VERO, BEACH FLORIDA – What if they held a world heavyweight title fight and no one in America showed up?
Or even cared.
Well, then, you would be talking about virtually every title tilt involving heavies this century, most of which transpired in Europe.
Because of the absence of an American heavyweight champ or legit challenger for a decade or so, not only have most folks from the U.S. not seen fit to board a cross-pond plane to catch a big boy title bout, they often don’t even know one has taken place until they read about it the next day in the back pages of their sports sections.
The current apathy in the U.S. toward a weight class which menacing Yanks once ruled is almost shocking — but understandable.
Since Mike Tyson’s heyday last century, forget recalling an American heavyweight champ, you would be hard pressed to name a top-flight contender from the U.S.
Today, you MIGHT be able to find an American heavy whose management team “bought” him a ranking in one the alphabet soup of shady world boxing federations (WBC, WBA, IBF, WBO — or is it W-BO, as in “Phew! Something stinks here”?).
This hasn’t always been the case, of course.
Much like the dinosaurs who for eons were the most fearsome creatures to ever tromp the earth, voracious Americans ruled the heavyweight globe for almost the entire 20th century.
All the way back to the early 1900s a litany of nonpareil U.S. performers held the title of heavyweight champ.
Last century, holding the heavyweight crown was tantamount to an American boxing birthright. Hall of Famers like Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali and Tyson, among many others, were part of that proud American lineage.
Oh, there were interlopers from time-to-time — Max Schmeling, Ingemar Johansson and Frank Bruno come to mind.
But their holds on the title were brief and usually ended in a crushing defeat and a relinquishing of the belt.
As was the case with their prehistoric reptilian counterparts, though, American heavies are now facing extinction.
MAS is at a loss to explain why. The best reason he can think of is that, now, large-bodied American males can make more money playing football and basketball — and come out of it with most of their senses intact.
Maybe the gruesome UFC and MMA have even helped drain the Yank heavyweight pool.
Add to these possibilities is a deterioration in the work ethic of many Americans, which has made them reluctant to commit to the Spartan life of boxing.
But even if Yanks wanted to be interested in heavyweight title fights sans fellow Americans, the last decade’s champeens have made that extremely difficult.
Their styles do not exactly appeal to the generally blood-thirsty U.S. fight fans. Americans prefer a heavyweight bout that boils down to which guy is gonna knock the other’s block off first.
It’s not that Yanks don’t appreciate the “Sweet Science” aspect of boxing — just not in the heavyweight division.
And both the current champions — the Klitschko brothers, Wladimir and Vitali — are literally boxing scientists.
Each has earned a Ph.D. in sports science from a Ukrainian university and both apply theories learned in their highly effective but less-than-exciting styles.
Even Muhammad Ali, shrewdie that he was, knew he had to augment his lack of punching power with entertaining hand, foot and mouth speed. With him yapping and zapping while moonwalking, who noticed he rarely starched foes in wins?
But these days, if American fans want to see exquisite technique, they’ll watch lightweights.
Yes, the Klitschkos have an impressive number of knockouts. But they are misleading KOs.
Both the brothers are 200 cm and superb athletes. For the first seven rounds or so of a fight, they use their long reach to keep foes at bay by stabbing them with stiff jabs.
Then in the last half of the fight, they are often able to put away opponents with a succession of hard but not devastating punches.
Their KOs are borne of wearing down and discouraging opponents, not the result of a couple of thunderous wallops — the kind Yanks over the course of a hundred years have come to expect.
The last great American champ was Tyson. Then, Lennox Lewis came along.
Lewis was the first of the new breed of heavyweights — the Klitschkos would follow in his footsteps.
The braided Brit showed that a tall, rangy, strong athlete (the kind in America you now see playing football and basketball) could easily dismantle an old-style American thumper.
Which leads MAS to wonder: Where have you gone Ed “Too Tall” Jones?
A former 206-cm Dallas Cowboys defensive end, Jones retired briefly from pro football to become a fighter in 1979.
Alas, Too Tall was too early. Though successful, Jones’ style — which was quite similar to that of Lewis and the Klitschkos — was widely panned.
He was more boxer than belter. Who knew back then Jones was ahead of his time.
The failure of current American heavies to adapt to this evolution in style has left them on the verge of doo-doo bird status.
The Klitschkos are Ukrainian but have seemingly made Germany their adopted home. They routinely sell out soccer stadiums all over that country.
Their athleticism is what endears the Klitschkos to the German people, longtime aficionados of track and field (or athletics).
So what if the Klitschkos’ act did not sell well in the States. They are content to fight where they are most appreciated.
They’ll continue to fill up Bundesliga edifices several times a year, while half-a-world away Americans sleep — due to both time difference and indifference.
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