Forty years ago this Thursday, the heavyweight boxing championship of the world reached a glorious peak, its zenith in regards to appeal, gravitas and prestige.
Since then it has been a lamentable downward spiral that has seen the once ‘richest prize in sport’ contested in German sports halls, downmarket casinos and even Russian ice hockey stadiums.
Corrie Sanders, Shannon Briggs, Oleg Maskaev, John Ruiz, Nikolai Valuev, Ruslan Chagaev, Sultan Ibragimov... there are more, but it’s a grim recital.
All can lay claim to having been heavyweight champion of the world. Few would have been fit to spar with the faces of the Golden Era where interest in heavyweight boxing peaked with the most famous bout of all time: The Rumble in the Jungle, in the country then known as Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) on October 30, 1974.
The anniversary of Muhammad Ali’s greatest victory, his stunning eighth round knockout of the younger George Foreman, at the time considered near-invincible, is a reminder of just how unfashionable heavyweight boxing has become.
The world was captivated by events in Zaire.
Now even boxing fans will consider skipping a Wladimir Klitschko outing before succumbing to the vain hope it will be something other than his textbook attritional deconstruction of an overmatched opponent.
I miss the Saturday Nights when Heavyweight Boxing was the event to watch.
— Benedict (@ClarkDorey) October 25, 2014
I wish heavyweight boxing was cool again
— Ian Strain (@ianstrain3) October 22, 2014
Try as their detractors might, it is harsh to blame the malaise in the heavyweight division on the Klitschko brothers.
Both have been supreme athletes, articulate ambassadors for boxing and probably underrated such has been the ease of their decade-long domination.
Both would have been respected in much more competitive eras but short of fighting each other, something which was never going to happen, no credible rival has ever emerged.
Kubrat Pulev will be the next to try to dethrone Wladimir next month, and it is hard to envisage the Bulgarian pulling off an almighty upset.
Yet that’s not to say it is all doom and gloom for the division.
— Gerald Washington (@gwgallonegro) October 24, 2014
While the idea of Dereck Chisora versus Tyson Fury producing Klitschko’s next mandatory challenger makes you want to hold your head in your hands and weep, news that Bermane Stiverne and Deontay Wilder’s fight for the WBC’s version of the title is close to being signed has at least provided some genuine excitement.
Vitali Klitschko vacated the WBC strap when he retired, with Stiverne picking it up courtesy of victory over Chris Arreola, who he in fact beat twice, the second a convincing sixth round knockout.
Wilder has been garnering plenty of hype with a string of explosive knockout wins and, although clearly raw, his power and the buzz it generates is there for all to see. Stiverne is also heavy handed and, given this week’s anniversary it is apt to mention he is promoted by Don King, the only man crazy enough to broker the biggest fight in boxing’s history with a despotic African dictator.
Both Stiverne and Wilder like to let their hands go and while it will be no worldwide spectacle, it is an exciting and unpredictable heavyweight title fight – and one not involving a Klitschko brother.
Murray next for Golovkin
WBA and IBO middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin was in Monaco on Saturday night to watch his next opponent, Englishman Martin Murray, in action.
Pictured wearing a rather ostentatious dinner jacket, Golovkin was seen in Murray’s dressing room wishing him good luck before his decision victory over Domenico Spada.
Murray, who was robbed by the judges in losing to Felix Sturm in Germany and was unlucky to drop a decision to Sergio Martinez in Buenos Aires, will be having his third stab at claiming a world title when the pair meet, again in Monaco, in February next year.