Valuev-Ruiz bout uninspired but what about the division's future?
Nikolai Valuev's disputed decision win over John Ruiz on Saturday (his second disputed decision win over Ruiz, for those who are counting) reportedly drew boos from the crowd in Berlin's Max Schmeling Stadium. It drew basically no response at all from American sports fans, of course, since the bout wasn't actually televised in the U.S. Even had it been, though, it's hard to imagine that the rematch between the 35-year-old Valuev, whose 7-foot height is barely enough to compensate for his rudimentary skills, and the 36-year-old Ruiz, who though adept, always seems to do just enough to underwhelm the judges, would have generated much interest on the first weekend of the college football season. Or on any other weekend, for that matter.
It's no longer news, of course, to say that the heavyweight championship no longer makes news. But, really, this is getting ridiculous. I'm a life-long boxing fan, but even I can barely bestir myself to care about the current doings in the sport's premier division, so low is the skill level, so uninspiring the slate of endlessly recycled champions and contenders. A quick glance reveals that the average age of the top 20 heavyweights (as ranked by boxrec.com, the sport's definitive record-keeping source) is 33.35 years; only five are under 30, with the youngest, the German-based Ukrainian Alexander Dimitrenko (28-0), a not-getting-any-younger 26. Youth isn't everything, I'll admit -- Jersey Joe Walcott, famously, was 37 when he won the heavyweight title -- but one of the great pleasures of sports is anticipation, the chance to look ahead and imagine what might happen when a young prospect finally matures. Looking ahead at this point in the heavyweight ranks is to summon visions of rocking chairs and shuffleboard matches. (The menu includes Valuev against Ruslan Chagaev, the WBA's "champion in recess," who beat the Russian giant last year but had to postpone a rematch due to a torn Achilles tendon.)
Still, I'll keep watching (that is, when I can find the bouts on my TV). I'm actually eager to see whether Samuel Peter -- the "Nigerian Nightmare," who holds the WBC title and who, at 27, is a relative spring chicken -- can continue to improve his boxing and ring discipline and harness his considerable power into a effective offense. On Oct. 11, Peter will defend his crown against Vitali Klitschko, who's 37 and coming out of a nearly four-year retirement. The older brother of Wladimir Klitschko (who, at 32, holds three of the various title belts and is generally considered the best active heavyweight; Wladmir's next bout is an as-yet-unscheduled mandatory defense against undefeated 28-year-old Russian Alexander Povetkin -- insert Tolstoy joke here), Vitali lost in a recent bid to become mayor of Kiev. I don't expect he'll fare much better against Peter. And, of course, the fight is in Berlin.
Beyond that, I'm interested in seeing what the much-ballyhooed (well, in Britain, at least) British cruiserweight David Haye does now that he has moved up to heavyweight. Haye, 27 and an impressive puncher (he's 21-1, with 20 KOs, many of them truly percussive) is one fighter with the potential to galvanize fans (even beyond Berlin!), and he is already calling out Wladimir Klitschko. (Haye first has a heavyweight bout against a yet-to-be-determined opponent in London on Nov. 15.) But Haye appears to have what fight folks like to call a suspect chin; his one loss was by 5th-round knockout to British cruiserweight Carl Thompson in 2004. I suspect that the 6-foot-3 Haye (who will probably weigh around 225 as a heavyweight) won't be quite as overpowering against the Klitschkos and Valuevs of the world.
Then there's Deontay Wilder, the 6-foot-7 former junior collage hoopster from Tuscaloosa who brought home the only medal for a U.S. boxer at the recent Beijing Games, a heavyweight bronze. Wilder, 22, signed with Shelly Finkel, the one-time manager of Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield, among others, and will make his professional debut sometime in November or December. He's raw and inexperienced, but he's young and he's American, and Finkel will see that he gets exposure on U.S. television.
Who knows, maybe in a few years he'll be ready to take on the powers that be in the heavyweight division. If any of them are still ambulatory.