What Happened to the Heavyweight Division?

Posted: November 5, 2013 in Boxing
Tags: , , , , , ,

Saparena-boxen

The heavyweight boxing division, once the proud flagship division of the sport, has lost its place at the top of the pile in recent years. The announcement through the Ukrin News Agency on October 24th that WBC Heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko plans to run for Ukranian presidency in 2015 has shone a dull light back on the division and brought a question to my mind. What happened to the heavyweight division?

What happened? Well that depends upon your level of belief of what you read, or even what you hear from commentators during other boxing matches. The fall of the heavyweight division could be blamed on a lack of competition behind the dominant Klitschko brothers. This is the most common opinion I hear, and usually comes from commentary being conducted during other boxing bouts.

It could be a sign of the times. Much like changes in fashion, musical taste and art appreciation going in cycles, appreciation of the art of boxing could also be cyclical.

With many fans these days tuning into the lighter weight classes, typically from the Welterweight (147lb) division to the Super Middleweight (168lb) division, it could be that current boxing fans are after fast paced action and see the heavyweight division as too slow and lumbering to hold their attention. As CDC reports have shown a 22% increase in ADHD diagnoses between 2003 and 2007 it is entirely possible that there could be an inability amongst fans to pay attention for long periods of time if there is not constant action. This could go some way to explaining a shift in popularity from the slower heavyweights to the fast paced lighter fighters.

Another explanation could be jealousy. Jealousy of what?

Let’s take a look at October’s heavyweight boxing divisions top 10 challengers, as listed through the International Boxing Organization.

  1. Alexander Povetkin (Russia)
  2. Robert Helenius (Finland)
  3. Tomasz Adamek (Poland)
  4. Kubrat Pulev (Bulgaria)
  5. Tyson Fury (United Kingdom)
  6. Odlanier Solis Fonte (Cuba)
  7. Anthony (Tony) Thompson (U.S.A.)
  8. Vyacheslav Glazkov (Ukraine)
  9. Bermaine Stiverne (Canada)
  10. Chris Arreola (U.S.A.)

Ten fighters lining up to gain a shot at gaining a heavyweight boxing title. Ten fighters and just two American’s on the list, both of whom have lost recent challenges against a Klitschko brother. Could it be possible that a level of jealousy about the heavyweight division having slipped from America’s grasp be behind the continued announcement by boxing commentators that the heavyweight division is lacking in strength.

American does have a long running affinity with the heavyweight division, one that could lead many to feel that the one time flagship division “belonged” to America. In fact, since John L. Sullivan was recognized as the first heavyweight champion toward the end of the 19th century, in spite of there being no official ranking system, each decade since has consisted of American dominance within the heavyweights.

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The early 1900s saw James Jeffries and Jack Johnson creating an American stranglehold on the division. Johnson’s reign as champion would actually continue into the following decade as he held the strap until 1914. From 1919 to the mid 1920s, Jack Dempsey ruled the heavyweights until his countryman and great rival Gene Tunney took over to close out the decade. The 1930s saw the start of a record breaking title run from Joe Louis that would continue into the late 1940s. Enter Rocky Marciano, who took over in the 1950s, followed by Floyd Patterson (1950s-60s) and Muhammad Ali (1960s). Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Ali again would take American dominance of the heavyweight championship into the late 1970s. Larry Holmes continued the American stranglehold to take the title into the 1980s and then passed the torch along to Mike Tyson.

After over 100 years of heavyweight dominance, the American stranglehold began to slip from the mid 1990s on. The titles passed back and forth across the Atlantic and while American’s have held titles at various times since then, there has been no dominant American champion present themselves. That dominance passed to the U.K.’s Lennox Lewis, then to the Klitschko brothers.

For many, America is the home of boxing. Without a dominant heavyweight champion stemming from the United States, it seems the boxing public has slowly begun to forget about the division. It has led to calls that the division is dead as the focus has shifted to the lighter, and predominantly American dominated, weight classes.

Whether you believe that the heavyweight division is dead, sleeping or simply moving along nicely under the radar, it is undeniable that the gloss the giants of boxing once held has dulled significantly. I don’t buy into the belief that the heavyweight division is dead. Inn fact, despite the drop in public opinion, the level of competition within the heavyweight division is high and growing stronger by the day. That, however, is a story for another day.

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