Stock Watch for Boxing's Top Heavyweight Fighters
Why isn't the heavyweight division king in boxing today?
The biggest, strongest athletes in the world competing in a division with tons of knockouts would seem like a popular combination for fans. As we all know, however, that hasn't been the case in recent years.
The pace of heavyweight fights are often slower, and fans now seem to be drawn to the more action-packed fights in lower weight classes, especially between junior welterweight and middleweight. There's no doubt that having a Ukrainian who lives in Germany in control of the division and belts since 2006 has also hurt the interest for American boxing fans.
While the division has lost the star power of the 1970s with Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Joe Frazier and Ken Norton, or of the 1980s and 1990s with Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis, there are still talented heavyweights available to make entertaining fights.
Over the upcoming slides I'll go over many of those names and let you know where they stand currently in the division. One name you won't see is Wladimir Klitschko because, well, we all know the status of his stock. The younger Klitschko is the owner of the second-longest title reign in heavyweight history; you don't need me to tell you that his stock is up; it will be until the day he retires.
Stock Up: Bermane Stiverne
Record: 24-1-1 (21 KOs)
Why His Stock Is Up: The Canadian/Haitian broke up the Klitschko stranglehold of the heavyweight division after knocking out Chris Arreola to claim the belt vacated by the older Klitschko brother, Vitali. Bermane Stiverne also knocked down Arreola during a clear decision victory in April of 2013.
It's hard to imagine any heavyweight defeating Wladimir Klitschko at this point, but there's little doubt about who deserves to be ranked second in the division. Stiverne's lone defeat was more than seven years ago, and he hasn't had a close decision fight since a 2009 majority draw to Charles Davis in a six-round match.
Stiverne possesses great knockout power and a more friendly TV style than some other big names in the division. With big fights on the horizon against Deontay Wilder and possibly a unification bout against Wladimir, Stiverne still has room for his name to grow and his paydays to get larger despite being 35 years old.
Stock Down: Deontay Wilder
Record: 31-0 (31 KOs, all inside four rounds)
Why His Stock Is Down: The undefeated Deontay Wilder is the mandatory challenger for the WBC heavyweight title currently held by Bermane Stiverne. If you ignore his list of opponents, Wilder's 100 percent knockout rate—with all KOs coming inside four rounds—would drop your jaw and give you the impression that he could be the next Mike Tyson.
However upon further examination, his opponents have been embarrassingly easy. In particular, his last opponent Malik Scott—who was ranked 23rd by the WBC compared to third for Wilder—went down so fast that it looked like it was choreographed.
Dan Rafael of ESPN said it best about the questionable knockout victory over Scott.
Wilder made it look very easy because Scott didn't look as if he tried. In fact, Scott threw one punch, a wide shot that wasn't close to landing. One punch. Wilder, meanwhile, spent most of the round pumping a left jab until firing a left hook that seemed to catch Scott near the temple area. He followed with a straight right hand that caught Scott on the gloves. Yet Scott went down near the ropes. He seemed perfectly lucid but was counted out by referee Roberto Ramirez Jr. at 1 minute, 36 seconds.
To many, it looked as though Scott took a dive and it's hard to argue against that opinion. Scott's lack of effort and the fact that he would stay down from punches that, relative to heavyweight boxing, did not appear out of the ordinary is questionable. Scott made it seem as if Bruce Seldon tried very hard in his title fight with Mike Tyson. If this kind of disgrace doesn't leave a bad taste in your mouth, nothing in boxing will.
His record is great, but it's meaningless considering the competition. I'd be an undefeated boxer as well if I only fought nine-year-old children; the caliber of opponent matters. That disgrace against Scott only worsened the taste in my mouth.
Until he beats a legit opponent, I won't take him seriously.
There's no doubt in my mind that Wilder is extremely talented and possesses giant upside, but he's untested. Stiverne is far and away his toughest opponent to date and will push and test him beyond anything he's dealt with before.
If Wilder stops Stiverne within four rounds to keep his streak alive, he will get my attention. Pulling off a feat like that could give birth to a star, but for now his stock is down.
Stock Up: Tyson Fury
Record: 22-0 (16 KOs)
Why His Stock Is Up: The British heavyweight has stopped six of his last seven opponents, all inside of seven rounds. Tyson Fury was expected to have a rematch vs. Dereck Chisora but will now fight Alexander Ustinov instead after Chisora was forced to pull out of the fight due to an injury.
Fury's unanimous-decision win over Chisora in 2011 is still his best victory to date, so beating him again would have likely helped his profile, but getting Ustinov on short notice is a great consolation prize. Ustinov (29-1 21 KOs) will instantly become arguably his second best victory if Fury is able to win on July 26.
The fight against Chisora was supposed to be a title elimination fight with the winner being named a mandatory challenger for one of the belts owned by Wladimir Klitschko, but Fury will likely still put his name on the short list for potential Klitschko opponents with an impressive victory over Ustinov.
For anyone who has followed Fury's career, you know this wasn't the first time an opponent dropped out on him right before a big fight.
Fury was scheduled to fight David "My Toe Hurts" Haye two different times in 2013, but Haye backed out of both fights. I would have picked Fury to win either time it was scheduled; had he gotten that victory, it would have helped his odds of landing a title shot.
Eventually, Fury will get his chance, and it's easy to like his odds; he's one of the few opponents who would put Klitschko at a height disadvantage. What helps his stock besides his performance in the ring is his ability to entertain fans or possibly cause them to hate him.
