am. Nothing would make me happier than to see a Klitschko taking on an opponent of consequence. The heavyweight division desperately needs such a fight. It sure wouldn’t hurt Wladimir’s legacy either. Until that is proven though, Wladimir’s ledger for all its dominance is just as opaque as his brother’s. It’s not fair to them, but it’s the truth.

Even inside the realm of the hardcore fight fan, who really talks about the heavyweight division with any excitement or sense of anticipation? It’s not that we don’t want to. It’s that we have no reason to. Not for a very long time anyway. I will certainly be among our number this Saturday night when Stiverne and Wilder exchange pleasantries. How could I not be? I do live in hope. I also reside in reality too. Klitschkos aside, heavyweights may have gotten bigger, but they sure as hell haven’t gotten better.

We are a long way removed the last golden age of heavyweight boxing. This, when creatures like Lewis, Tyson, Holyfield, and Bowe walked the earth, and the 2nd tier included fighters like Moorer, Foreman, and Douglas. Once there were giants in the heavyweight division. Now there’s just a Klitschko and bunch of tall guys. You’re up Stiverne and Wilder. Prove me wrong. Please.

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Fast Results From London: Joshua Takes Out Povetkin in the 7th

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UK sporting

It was a very wet night at Wembley Stadium, but the dampness didn’t diminish the enthusiasm of the crowd which welcomed UK sporting hero Anthony Joshua into the ring with a thunderous ovation. And Joshua didn’t disappoint. After six relatively even rounds, he found his range in the seventh and became the first man to stop Alexander Povetkin. A three punch combo that began with an overhand right sent Povetkin sprawling into the ropes. The Russian beat the count, but Joshua smelled blood and as soon as the ref allowed the proceedings to continue he moved in for the kill. The official time was 1:59.

Povetkin started fast and in the eyes of many observers won the first three rounds. A sharp right hand in the waning seconds of round one reddened Joshua’s nose which leaked blood in the next round. The tide began to turn in round four when Povetkin suffered a cut above his left eye.

Povetkin (now 34-2), was the lighter man by 23 pounds. Joshua had a four inch height advantage and a seven inch reach advantage. And it mattered greatly that AJ was the younger man by 10-plus years. Povetkin wasn’t intimidated by Joshua and had several good moments but, at age 39, his reflexes betrayed him once the fight had crossed the midpoint.

Joshua, who owns three of the four meaningful heavyweight title belts, improved to 22-0 with his 21st stoppage. His next fight is penciled in for April 13 of next year against an opponent to be determined. His promoter Eddie Hearn has reserved that date at Wembley Stadium.

Other Bouts

In a 12-round lightweight bout, Joshua’s Olympic Games teammate and fellow gold medalist Luke Campbell (19-2) avenged the first loss of his career with a unanimous decision (119-109, 118-111,116-112) over France’s Yvan Mendy (40-5-1). This was Campbell’s second start since coming up short in a bid for Jorge Linares’s lightweight title and his first fight under his new trainer Shane McGuigan.

In their first meeting in December of 2015 at London’s O2 Arena, Mendy won a split decision that should have been unanimous. Campbell insisted that he had improved greatly in the interim and tonight’s fight bore witness. However, he needs to develop a harder punch to rank among the top lightweights in the world, a list headed by Mikey Garcia. As this fight was framed as a WBC title eliminator, Campbell is next in line to meet Garcia, but Mikey has indicated that he will pursue bigger game.

Lawrence Okolie, a 2016 Olympian who trains with Anthony Joshua, won a Lonsdale belt in only his 10th pro start with a 12-round decision over defending BBBofC cruiserweight champion Matty Askin in a messy fight. The undefeated Okolie had a point deducted in round five for leading with his head and had two more points deducted for holding, but banked enough rounds to get the nod on all three cards: 116-110, 114-112, and 114-113. Askin, who declined to 23-4-1, had won five straight heading in.

A 10-round heavyweight match between Sergey Kuzmin (13-0, 1 NC) and David Price (22-6) ended suddenly when Price retired on his stool after four relatively even rounds. The six-foot-eight, china-chinned Price claimed to have aggravated a biceps tear.

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Michael Dutchover Remains Undefeated in Ontario, Calif.

Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

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Michael Dutchover

ONTARIO-Calif.-Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

Lightweight prospect Dutchover (11-0, 8 KOs) knocked out southpaw Aguilera (14-4-1, 4 KOs) in the fifth round with a barrage of body blows that left the Costa Rican limp at the Doubletree Hotel.

For two rounds Aguilar used an awkward counter-punching style that had Dutchover a little tentative. But once he figured out that combination punching was the key, he opened up with barrages and floored Aguilar with body shots at the end of round four.

That signaled doom for Aguilar.

The fifth round saw Dutchover target the body with impunity as Aguilar tried holding, running and covering up with no success. Referee Wayne Hedgepeth signaled the fight over at 2:31 of the fifth round giving Dutchover the win by knockout.

In a bantamweight clash Santa Ana’s Mario Hernandez (7-0-1, 3 KOs) and Mexico City’s Ivan Gonzalez (4-1-2, 1 KO) fought to a majority draw after six back and forth rounds.

