It's not ideal, but Chagaev-Klitschko could be intriguing
Heavyweight king Wladimir Klitschko was set to face David Haye on June 20
After Haye pulled out with an injury, Ruslan Chagaev replaced him
The bout may not be as exciting, but Chagaev could pose a challenge
What a muddled mess the heavyweight division has become. Four recognized titles. Five, if you count Ring Magazine. Champions. Champions in Recess. Champions Emeritus. Sanctioning bodies manipulating their rankings (have you seen WBA No. 1 contender John Ruiz recently?) just to squeeze out a few extra dollars. And the only cost is the integrity of the sport.
Promoters battling other promoters. Managers battling networks. It is getting to the point where fans need a scorecard just to keep up with the wars that are being waged outside the ring. The latest example of heavyweight nonsense involves Wladimir Klitschko, the undisputed heavyweight king who was scheduled to defend his IBF and WBO titles against David Haye on June 20. However, a back injury forced Haye out of the fight two weeks ago and, last weekend, Team Klitschko announced that undefeated Russian, Ruslan Chagaev, was selected to replace him.
And that's where the fun begins.
I'll be covering more of this in a future issue of Sports Illustrated, but here are three things to know about the Klitschko-Chagaev fight.
1. Chagaev is absolutely the right opponent
Haye is overrated. Period. He's a 6-foot-3, 215-pound bloated cruiserweight with a glass jaw who scored a multi-million dollar payday because he is a superb self-promoter.
Think about it: Haye has four wins against heavyweights (his most notable being a fifth-round KO of the immortal Monte Barrett), and all of a sudden he has a fight against the No. 1 heavyweight in the world? Please. Klitschko would have demolished him in less than six rounds. Carl Thompson did it in five. The fact that Haye's personality appealed to the American and European television networks is irrelevant. He's an average fighter who manipulated his way to a payday.
Chagaev is legit. In 2007, he won the WBA title when he halted Nikolai Valuev's embarrassing march to Rocky Marciano's unblemished 49-0 record with a resounding decision victory. Unfortunately for Chagaev, a string of injuries forced him to give up that belt and assume the more ambiguous title of WBA "Champion in Recess." He's a technically sound fighter who brings some credibility to the table. He also could potentially bring two belts. Ring Magazine has already decided that Chagaev and Klitschko will vie for its vacant title, and the WBA will announce this week whether its title will be at stake. Chagaev was supposed to clear up the debate over the WBA title against Valuev, who won the title after Chagaev's injury, but the fight was canceled the day before the fight.
2. Chagaev is absolutely the wrong opponent
Allow me to clarify. Chagaev has Hepatitis B. Or, more specifically, the antigens present in Hepatitis B. It's why the Finnish Boxing Federation pulled the plug on the Valuev fight at the last minute. Now, Klitschko doesn't seem worried about the possibility of infection. His manager, Bernd Boente, said on Tuesday that they were not at all concerned and that the chances of him being infected by the miniscule quantity of antigens are "about the same as the sky falling down on his head." Boente is even planning to have a specialist at a press conference announcing the fight Monday.
But Boente and the German doctors seem to be the only ones unconcerned with Chagaev's condition. The simple fact is that there are very few places in the world that Chagaev could get licensed to fight. Not in Finland. Not in Great Britain. And certainly not in the United States, whose boxing commissions are as cautious with Hepatitis as they are with HIV.
"Absolutely not," said Dr. Osric King, chief medical officer for the New York State Athletic Commission, when asked about licensing Chagaev. "It's too much risk. Not just for the other fighter. But this is a blood-born illness. You have to be concerned with the audience. It creates a risk for them, too. It's not something we would allow."
Added Keith Kizer, executive director of the Nevada Athletic Commission: "If he's not negative, he can't fight. Hepatitis is serious. If you test positive, sorry, you are out of luck here."
Based on my reporting, I think Klitschko is taking a significant and unnecessary risk. But if he is going to take it then ...