A lightning-rod personality in boxing is not a bad thing; it's worked out well for Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Fury is no Mayweather, of course, but that type of personality brings attention and helps sell a fight. Once he's able to land fights against bigger names—if they don't back out—Fury has the potential to become the biggest money draw in the division.
As long as he wins and keeps running his mouth, his stock will continue to rise.
Stock Down: Mike Perez
Record: 20-0-1 (12 KOs)
Why His Stock Is Down: In easily his toughest test to date, Mike Perez earned a majority draw against Carlos Takam last January. Unlike most of his opponents, Takam—currently the No. 8-ranked heavyweight by ESPN—is a legit-top level fighter in the division.
That being said, it was a fight that Perez was supposed to use as a showcase to launch himself to the next level after spending most of his career up to that point fighting cupcake opponents. Takam and the opponent Perez fought before that—Magomed Abdusalamov—had only one loss combined when they took on Perez. The three opponents Perez fought before those two had a combined loss total of 52.
That's why despite his undefeated record and the flashes of potential he's shown in the ring, I have to say that his stock is down. His list of opponents has been very soft, and he let an older fighter in Takam outwork him in the second half of their fight—a fight many believed should have been scored a victory for Takam instead of a draw.
Over the final five rounds of the fight with Takam, Perez was outlanded 133-102. Making matters worse was that his activity level was down considerably. After looking impressive as a surprisingly active fighter for the division with 81 punches per round against Abdusalamov, Perez averaged just 51 against Takam.
He looked unimpressive and fought a more boring style. That's not a good combination when trying to win over fans.
Takam was a tough opponent, but top prospects are supposed to dominate older fighters on their way up the ladder. Whatever the reason was for the lackluster performance, it slowed the ascent of Perez.
The good news for Perez, however, is that he has another chance to make a big impression. He will take on another undefeated fighter in Bryant Jennings as part of the undercard for the Gennady Golovkin vs. Daniel Geale fight on July 26.
While his stock may be down for the time being, an impressive victory over Jennings would change things quickly.
Stock Up: Bryant Jennings
Record: 18-0 (10 KOs)
Why His Stock Is Up: Bryant Jennings had a big year in 2012 with five wins in fights shown on major TV networks. He fought just once last year but looked impressive with a 10th-round knockout of Artur Szpilka on HBO. Szpilka was undefeated before their match.
Jennings turned that success into a fight with the also undefeated Mike Perez. The winner of this fight—which was originally supposed to take place in May—will receive a mandatory title shot in the future. It won't be the next fight for the winner because Deontay Wilder will get his opportunity first against Bermane Stiverne, but either Jennings or Perez will get a shot at the winner of that yet fight, which has yet to be scheduled.
Jennings' success—especially in his fights on TV—has helped his stock to rise, but having a gifted heavyweight prospect from America doesn't hurt either. Most elite athletes in America pick other sports like football or basketball, but that trend is even more exaggerated in the heavyweight division.
Fighters below super middleweight aren't typically big enough to play football or basketball at a high level, so boxing is an option for those who don't fit the size requirement of the more popular sports. For guys who are big enough to be heavyweights, it's hard to convince them to choose a career of getting punched in the face over another option that has a higher average salary.
Can you imagine if American athletes like J.J. Watt or Jadeveon Clowney decided to box? It would change the landscape of the sport.
ESPN's heavyweight rankings feature only one American and that fighter—Deontay Wilder—sits in 10th. The glamour division needs more prominent Americans. If Jennings defeats Perez, he'll shoot up the rankings and could help revive the interest in the division for American boxing fans.
Stock Down: Alexander Povetkin
Record: 27-1 (19 KOs)
Why His Stock Is Down: Did you see his fight against Wladimir Klitschko? If so, I think you know why his stock is down. It's Alexander Povetkin's only career loss to date, and he did knock out an opponent who only had one career loss in his next fight, but the loss to Klitschko was just too lopsided.
It's going to take more than one win to erase that embarrassment from my memory.
There's no shame in losing to Klitschko, but Povetkin should have just stayed home with the performance he gave in the ring. Klitschko knocked down the comically overmatched Povetkin four times and would have won every round if a point hadn't been deducted for shoving in the 11th round.
Every judge had the bout 119-104 for Klitschko, which is as lopsided as it can get. Think about that: It was a 12-round fight, and Povetkin lost by 15 points. That's a pathetic performance for a title challenger.
Maybe it's too harsh to judge him for a loss to Klitschko, since the younger brother has controlled the division for almost a decade. Had the fight been competitive, I don't think anyone would say his stock is down, but that fight was the equivalent of a 70-3 game in football or a 20-1 game in baseball.
That fight needed the little league mercy rule.
At age 34, it's hard to imagine that his skill set or physical ability will improve, so his stock is down until he proves otherwise.
Stock Up: Kubrat Pulev
Record: 20-0 (11 KOs)
Why His Stock Is Up: The undefeated Kubrat Pulev earned a mandatory title fight against heavyweight king Wladimir Klitschko by winning a clear decision over Tony Thompson in August of 2013. Pulev has since won two easy fights with stoppage victories inside four rounds that were nothing more than "stay busy" matches while waiting for the fight against Klitschko to be finalized.
Pulev also handed Alexander Ustinov his only career loss with an 11th-round knockout in 2012. Pulev was leading by a wide margin on the judges' scorecards at the time of the knockout.
Pulev is currently ranked fourth by ESPN in the heavyweight division and will fight for the three belts owned by Klitschko next month; it's hard to argue that his stock isn't up. He has potential, but potential just means it's something you haven't proved yet, right?
His stock is up, but we'll have a clearer view of where he stands after Klitschko punches him in the mouth—if he's still standing at all of course.