Hernandez targeted the body against the taller Gonzalez who relied on long range counters. Both found success but neither could prove superiority after six turbulent rounds.

After six rounds one judge saw it 58-56 for Gonzalez but the two other judges saw it 57-57 for a majority draw.

Other bouts

South Central L.A.’s Ruben Torres (7-0, 6 KOs) extended his undefeated streak with a knockout over Mexico’s Eder “El Koreano” Amaro (6-6, 2 KOs) in a lightweight fight. But it wasn’t easy.

Amaro switched from southpaw to orthodox and was matching Torres for two rounds until the taller local fighter began blasting away to the body and head with precision. Many in the crowd cheered “Koreano” in unison but it couldn’t help once Torres zeroed in.

At the end of the fourth round Amaro could not continue and the fight was stopped giving a knockout for Torres.

Richard Brewart Jr. (2-0) mowed through Edward Aceves (0-5) flooring him with body shots in the first round then overwhelming him in the second. After seven unanswered blows referee Eddie Hernandez stopped the fight at 1:32 of round two giving Rancho Cucamonga’s Brewart the win by knockout in the super welterweight bout.

Southpaw David Ortiz (1-0) won his pro debut by unanimous decision after four rounds in a welterweight match against San Diego’s Mario Angeles (2-11-2). Ortiz lives in Bloomington, Calif. and is trained by Henry Ramirez. No knockdowns were scored.

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Charr-Oquendo Scuttled When Charr Tests Positive; the Odious WBA Saves Face

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Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr and Fres Oquendo were scheduled to fight in Cologne, Germany, later this month (Sept. 29). Charr would be defending his WBA world heavyweight title, the “regular” version of it, not the “super” version which rests in the hands of Anthony Joshua.

The bout was quickly cancelled when it was revealed that Charr had tested positive for two banned anabolic steroids. The test was performed by VADA, the anti-doping agency identified with Las Vegas neurologist Dr. Margaret Goodman.

The 33-year-old Charr, born in Lebanon but a resident of Germany since the age of three, won the belt in his last start with a unanimous decision over 281-pound Russian behemoth Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany. The title was vacant. Charr won the right to fight for it with a 10-round decision over Albanian slug Sefer Seferi. The victory over Ustinov elevated his record to 31-4. He has been stopped three times, by Vitali Klitschko, Alexander Povetkin, and Mairis Briedis.

If it wasn’t for bad luck, as the old saying goes, Fres Oquendo wouldn’t have any luck at all. For various reasons, his fights keep falling out. Before long he’ll be drawing social security. Well, not exactly, but he turned 45 in April and hasn’t fought in more than four years.

Oquendo has competed for this belt before. In his last ring appearance in July of 2014, he lost a majority decision to Russia’s Ruslan Chagaev in Grozny, Russia. As a concession for taking the fight on short notice, Team Oquendo negotiated a rematch clause in the contract, but a shoulder injury prevented Fres from activating it. When the injury healed, he had to go to court to compel Chagaev to fulfill his obligation. But then the Russian retired, muddling the water.

The WBA was legally bound to find Oquendo a title fight and in desperation turned to ancient Shannon Briggs. But the Oquendo-Briggs fight, scheduled for June 3 of last year in Hollywood, Florida, fell out when Briggs’ urine specimen showed an abnormally high level of testosterone.

Fres Oquendo was dogged by bad luck even before these recent developments. His professional record, 37-8, is somewhat misleading as six of his eight defeats were razor-thin including his 2003 setback to Chris Byrd and his 2006 setback to Evander Holyfield. However, Oquendo, something of a cutie, was never a crowd-pleaser and in none of his narrow defeats was there a public clamor for a rematch.

The cancellation of Charr-Oquendo cuts the World Boxing Association out of a sanctioning fee, but one would think that the WBA honchos are actually rather pleased by this turn of events. The fight, more precisely the WBA’s world title imprimatur, would have brought more unwanted publicity to the Panama-based organization.

ESPN’s Dan Rafael, who has the largest platform of any boxing writer, has been a persistent critic of the organization which once recognized 41 “champions” in 17 weight classes. In 2009, Rafael wrote, “(The WBA) has become such an absolute farce that even somebody like me, who follows boxing closely, sometimes has a hard time keeping track of all the nonsensical so-called world title belts the WBA has been doling out at an alarming rate. It almost reminds me of the ladies at Costco who hand out various samples on a busy Saturday afternoon.”

Rafael took note when WBA president Gilberto Mendoza promised to cull the herd by eliminating “regular” titles, and then became more caustic when Mendoza didn’t follow through. Recently, in one short, punchy diatribe, Rafael blistered the WBA as wretched, vile, and rancid.

Regardless of your opinion, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Fres Oquendo who keeps getting stranded at the altar. No, he’s not fun to watch and a man of his age shouldn’t be taking any more punches, but he has always been an honest workman and by all accounts he’s a very decent man. Born in Puerto Rico but raised in Chicago, Oquendo pitched right in when the island nation of his birth was ravaged by Hurricane Maria. He was personally responsible for relocating Puerto Rican boxing legend Wilfred Benitez and Benitez’s sister, his caregiver, to Chicago where their lives wouldn’t be as hard.

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