Back from vacation, but I’m about to leave again momentarily. I’ll be ringside — or wherever they station reporters for Madison Square Garden fights — Saturday night for one of the more meaningful heavyweight bouts in years, Vladimir Klitschko versus Sultan Ibragimov. It’s the showcase fight of the weekend in Week Two of a solid month’s worth of goodies.
If you have any acquaintance with my views on the heavyweight division, this may seem like a quizzical thing for me to do. It’s true that I’ve held the division in little regard for quite some time, like plenty of boxing fans or casual observers have since the days of prime Mike Tyson. I’m one of those boxing fans — there are a number of us, general public’s perceptions be damned — who has always preferred the lower divisions anyhow, since you get more action per round and lots less wrestling and hugging, a staple of big men battles. And there’s a solid chance this particular fight could be a blowout.
So why, exactly, am I doing this? Allow me to explain.
- Like I said to start, this is one of the more meaningful fights to come along for the heavyweight division in a while. Klitschko is, by my eye, the class of the division. Ibragimov is ranked sixth by both The Ring and ESPN. That makes Ibragimov Klitschko’s stiffest competition since, well, Sam Peter in September of 2005. Maybe Sam Peter versus Oleg Maskaev in March surpasses it in quality of match-up, but Klitschko-Ibragimov has something else going for it…
- It’s the first heavyweight title unification bout since 1999. Yes, I’m one of the skeptics of the various title belt sanctioning organizations doling out “champions” left and right. But the general public doesn’t know any better. They just know that unifying the heavyweight division is a good thing to do. Measure “meaningful” any way you like, but perception is a factor in that equation for me.
- Progress is progress. Do those two things alone constitute much progress? Nah, not by the standards being set in other divisions. But you know how sometimes, when a kid lags behind in class, and for whatever reason, shows just a glimmer of promise in his homework, a teacher is inclined to speak encouragingly toward the lad? That’s the way I feel about the heavyweights making a meaningful fight at all.
- It could be a good scrap. Until he proves to me otherwise — and Saturday night’s his big chance — I’ll be convinced that Ibragimov is merely a decent heavyweight, and only decent by today’s standards. He certainly isn’t bad, and he’s proven crafty and capable in his most recent appearances, good enough at just about everything but not excellent at much. Oh, yeah, and he’s a lefty. ESPN has the breakdown on the dangerous aspect of that for Klitschko. And maybe Klitschko’s trainer, Emmanuel Steward, was just trying to psyche his man up or ratchet up the hype, but he estimates this is Klitschko’s toughest fight ever. We haven’t seen Klitschko’s fragile confidence tested in a while; Ibragimov could be the one to do it.
- Klitschko is one of boxing’s underrated best, and one of its most exciting punchers. The Ring recently ranked him the hardest hitting boxer in the sport. I could quibble, but it’s not a bad choice. Klitschko knocks… people… OUT. A lot. Sure, he’s not some all-action maniac like Manny Pacquiao, because he’ll jab and jab and jab before he looks for that big punch. But he’s a real finisher when the moment comes.
- I get to cover a live fight at Madison Square freaking Garden. It may no longer be the Mecca, but it’s at least still one of the top religious spots in boxing. The environment, according to every reporter who’s ever covered a show there, is amazing.
I’ll be checking in on Klitschko-Ibragimov, and its undercard, throughout the week. I should hit NYC no later than Friday, so expect a few days worth of on-scene coverage.