Top 15 Heavyweights – April 29, 2014

Top 15 Heavyweights – April 29, 2014

The heavyweight division sucks. That’s the current narrative, anyway. In fact, throughout the years, that’s often been the narrative. The common consensus throughout most heavyweight eras is that one or two great fighters are dominating an otherwise weak division. Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Larry Holmes, and Mike Tyson all suffered from this perception. Historically, there has been some truth to this. However, a careful analysis of these eras often finds plenty of decent fighters. Often the eras deemed to be strongest contain the most parity. Instead of one dominant fighter laying waste to the division, several fighters trade wins and ride a roller coaster of divisional supremacy. The late ’60s through the late ’70s and then the 1990s are often thought of as the best examples of this.

The current division tends to be lumped in with the first category, and is generally thought of as a particularly weak example, at that. This perception may be changing, though. Vitali Klitschko has retired (again) and Wladimir is 38 years old. His time at the top may be nearing the end. Most importantly, though, the best of the rest are starting to face off.

In the past few months, Kubrat Pulev outpointed Tony Thompson, who in turn beat Odlanier Solis. Vyacheslav Glazkov beat Tomasz Adamek. Mike Perez drew with Carlos Takam. Tyson Fury pounded Steve Cunningham. And coming up in the next three months, 8 of my top 15 are scheduled to face off, with two more in talks. The winners of these fights are likely to face more from this list. In terms of divisional parity, things are actually looking up. By this time next year, we may percieve the division in a more positive light. Hey, anything’s possible.

For now, here are my rebooted Top Ten rankings, now with Five Bonus rankings just for you, dear reader! Use them wisely.


Champion: Wladimir Klitschko – 62-3(52) – Ukraine – Linear, Ring, TBRB, IBF, WBO, WBA, IBO titles

Rankings in… The Ring: C, TBRB: C, ESPN: 1, 1, C

Wins over top 10 Ring-rated opponents: 13

Next fight: Nothing currently scheduled

The heavyweight champion just defended his linear belt for the 9th time this past Saturday against his arguably least-qualified challenger, Australian Alex Leapai. The Aussie-based Samoan had burst the bubble of longtime prospect Denis Boytsov, beating him up and winning a deserved decision late last year. This made him a mandatory challenger for Wlad’s WBO belt. Klitschko has certainly beaten all of his best challengers over the years, but his insistence on keeping his collection of trinkets and baubles means sometimes fighting guys like Leapai. No offense intended toward the Aussie, who did his best while being crushed in 5, but Wlad should be fighting for his legacy at this point. Many have debated whether or not the younger Klitschko is worthy of being ranked among the pantheon of heavyweight greats. This relatively weak era is the biggest impediment to his ascension in the eyes of boxing experts and fans, but the fact that the discussion is even happening is a sign that his accomplishments are starting to mount. As of the Leapai victory, Wladimir ranks 5th all-time in total number of heavyweight linear defenses (since the start of the modern era in 1885), and 7th in terms of the overall length of his reign (counting multiple reigns together) at 4 years and 10 months. Ranked above Wlad on the list for number of defenses, is Tommy Burns with 11, then Larry Holmes with 12 (dating from his 1980 win over Ali to start his true linear reign). Both are within reach before the end of 2015. It is up to Wlad to decide if he wants to get to that point fighting top contenders. It appears that IBF mandatory and number 1 ranked contender Kubrat Pulev is the next in line. This is the type of opponent Wlad needs if he wants to start cementing his legacy. Fights against young, strong, capable challengers can help prove what the numbers are beginning to show – that Wladimir Klitschko is already an all-time-great.


1.) Kubrat Pulev – 20-0(11) – Bulgaria

Rankings in… The Ring: 1, TBRB: 1, ESPN: 4, 2, 1

Wins over top 10 Ring-rated opponents: 2

Next fight: Nothing currently scheduled

Kubrat Pulev has essentially been killing time since his August 2013 decision over longtime contender Tony Thompson. Two easy knockouts over gatekeeper Joey Abell and journeyman Ivica Perkovic have served to keep the ring rust off without risking his upcoming shot at the champ. Pulev is fairly tall at 6’4½”, and usually weighs around 250 pounds. This means that the physical mismatch that Wlad normally brings to the table won’t be much of an issue against the Bulgarian. Pulev has decent power, good technique, and thus far seems to have a sturdy chin. He’s steadily improved his level of competition, gaining wins over formerly hyped contender Alexander Dimitrenko, then-undefeated giant Alexander Ustinov, and the aforementioned legit contender Tony Thompson. With Alex Povetkin’s wide loss last year to Dr. Klitschko, Pulev is far and away the most qualified challenger to the throne. Hopefully he gets that shot this year.


