Holiday gifts won’t
be heavy to deliver

Dec 21, 2004 5:08 AM

Probably the last thing you’d want beneath your tree is a column about heavyweight boxing. Season’s greetings, anyway.

After having had to sit through Vitali Klitschko’s slaughter of hapless Danny Williams, I am more than willing to let others suffer in kind. Of course, being at the Mandalay Bay meant at least I didn’t have to listen to the HBO cheerleaders tell the world

how great Klitschko is.

The reaction at ringside to Klitschko, from fighters, trainers and unaligned promoters, ran the gamut from "awful" to "horrible." I find myself somewhere in the middle. What makes it worse is, if I had to rate today’s crap, er, crop, of heavyweights, I’d probably have to list Dr. Vitali as No. 1.

That would be like ranking the flotsam in my toilet bowl. I mean, do you put Andrew (Foul Pole) Golota, No. 6 or 12 and does it matter?

No, let us quickly turn the calendar back to yesteryear and, with a cry of "Hi, Ho, Silver," remember when heavyweights ruled the game.

It wasn’t so long ago, that Lennox Lewis was on top, and before that, there was a wonderful trilogy between Riddick Bowe and the overrated Evander Holyfield, which followed Mike Tyson’s brief reign in the sun.

But you have to go back to Larry Holmes before you get to a "great" heavyweight champion, one who ruled the division for 7½ years. Before Holmes, we had the tail end of the greatest heavyweight career in history, that of The Greatest himself, which ended the true Golden Age of the division.

I recently wondered where was Jerry Quarry, now that we need him? Genial Gene Kilroy, Muhammad Ali’s right-hand man, had opined that Quarry would easily have been a belt-holder these days. Another fan dared me to name "any" contender from the ’60s through the ’80s who would not have had at least a chance at a title today.

Anybody want Scott Frank’s autograph?

Think about it. Even during the Lost Generation, when talented heavyweights blew up on the fat farm and/or drugs - Greg Page, Gerry Cooney, Tony Tucker, Tony Tubbs, Pinklon Thomas, even Mitch Green - there were guys I would give every chance in the world of beating a Klitschko or a John Ruiz and let’s not mention poor Lamon Brewster.

Ali, of course, bridged a couple of generations - going from Archie Moore, Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston all the way to Holmes and Trevor Berbick, with the Golden Age in between.

Joe Frazier, of course, was No. 1 on this list, closely followed by George Foreman. But there was Quarry, George Chuvalo, Oacar Bonavena, Jimmy Ellis, Ken Norton, Ron Lyle, Cleveland Williams, Ernie Terrell, Zora Folley, Earnie Shavers and, please, let me include Chuck Wepner.

Now we have Dan Goossen bellowing that the best heavyweight out there is James Toney, a blown-up middleweight (well, so were Patterson and Jimmy Ellis, but they were much better), who may be the only guy in the so-called top 10, who I would unhesitatingly pick to "lose"to Dr. Vitali only because of the size differential.

The division has such a paucity of talent that another blown-up middleweight, Chris Byrd, is probably the consensus No. 2 to Dr. V.

Byrd made Klitschko quit on his stool after nine rounds in which the Ukrainian giant was well ahead on the official scorecards (all three judges were wined and dined the night before by Klitschko’s promoter), though sitting on the apron, I had Byrd in front, five rounds to four, and the flagging favorite seemed ready to collapse from exhaustion.

Ruiz, of course, "lost" to blown-up middleweight Roy Jones Jr., who has since been knocked out by a couple of light-heavyweights. The trouble with boxing, as it heads into a new year, is that its flagship division is holding it back.

There is talk of Klitschko vs. Hasim Rahman and Byrd vs. Ruiz and who knows what else, but unless someone like Samuel Peter, the ponderous Nigerian who has a long, long way to go, develops quickly, the best fights will continue to be in the lighter weights.

The real joy in boxing will be when and if Floyd Mayweather Jr. faces Arturo Gatti and/or Kostya Tszyu, with Miguel Cotto, Vivian Harris and Cory Spinks in that mix. Throw in Diego Corrales vs. Jose Luis Castillo or Marco Antonio Barrera vs. the winner of the rematch between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez, or Erik Morales vs. Joel Casamayor.

That’s enough good will for any sport.