It's difficult to see the horizon through dark clouds, and it's become just as difficult to see who might become the next dominate heavyweight on boxing's horizon through the grey cloud that has enveloped the sport's most glamorous division since the retirement of Lennox Lewis four years ago.
Yet even when the skies are darkest there is always the knowledge that, eventually, things will brighten once again. For fight fans there is a similar hope that the next young heavyweight to come along will be The One, the fighter who resurrects interest in the most important weight division in the sport.
Unless, of course, long-time promoter Bob Arm was right when he said recently, "Today's top heavyweights are in the NFL."
Either there, it seems, or in the various countries that once made up the Soviet Union. At the moment, all four of the reigning champions wearing some portion of the heavyweight title belt learned their craft in what was once the Soviet Union -- Wladimir Klitschko, the most recognized of the belt holders but one who himself admits there will be no true champion until someone defeats all his peers who have a claim on the title; Oleg Maskaev, the 38-year-old who upset Hasim Rahman to win his fourth of the championship; WBA titleholder Ruslan Chagaev; and Sultan Ibragimov, who easily outpointed WBO belt holder Shannon Briggs in his last outing. Where are the Americans on this list? They're not all in the NFL but they aren't in the title picture either.
"The fighters from those Eastern bloc countries are hungrier than our kids," long-time Las Vegas matchmaker Bruce Trampler says when asked about the apparent dearth of talented U.S. heavyweights today. "There are no Russian baseball players. No Russian football players. There are very few Russian basketball players. They don't have as many outlets pulling at them if they're athletic as the kids here do. Over in Eastern Europe, they fight or they play hockey.
"There's a lot of parity today. That's worked well in the NFL. It doesn't work so well in heavyweight boxing. People want to see that one guy who is dominate. There's nothing as exciting as a good heavyweight fight but I don't know when we're going to see one again. If Shannon Briggs is a top contender it tells you something. Who cares?"
At the moment not as many people who once did but Trampler admitted that all it takes to reverse that is one big puncher who can electrify a crowd by electrocuting a string of opponents. But who might that guy be?
No one in boxing knows for sure. There is no young Mike Tyson lurking on the outskirts of the sport making thunderous noises. No young Lennox Lewis or Riddick Bowe ready to step in and claim the division. No young Evander Holyfield (although the old model is still in action at 44 and probably closing in on another title shot if he wins another fight or two) making his mark and causing a stir.
That is not to say there are no new faces in heavyweight boxing however. It is only that none of the young lions has yet roared loudly enough for the rest of the world to take notice. But eventually someone will so here are 10 fighters who may have a future someone like Wladimir Klitschko, or one of the other reigning belt holders in the division, may yet have to deal with.
TEN HEAVYWEIGHTS TO WATCH
1. Alexander Povetkin, 27, Russia, 2004 Olympic super heavyweight gold medalist, 12-0, 10 KO.
Povetkin is a big, young heavyweight with raw skills and the traditional upright Eastern European stance. That may get him hurt before his career is over but right now he stands as good a chance as any young heavyweight of replacing this generation's champions. He has a solid amateur background, powerful German promoter Wilfried Sauerland behind him and a willingness to come to the U.S. to be tested.
He takes the traditional road June 30 when he faces aged former heavyweight contender Larry Donald (42-4, 24 KO) in Moscow. It is a fight he needs to win, and should win, if he's to ever be seen as the leader of the next generation of heavyweight hopefuls.
2. Alexander Dimitrenko, 24, Ukraine, 25-0, 15 KO.
At 6-foot-7 and over 250 pounds, Dimitrenko is the latest in the line of giant European heavyweights who have caused some purists to call for the creation of a super heavyweight division like the one that already exists in amateur boxing. He is a rough customer but not a particularly powerful puncher. Size is actually of less significance than it would appear if the smaller man is skilled but thus far the carefully matched Dimitrenko has faced the usual trial horses like Julius Francis, Ross Purrity and Vaughn Bean, who lacked the requisite skills to take advantage of his robotic stiffness and other weaknesses. Dimitrenko has never fought outside of Germany, where he now lives and fights for powerful promoter Peter Kohl. If he continues his connection to Kohl it will inevitably lead him to a title fight against someone like Chagaev.
3. David Haye, 26, England, No. 1 ranked cruiserweight contender, 19-1, 18 KO
Haye recently decided to move up and try his hand in the heavyweight division and he obliterated world ranked Tomasz Bonin in 105 seconds on April 27, dropping him four times before the fight was stopped. Haye may yet return to the cruiserweight division to fight for the WBC title but the belief is he will soon return to heavyweight because of his struggles making the cruiserweight limit. And why not?