2.) Alexander Povetkin – 26-1(18) – Russia

Rankings in… The Ring: 2, TBRB: 2, ESPN: 3, 8, 2

Wins over top 10 Ring-rated opponents: 2

Next fight: Nothing currently scheduled

Povetkin burst onto the heavyweight scene back in 2005 and 2006, fighting gatekeepers and fringe contenders far earlier than most heavyweight prospects, and graduating to actual contenders like Chris Byrd and Eddie Chambers by his 14th and 15th fights, respectively. Decent power, good hand speed, solid technique, durability, and an impressive workrate served him well, and made him the most viable challenger to Wladimir Klitschko as far back as early 2008. Indeed, the win over Chambers was the final of a 4 man mini tournament set up by the IBF to determine Klitschko’s challenger. Povetkin eventually pulled out of that matchup, found himself a celebrity trainer in Teddy Atlas, then promptly regressed, fighting against the likes of Javier Mora and Nicolai Firtha. Decent fighters, certainly, but no more than the 30-50th best in the world… a far cry from his fast career start. Povetkin backed out of a second chance at Klitschko, and continued floundering, until he took on former titlist and perennial contender Ruslan Chagaev. Similar in size, power, and technique, Povetkin’s advantages in youth and ring wear enabled him to win a competitive decision. A narrow (some say lucky) win over Marco Huck and an embarrassing demolition of the corpse of Hasim Rahman brought Alex back to the attention of Klitschko. Alex, now separated from Teddy Atlas, won a career high payday against Klitschko, and gave the larger champion some trouble early, before being manhandled and beaten up in an incredibly ugly fight. Klitschko fought as ugly and dirty as he ever had, which wasn’t Povetkin’s fault, but Alex could do little to stop the mauling, and deserved the shutout loss. Despite losing to Klitschko, he performed better than most of his predecessors, and didn’t diminish his standing among heavyweights. Alex is still the most accomplished contender in the division, and could be a factor for some time to come, but as of this writing has not scheduled another fight. Vyachelsav Glazkov and Manuel Charr have both been discussed, and either one should make for a good fight.


3.) Tyson Fury – 22-0(16) – United Kingdom

Rankings in… The Ring: 4, TBRB: 3, ESPN: 6, 3, 3

Wins over top 10 Ring-rated opponents: 0

Next fight: July 26 against #7 Dereck Chisora

Not only is Tyson Fury the largest contender in the division, but he is easily the loudest. The 6’9”, 250ish pound Fury throws surprisingly quick combinations for such a big man, has decent power, and is not afraid of a brawl. He has been wobbled and dropped by smaller men (though nearly everyone is smaller than him), but always gets back up and fights back even harder. Tyson is a bit of a blowhard, and has irritated many with his often-crude trash talk, but has been fighting tougher opponents in the last couple years and has earned his top ten ranking with his fists. He outpointed Dereck Chisora back in 2011, and is taking him on this summer in a rematch that should prove to be more competitive than their first encounter. Both men have improved since then, so the difference may be in which man has improved more. The winner will likely be next in line after Pulev in the Klitschko sweepstakes, and either one could give the champ a good fight. Fury turns a lot of fans off, but he’s exciting in the ring, and out of it, which is almost always good for the relatively unexciting heavyweight division.


