VERO BEACH, FLORIDA – Want a blueprint for the modern heavyweight boxing champion?
Think Rob Gronkowski.
But he’s a tight end for the New England Patriots, you say.
True, but Gronkowski’s “long”, well-muscled body type, pterodactyl-type wingspan and athleticism are what it now takes to rule boxing’s once most glamorous division, it seems.
(Notice MAS said ONCE most glamorous — more on this later.)
Back to Gronk. At 198 cm, 118 kg, he is built like almost every heavyweight champeen over the past two decades plus.
In fact, one of the current titleholders, WBC champ Deontay Wilder, actually WAS a standout high school tight end himself in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
At 201 cm, 104 kg Wilder was good enough to be scouted by the University of Alabama but opted instead for a pro boxing career.
Wladimir Klitschko (201, 110), the other current heavyweight titlist (WBC, WBO, IBF versions) has the exact same build and skill set as Wilder and Gronk.
So did Wlad’s older brother Vitali, a former simultaneous champ with his kid bro (different boxing organizations) and now the mayor of Kiev.
This heavyweight champ body type dates back to the reign of Canadian-Brit Lennox Lewis (196, 111) in the early 1990s.
It is most definitely not the big but bulky variety of build.
More like streamlined — it is a sinewy type musculature packed on a lanky frame.
Theirs are fast-twitch muscles that enable Gronkowski and the heavyweight champs to move swiftly and fluidly, all while packing considerable wallop.
The days of the shorter and stocky, hand-quick but plodding haymaker-heaving champs built along the lines of Rocky Marciano, Joe Frazier and Mike Tyson are but a distant memory.
In fact, it was actually a forerunner to this Gronk type, Buster Douglas (193, 112 but athletic) who shattered Tyson’s aura of invincibility.
Douglas showed that length and maneuverability combined with short and snapping yet punishing punches could stymie the bullrush style of Tyson types.
Douglas could have had a nice run as a titleholder, like his eventual successor Lewis, but Buster ate himself out of greatness — ballooning up to nearly 181 kg and almost dying from diabetes complications.
Nonetheless, Douglas established the prototypical heavyweight champ body-skill type that currently exists in the heavyweight division.
That combination of build and athleticism can’t be beaten these days, it appears.
But while these physical attributes help make Gronk a sensation on the gridiron, they result in less-than-intriguing boxing performances because of the way those blessings are employed by the new era champs.
At least in North America, their bouts are viewed that way.
For the first half of a fight, current titlists are content to employ a combination of movement with a succession of long distance, stinging jabs and occasional one-two combinations to frustrate and wear down shorter, stocky and slower-moving contenders that somehow still abound today. Constant toe-to-toe action it is NOT.
Then, about the seventh or eighth round, these modern day champs become more aggressive — but only after they have rendered their foes flummoxed and exhausted with their hit-and-establish space between you and your opponent methods.
The titlist’s adversary, by this time, is a sitting duck for a knockout or a stoppage due to an accumulation of heavy blows, usually within a round or two.
Successful belt defenses by current champs are cleverly thought out and skillfully executed wars of attrition.
This is all well and good for pugilistic purists. But the median — i.e. blood thirsty — American boxing fan finds such action — or inaction — wanting.
No wonder many boxing pundits now consider the lower weight classifications to be the glamour classes of the sweet science.
In recent years, lighter fighters like Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao (before their recent snoozefest, that is), Canelo Alvarez, Triple G — Gennady Golovkin, et al have been the reigning big draws in the American boxing game.
American fans, used to the heavies throwing constant bombs, just couldn’t get into the calculated approach employed by the Klitschkos, who BOTH — not coincidentally — have a Ph.D in Sports Science.
Their styles so turned off Yank fight fans that Wladimir’s recent successful title defense in New York’s Madison Square Garden, the Mecca of American boxing, was the first stateside Klitschko appearance in seven years.
Wladimir’s win over previously unbeaten Bryant Jennings was a masterpiece of precision boxing but hardly left American fans clamoring for more Klitschko in the Big Apple, Las Vegas or anywhere else in the States.
So, it’s probably back to his adopted hometown of Hamburg, Germany — where Wlad is beloved and more appreciated — for future title fights.
Much has been made in the U.S. of the gradual decline of the American heavyweight.
In recent years, whenever Yanks have gone “over there” (to Europe) to face the Klitschkos, they’ve also gone down to the canvas.
Some point to college football and basketball as the now-preferred avenues to athletic and life success in the U.S. for young African-Americans, who make up the majority of Yank heavyweights.
Wilder, for economic and family reasons (an ill daughter), eschewed a shot at possible NCAA and NFL success and went the amateur, Olympic and, ultimately, pro boxing route.
Applying the Gronk blueprint, Wilder is unbeaten in 33 fights and won the WBC version of the crown two bouts ago, outpointing paunchy and listless Haitian-Canadian Bermane Stiverne.
In doing so, Deontay became the first American heavyweight titlist in eight looong years — something previously unthinkable.
But he’s not exactly the second coming of Joe Louis.
Wilder then successfully defended his title against rugged but spare tire-wearing Eric Molina, who had amassed a 23-1 record in the heavyweight division.
But, with all due respect, MAS must opine that Wilder is STILL not ready to take on Klitschko in a title unification affair.
In his ninth round KO of Molina, Wilder showed a punishing jab but couldn’t put away his foe with the power punches he had used for so many first-and second-round knockouts of lesser opponents earlier in his career.
By bout’s end, a pooped Wilder was flailing so wildly, the attack he was “unleashing” to put away Molina resembled Aunt Esther hitting nemesis Fred Sanford over the head with her pocketbook in the classic American TV series “Sanford and Son.”
The 39-year-old Klitschko has vast experience dismantling virtually all modes of attack. It would tell in a fight with Wilder, an American flag-waving MAS fears.
At this point, the only guy who could dethrone the Gronk-like Wladimir Klitschko is Father Time, who has been undefeated forever.
Or, judging from his waffling of a couple of Seattle Seahawks during a scuffle in the waning seconds of the last Super Bowl, possibly Rob Gronkowski himself.
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