Haye seems to have the punching power to make some noise. No one knows yet if his chin is up to the task or if his suspect stamina will become a problem in the bigger weight class but Haye has the kind of speed and athletic ability to give most of the ponderous bigger heavyweights trouble and the power to take any of them out. Keep a close eye on this guy.
4. Oleg Platov, 24, Ukraine, 25-1, 19 KO.
The biggest (and only) name on his resume is aged Henry Akinwande, who he defeated in a disputed decision. Platov was set to fight a rematch with Akinwande on June 30 in Moscow that may make his future a bit clearer. There's nothing special about him but these days there doesn't have to be to advance, especially with Sauerland promoting him in Germany.
5. Jean Bergeron, 33, Canada, 27-0, 18 KO.
Bergeron will probably not prove to be a factor since he has put his record together without beating anyone of note but he gets his first big test on Sept. 30 when he's scheduled to face seven-foot former WBA heavyweight champion Nikolay Valuev in Germany. Valuev lost the title in his last fight to Chagaev, a merciful turn of events since Valuev had won 46 straight and was closing in on the record 49-0 of Rocky Marciano. If Bergeron can find a way to beat the once defeated but ponderous Valuev (46-1, 34 KO), he becomes a factor in the heavyweight division by default. If he loses, it's back to hockey for him.
"The fighters from those Eastern bloc countries are hungrier than our kids," long-time Las Vegas matchmaker Bruce Trampler says when asked about the apparent dearth of talented U.S. heavyweights today.
1. Eddie Chambers 25, 29-0, 18 KO.
At 6-1, Chambers is small by the standards of today but he knows how to fight and that alone could take him a long way. He lacks punching power in a division defined by it but he has unusually fast hands in a division that these days doesn't see many quick-handed fighters. According to Philadelphia fight promoter and matchmaker J. Russell Peltz, "He's near the top of the list of young guys. He's competitive with anybody out there today. He's a small guy but nobody blows him out of the water except maybe Klitschko. And maybe even he doesn't. He's got a chance, although I'm not sure to do what."
2. Chazz Witherspoon, 25, 18-0, 12 KO.
Witherspoon has the size (6-4, 232) but not the power you like to see in a heavyweight. But he has something few of them other than Klitschko possess- a willingness to stay in the gym and work. Witherspoon is the nephew of former heavyweight champion Tim Witherspoon so he has good genes and is technically very sound. He's yet to be tested by even the usual list of journeymen heavyweights but Peltz says, "He's always in shape and that alone will let him beat more than 50 per cent of the guys out there."
3. Chris Arreola, 26, 20-0, 18 KO.
Arreola has a stiff jab that he uses well and is, in Trampler's view, "a dead game guy who will outwork a lot of the other young heavyweights. He was a tough guy in the street and he's a tough guy in the ring. He's the kind of guy, if they match him right, who could become an attraction." Arreola's willingness to mix it up makes him more pleasing to watch than many of today's heavyweights but he lacks one punch power and mobility. The latter may be a bigger problem than the former these days because being easy to hit has never been an asset in the heavyweight division and still isn't.
4. Travis Walker, 27, 24-0-1, 17 KO
Walker has a big right hand and that alone makes him interesting but he's yet to land it on anyone recognizable. At 27, he needs to step up his level of competition. His biggest win was over former U.S. Olympian Jason Estrada last November but Estrada was in woeful condition at the time. Still, Walker did enough to win, although nowhere near enough to impress. He needs to get more out of his jab, which can be a weapon at times but is one he's not consistent with. Freight Train needs to get on a treadmill often enough to change his nickname to "Bullet Train" or his conditioning problems will come back to haunt him long before he gets a title shot.
5. Malik Scott, 26, 28-0, 10 KO.
Scott is an enigma. He has abundant talent but seems to refuses to maximize his potential. "I thought he had the pure boxing ability to beat a lot of guys," long-time New Jersey matchmaker Carl Moretti said of Scott. "He's a talented guy who doesn't do the little extra necessary to become the star you thought he could be. The jury is still out on him but he's been disappointing. He lacks knockout power and in too many fights he's not busy." Scott has one of the key ingredients for success as a heavyweight -- a strong jab but too often he only uses it in spots.
He is athletic and mobile but often lazy, refusing to fight on the inside if at all avoidable. Scott might be the most talented of the young American prospects even though he lacks anything remotely resembling legitimate heavyweight punching power but he has not made many good fights. He may get a match soon with another young U.S. prospect, Kevin Johnson. That could elevate one of them or eliminate them both if they refuse to fight with fire.
Arreola has a stiff jab that he uses well and is, in Trampler's view, "a dead game guy who will outwork a lot of the other young heavyweights. He was a tough guy in the street and he's a tough guy in the ring. He's the kind of guy, if they match him right, who could become an attraction."
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