4.) Bermane Stiverne – 23-1-1(20) – Canada

Rankings in… The Ring: 3, TBRB: 5, ESPN: 2, NR, 8

Wins over top 10 Ring-rated opponents: 1

Next fight: May 10 against #9 Chris Arreola

Almost exactly a year ago, the Haitian-born Canadian took on long-time contender Chris Arreola and won an exciting and fast-paced match. Stiverne hurt Arreola early and never let up, beating him up, outboxing him, and winning a clear decision. Since then, Arreola came back with a bubble-bursting win over Seth Mitchell, and Stiverne has… done nothing. Arreola’s often excessive waistline was used as an excuse for his performance in their first fight, and reports indicate Arreola is working himself into excellent shape this time. Stiverne is a talented fighter, and is a more skilled boxer than the Californian, but a year of ring rust against a better-conditioned opponent may spell trouble. Stiverne earned his lofty rating with his win last year, but seems to be squandering it now. His career prior to Arreola was unexceptional, and a rematch loss could put him right back where he was before, struggling against guys like Ray Austin and Robert Hawkins.


5.) Vyacheslav Glazkov – 17-0-1(11) – Ukraine

Rankings in… The Ring: 7, TBRB: 6, ESPN: 8, 4, 7

Wins over top 10 Ring-rated opponents: 1

Next fight: Nothing currently scheduled

Glazkov first came to the attention of the boxing world with a surprisingly easy win over hyped prospect Tor Hamer in December 2012. This was followed by a gift draw against Malik Scott. The incredibly slowly developed Scott had been teasing boxing experts for years, showing impressive speed and skill against the same gatekeepers in 2012 as he did in 2005. However, this was a step up for both, and Glazkov appeared to have lost, or at least deserved to. He wasn’t completely embarrassed, however, and after a couple soft touches, took on long-time contender Tomasz Adamek. Glazkov’s youth and power proved too much for the ageing former light heavyweight, and Glazkov found himself catapulted above Malik Scott – who would be decapitated by Deontay Wilder. Glazkov has been mentioned as a potential opponent for Povetkin, which would be a good fight, and make for good progress for both fighter’s careers.


6.) Tony Thompson – 39-4(26) – United States

Rankings in… The Ring: NR, TBRB: 4, ESPN: 9, 9, 4

Wins over top 10 Ring-rated opponents: 1

Next fight: June 6 against #14 Carlos Takam

Before facing Wladimir Klitschko in July 2008, Tony Thompson’s best opponent had been a faded Luan Krasniqi, a man who probably could have been rated near #15 or #20 at his best… which was two or three years prior. It was not to say Thompson had only fought stiffs, but he had managed a top ten ranking without having beaten a top ten fighter. His relative lack of experience as well as his physical disadvantages spelled disaster as he was knocked out by Wladimir in 11 rounds, though he did give a decent accounting of himself before the final punch. A few more top 25-50-level opponents followed, until his second shot at Klitschko in 2012 ended faster, this time in 6 one-sided rounds. However, something happened with Tony. He didn’t fade away or retire. Instead, he seemed reinvigorated, and he responded by stopping highly-touted prospect David Price not once, but twice. He followed these huge wins with a competitive loss to number 1 contender Kubrat Pulev. While he wasn’t good enough to beat Pulev, he wasn’t embarrassed, and then followed that loss with another upset, this time over talented but disappointing Odlanier Solis. The 42 year old, flabby Thompson just plain outworked his younger opponent, keeping Solis off balance, and winning a well-deserved decision. This also happened to be Tony’s first win over a Ring-rated top 10 opponent. Tony is staying busy against top opponents, this time against Carlos Takam, who just fought to a draw with Mike Perez in January. Takam is younger and faster, but Thompson has been in the ring with much larger, scarier fighters. Takam’s youth might be too much for Thompson, but the same was said for Price and Solis.


7.) Dereck Chisora – 20-4(13) – United Kingdom

Rankings in… The Ring: NR, TBRB: 8, ESPN: 7, 5, 9

Wins over top 10 Ring-rated opponents: 0

Next fight: July 26 against #3 Tyson Fury

Dereck Chisora has rebounded nicely from his 5th round knockout loss to David Haye in July 2012, picking up 5 straight wins, 4 by knockout. A decision over professional pacifist Kevin Johnson and a somewhat controversial knockout over Malik Scott were the standouts of his recent run. Chisora seems to be in better shape and improved overall since he lost 4 out of 5 fights in 2011 and 2012. The first loss of that run was against Tyson Fury, who is now a top contender. Chisora has a shot at redemption, scheduled to rematch Fury on July 26. A win could get him a shot at Klitschko, which would almost certainly prove to be more exciting than Klitschko’s recent outings, should he stay in shape.


