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Whither the heavyweight?

Big men are scarce these days, but division isn't bare

Posted: Thursday August 25, 2005 5:58PM; Updated: Thursday August 25, 2005 5:58PM
Hasim Rahman; Monte Barrett
With his decision over Monte Barrett last Saturday, Hasim Rahman (left) set up a showdown with Vitali Klitschko this fall.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Click here to go straight to Richard O'Brien's Heavyweight Power Rankings.

It's ring-weary cliché to bemoan the state of the heavyweight division (and, of course, as everybody always adds, "as go the heavyweights, so goes boxing"). Trashing the big boys has been a tradition since John L. Sullivan ran out of sonsabitches to lick back in the Gay '90s.

There probably even were grizzled old ringsiders in the 1970s griping about how all they had to watch was Ali and Frazier dancing around with each other again and again, with nothing on the horizon but a bunch of faceless contenders named Foreman, Norton, Holmes, Shavers, Lyle and Quarry.

But let's face it, by any historical measure, ours is scarcely a golden era for the big men. (The rest of the sport, however -- to put a lie to the corollary cliché -- is doing just fine, thank you. From the pyrotechnics of Diego Corrales-Jose Luis Castillo to the brilliance of Winky Wright, Erik Morales and Floyd Mayweather Jr., to the emergence of Jermain Taylor and Jeff Lacy, the lighter weights are producing exciting, edifying action.)

Ask the average sports fan who the best heavyweight is today and he or she probably will say Mike Tyson. Never mind the fact that Tyson -- who hasn't been a real fighter in more than a decade -- lately has been reduced to skirmishing with the Italian coast guard and being rejected by Jenna Jameson.

Ask the average boxing fan the same question and he or she probably will shrug and say, "Klitschko?" Ask which of the oversized Ukrainian Ph.D.'s (WBC champ Vitali or his brother, former WBO champ Wladamir) the fan means and he or she likely will shrug and say, "Er, the big one?"

Still, I would argue that while we wait for the arrival of the next great heavyweight -- some undefeated knockout artist with a heart-tugging back story who once again will pique the interest of the casual sports fan who hasn't paid attention to boxing since Tyson was undefeated and doing Pepsi commercials -- there are some worthwhile stories in the division. Two of them were on display last Saturday in Chicago on the Don King-promoted Showtime pay-per-view card.

In the main event, Hasim Rahman waged a careful, conservative, but very smart and tough fight against Monte Barrett to emerge with a 12-round unanimous decision. The fight drew boos from the United Center crowd but earned The Rock something called the "interim WBC heavyweight championship" and, more important, a crack at Vitali Klitschko's title sometime before the end of the year.

Rahman, who knocked out Lennox Lewis to win the heavyweight crown back in 2001 only to be knocked out by Lewis in a return bout seven months later, appeared to be in the best shape of his career against Barrett. He is a lethal puncher with his right hand (ask Lewis) and knows what to do in the ring. He could make things very uncomfortable for Klitschko.