From the late 1880s through the early 2000s, the heavyweight champion was one of the most prestigious titles in sports. It symbolized what the first champ, John L. Sullivan, coined in the statement “I can lick any son of a bitch in the house!”
But those days are far removed from today’s reality. This week, boxing coverage powerhouse network HBO announced that they would no longer cover heavyweight fights due to lack of interest from their American audience.
“’We’re out of the heavyweight division,” said HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg. “There isn’t any interest in the US and no one besides Haye to challenge the Klitschkos.”
The Klitschko brothers have been dominating the heavyweight scene since the retirement of Lennox Lewis in 2003. Since Lamon Brewster’s huge upset 2004 TKO win over Wladimir Klitschko (which was avenged in 2006), the brothers have cut down every single challenger in their path. Even Vitali, who was out of the ring nearly 4 years from 2004-2008 due to injury, easily beat then top American Sam Peter to win the WBC title.
To others, the wane in U.S. support for the heavyweight division has much more to do with the lack of dedication and skill displayed by today’s American fighters.
“The guys today, I don’t think they’re as hungry as the guys in the 90s. I just don’t see it,” explained trainer Ronnie Shields to Beats, Boxing and Mayhem. “Our heavyweights have to get it together and decide I’m going to give it my best and my all. We have a lot talent that can match up with these guys, but no one seems willing to step up.”
There are no Americans fighters like Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, or Riddick Bowe on the horizon. So what is the solution?
The void leaves a big opportunity for Showtime to capitalize on. They have shown Klitschko fights in the past, and have proved their creative matchmaking with the recent super-middleweight Super Six tournament. Since David Haye versus either Klitschko has been muddled by contract disputes, the network could try to push for Haye to take on Tomasz Adamek, which would be a fan-friendly, exciting fight between mobile, smaller heavyweights.
It’s not a long-term solution, but it’s a start that could provide a brief spark. I don’t subscribe to the idea that the heavyweight division is in shambles simply because the top fighters are not American. Manny Pacquiao is one of the biggest stars in boxing not due to his nationality, but his exciting style. Any fighter that puts on entertaining bouts will receive fan support. Showtime’s challenge would be putting together compelling matchups outside of the Klitschko’s to create an overall interest in the division.
Whether they’re up to the task is the question.
If you can track down this fight, it’s well worth the time. I consider it the last great heavyweight brawl. Both men were never the same afterward.
Lamon Brewster vs. Sergei Liakhovich