8.) Tomasz Adamek – 49-3(24) – Poland

Rankings in… The Ring: 8, TBRB: 9, ESPN: NR, 10, 10

Wins over top 10 Ring-rated opponents: 1

Next fight: Nothing currently scheduled

On paper, Tomasz Adamek’s 13 fights at heavyweight look pretty damn good. He’s gone 11-2(3), with a solid win over Chris Arreola, and debatable wins over Eddie Chambers and Steve Cunningham. His first loss was an understandable one, losing by 10th round TKO to then-WBC kingpin and number 1 contender Vitali Klitschko in 2011. Since that loss, though, it seemed as though Adamek has been fighting on borrowed time. He already had quite a bit of wear and tear from his runs at light heavyweight and cruiserweight, and has been facing some big punchers and naturally bigger men at heavyweight. His skillset is solid, his chin is excellent, and his handspeed is still decent, though clearly diminishing. He finally took a non-Klitschko loss against Glazkov last month, and he may be nearing the end of the road. For now, though, Adamek’s accomplishments keep him in the top ten.


9.) Chris Arreola – 36-3(31) – United States

Rankings in… The Ring: 6, TBRB: NR, ESPN: 5, 6, NR

Wins over top 10 Ring-rated opponents: 0

Next fight: May 10 against #4 Bermane Stiverne

Arreola has always seemed like an underachiever. His weight and lack of conditioning appeared to hold him back. He was soundly beaten in his first shot at the big-time in a 10th round stoppage loss to Vitali Klitschko four and a half years ago. Chris likely never had the skills needed to beat Klitschko, though his conditioning clearly played a role, as he came in to the fight jiggly and soft, weighing just one pound less than the 4-5 inch taller Ukrainian. His weight also slowed him down a year and a half later, dropping a decision to the former light heavyweight Tomasz Adamek. Since then, Chris has seemingly worked himself into shape, only to gradually lose it again. He lost to Stiverne last year for multiple reasons, not just his bulk. Stiverne hurt him early, broke his nose, and never let him recover. Arreola maintains that being in better shape will give him the edge he needs to win the rematch, and the now vacant WBC strap. We will see in just a week and a half.


10.) Steve Cunningham – 27-6(12) – United States

Rankings in… The Ring: NR, TBRB: 10, ESPN: NR, 13, 5

Wins over top 10 Ring-rated opponents: 0

Next fight: Nothing currently scheduled

In his last 7 fights, Steve Cunningham is only 3-4 with 0 knockouts, prompting one to wonder how he could make the top ten. Well, those first two losses came in consecutive fights at cruiserweight to Yoan Pablo Hernandez, and both were competitive. Since then, he moved up to heavyweight, beat journeyman Jason Gavern, lost a highly debatable decision to old rival Tomasz Adamek, lost by knockout to the massive Tyson Fury, where Cunningham managed to drop and badly hurt Fury before eventually being battered into submission. In both heavyweight losses, Cunningham hung in with two top ten heavies, arguably outboxing one, and outslugging the other until finally succumbing to a 44 pound weight deficit. Cunningham also shut out gatekeeper Manny Quezada and won an exciting shootout with fringe contender Amir Mansour just three weeks ago. For now, until he is completely uncompetitive with a heavyweight, Cunningham belongs among the best.


