W. Klitschko-Chagaev: Next Stop On The Heavyweight Carousel

Harlequin RowContributor IJune 18, 2009

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 23:  Wladimir Klitschko of the Ukraine celebrates his 12 round unanimous decison victory over Sultan Ibragimov of Russia during their WBO and IBF/IBO Unification Heavyweight World Championship bout on February 23, 2008 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

On Saturday, Uzbekistanian, Ruslan Chagaev, will try to add a third major belt to his collection, when he battles Ring Magazine’s top rated heavyweight, Wladimir Klitschko (pictured), in the latter’s adapted nation of Germany. 

Chagaev is the current WBA heavyweight title-holder (on “reserve”) despite being co-ranked at the top with 7’ Russian, Nikolay Valuev.

Klitschko has won ten straight matches, dating back to 2004 when he began working with former Lennox Lewis trainer, Emanuel Steward.  Dr. Steelhammer has rounded up the WBO and IBF championships in an attempt to bring semblance back to a scattered division.

His camp, led by promoter Peter Kohl (who also represents Saturday’s opponent), had asked for the WBA to sanction a defense of their belt in this match, as well, but the committee refused. 

Klitschko’s older brother, Vitali, is the reigning WBC champion, the fourth and final regarded classification body in professional boxing. 

As it is, Ruslan Chagaev is a highly controversial and poorly regarded champion.  He was scheduled for a title unification bout in 2007 with the then IBF champ, Sultan Ibragimov, but Chagaev was forced to postpone the bout after testing positive for Hepatitis-B. 

The match was never re-scheduled due to Ibragimov soon losing his belt to Wladimir, and Chagaev having a mandatory WBA title defense against Nikolay Valuev, the man he originally won this said belt from.  

However, the Valuev bout was scheduled in Finland, where Chagaev’s positive Hepatitis diagnosis again restricted him from receiving a license to fight. 

So, very, perhaps, strategically beneficial for the Uzbekistanian, is the fact he now gets an undeserved chance to impress sponsors and possible supporters of future unification bouts if he can beat Wlad Klitschko.

Whether or not Chagaev wins Saturday, he will have to put the WBA on the line against Valuev.  Still lingering is the WBC champion, Vitali Klitschko, whose last match was a steamroll versus Juan Carlos Gomez in March.

All tongue twisting aside now, what the heavyweight division vitally (or "vitali!") needs, and does not currently have is a guy we can all hang our hat on.  We need someone who has beaten all the contenders, and done so in style. 

Look, obviously the 1990s supplied more cache fighters who attracted the main event-worthy ratings numbers.

Today’s heavyweights from the fallen Soviet bloc are bigger, more strategic... and they certainly smile less.  The problems are that they are not culturally commercial to American audiences, so we perceive them all as being paper champions. 

As well, the scattered belt scenario only serves as a microcosm to the degree of difficulty we have just spelling some of these guys’ names.

Before we talk about this actual match a bit, does either Klitschko brother have the propensity to put an end to the dog days of the heavyweight class? 

The answer is no, based on the simple fact that they refuse even to fight each other.  Even if one of them loses, and the other becomes undisputed champ down the line, the issue will still be who was/is the better bro?

The most storied (heavyweight) match in recent history was the Vitali-Lennox Lewis slugfest from 2003, in which Klitschko was ahead on all three score cards, but was forced to retire from the match due to a grazing punch opening a cut over his eye. 

After confronting the sheer size of Europe’s best challenger at the time, Lewis decided never to step foot in the ring again. 

Wladimir then took over in about a year and a half, and has been dominant.  But, now Vitali is back from retirement, and has regained the belt he eventually did win shortly after the Lewis fight. 

Since these brothers aren’t going to battle, somebody else needs to beat both of them to provide the fans a little piece of mind and familiar end destination for all these story lines.

So, folks, I guess now we’re as set up for the present match as we're going to be.  If Chagaev wins on Saturday, he’ll be in position (after a following mandatory defense against Valuev, whom he’s already defeated), to schedule the first of two unification bouts with the Klitschkos. 

Vitali Klitschko’s next bout will likely be against WBC No. 1 contender and American hope, Chris Arreola, in what should be Klitschko’s first bout in the States since half a decade ago.

So, right there you have it.  It is absolutely the best thing for heavyweight boxing to have both Klitschko brothers lose to the same undisputed champion.  

Otherwise, the jumbled array of results and hard to pronounce names will continue to read like a who’s who of who cares to the general boxing fan, even if there is an undisputed king who, of course, would’ve avoided throwdown with at least one of the Klitschkos.

What contender has the best chance at beating both siblings? 

Chagaev is 25-0-1, with that win over Valuev on his résumé (impressive since he's almost a foot shorter than the Russian).  Plus, he’s a lefty.  We all remember how many fits Corrie Sanders gave Wladimir in ’03. 

But, Steelhammer proved against Ibragimov that he’s learned how to handle southpaws.  Chagaev is shorter and not nearly as battle tested as either Klitschko. 

The Uzbekistanian’s résumé climaxes only with the Valuev contest.  He’s gone the distance many times with lesser opponents, including an inexperienced Vladimir Virchis back in ’06, whose since pretty much fallen off the map.

Nikolay Valuev has a couple inches in height on both Klitschkos, but his chin is untested.  Most recently, Valuev went the distance with aged Evander Holyfield and walked out of a split decision victory with boos from the Swiss attendance (and I thought they were supposed to be neutral!).

Alexander Povetkin (17-0), Alexander Dimitrenko (29-0) and aforementioned WBC international champion, Chris Arreola (27-0), are up and coming guys, but they lack the physical prowess and experience to be taken too seriously at the moment.  Most impressive was Arreola's four-round embarrassment of Jameel McCline in April.

In all likelihood, Wladimir will use 5” height and 7” reach advantage to keep Chagaev at bay Saturday, while timing his jabs to further break his opponent down, sort of like the Sam Peter fight.

Chagaev does not have the arm-span necessary to land a one-punch haymaker, and Klitschko’s technique since working with Steward has been impeccable. 

It’s unfortunate the WBA does not want their belt on the line until Chagaev-Valuev.  If Wladimir could walk away with three major belts (for the record, he also owns the poorly regarded IBO) this weekend, it could go a way toward persuading his brother to step aside and allow Wlad to unify the division.

Unfortunately, the way things are set up, owning even three belts would decree so many mandatory title defenses for that fighter, that making progress in the last rank would be nearly impossible.  As it is, Wladimir is due an IBF defense against Povetkin.

The politics of boxing are notorious these days, and no division has had more moss applied to the various branches than in the heavyweight.

I look for Wladimir Klitschko to run his record to 53-3 on Saturday, by scoring a TKO in the mid to late rounds. 

But, don't expect much clarity from the press as far as whether or not we're watching a finally anointed heavyweight icon, and, even more certainly, do not expect this carousel of various champions with seemingly worthless title defenses to end anytime soon.

A tear.