11.) Deontay Wilder – 31-0(31) – United States

Rankings in… The Ring: 9, TBRB: 7, ESPN: NR, 7, 6

Wins over top 10 Ring-rated opponents: 0

Next fight: Nothing currently scheduled

Deontay Wilder’s resume is lacking. I’ll start with that. The 6’7” power puncher has knocked out all 31 opponents he’s faced, but so far, none have proven to be tests. The best man he faced was in his most recent fight, against long-time fringe contender/prospect Malik Scott, just a month ago. Scott was expected to give Wilder some trouble with his jab and movement, but Wilder blew him away in less than a round. On the surface, this was quite impressive. Wilder crushed him with basically the first real punches thrown in the fight. Scott seemed to crumble without much resistance, despite giving Dereck Chisora a good fight, and arguably being robbed against Glazkov. Wilder destroyed Scott, who deserved the nod over Glazkov. So why is Glazkov ranked higher? One fight does not a career make. Glazkov also defeated Adamek, which is more impressive than Wilder’s next 4 best wins combined. The eye test doesn’t do it for me. According to the eye test, Adrien Broner should have defeated Marcos Maidana, and Bute should have beaten Froch. The outcome of the fights is all that should matter. Deontay has looked devastating so far, but he has yet to face a top 20 heavyweight. He’s the mandatory challenger for the winner of Stiverne-Arreola II, so perhaps we will see him take that challenge soon.


12.) Bryant Jennings – 18-0(10) – United States

Rankings in… The Ring: 10, TBRB: NR, ESPN: NR, 12, NR

Wins over top 10 Ring-rated opponents: 0

Next fight: May 24 against #13 Mike Perez

Jennings is the other big American prospect currently edging into contention. His competition is arguably equal to or maybe even slightly better than Wilder’s, but the methods of victory have been substantially different. Jennings is fairly small at heavy, and wins more with speed and boxing skill than with power. Jennings did stop an old Liakhovich, and more impressively stopped tough Polish brawler Artur Szpilka back in January. He is scheduled next to take on Mike Perez on May 24. That should be a nice test for both men and will very likely vault the winner into the top ten and toward an eventual shot at the title.


13.) Mike Perez – 20-0-1(12) – Ireland via Cuba

Rankings in… The Ring: NR, TBRB: NR, ESPN: NR, 18, NR

Wins over top 10 Ring-rated opponents: 0

Next fight: May 24 against #12 Bryant Jennings

Perez first became known to boxing fans when he won the British Prizefighter tournament in 2011, defeating Gregory Tony, Kertson Manswell, and Tye Fields in one night. The skilled Cuban then beat Magomed Abdusalamov in a brutal and exciting fight that left Mago in a coma and ended his career. Perez returned just two months later, escaping with a questionable draw against Carlos Takam. The quick turnaround, Takam’s surprising skills and stamina, and possible psychological issues from the damage he did to Abdusalamov were all possible reasons for his subpar performance against Takam. Perez has a chance to prove it was just an off night when he faces off against promising American prospect Bryant Jennings on May 24. Both men will be facing the best opponent of their careers, which is truly a great thing for a rebounding division.


14.) Carlos Takam – 29-1-1(23) – France

Rankings in… The Ring: NR, TBRB: NR, ESPN: NR, 20, NR

Wins over top 10 Ring-rated opponents: 0

Next fight: June 6 against #6 Tony Thompson

The Cameroon-born Frenchman surprised many when he outworked Mike Perez over the second half of their January 18 fight to earn a debatable draw. Most observers scored the fight for Takam, who seemed to get stronger as the fight went on, and he seemingly took the fight from the favored Perez. Takam toiled in obscurity for years, until 2012 and 2013, when he knocked out two big names from the 1990’s, Frans Botha and Michael Grant. Other than those two, his ledger was devoid of name fighters, so it came as a surprise that he performed so well against Perez. His upcoming fight against Tony Thompson is against another 40+ year-old veteran, though Thompson has many fewer miles on his odometer than Botha and Grant, and has shown a recent knack for upsetting applecarts. This is a dangerous fight for both men.


15.) Ruslan Chagaev – 32-2-1(20) – Uzbekistan

Rankings in… The Ring: NR, TBRB: NR, ESPN: 10, 23, NR

Wins over top 10 Ring-rated opponents: 2

Next fight: Nothing currently scheduled

Ruslan is hanging on by a thread here. He has expressed interest in rematches against the only two men to have defeated him – Wladimir Klitschko and Alexander Povetkin, though he is not likely on either man’s radar at this point. Chagaev has gained weight and slowed down, and at age 35, seems to be on the downhill side of his career. Much of his career was hindered when he was sidelined with bouts of hepatitis. This delayed his rematch with Valuev, and scuttled an Ibragimov match several years ago. A shot at a top ten spot is still not out of the realm of possibility, though, and he may still have enough to beat the winner of the Thompson – Takam fight, or possibly Adamek.

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