Whereas many U.S. boxing fans survey the modern heavyweight division and discern a wasteland forever stripped of its former glory, promoter Kathy Duva augurs something quite the opposite: untapped potential, and a chance for the division to return to prominence.
Maybe it’s a matter of perspective. Her firm, Main Events, promotes one of the premier draws on domestic soil, and he’s a heavyweight, action star Tomasz Adamek. Her regular boxing program on NBC Sports is airing Adamek’s latest fight Saturday evening, a toss-up fight with Eddie Chambers. Even stranger: It’s a heavyweight double bill on American television in America, with Bryant Jennings — a man garnering acclaim as perhaps the best young American heavyweight — taking on Steve Collins.
And Duva has warm memories of a vibrant American heavyweight scene, with her company having promoted some of the last big U.S. names in the division, like Evander Holyfield. The biggest names today are overseas in Europe, where the division is ruled by the Klitschko brothers, both practically banished from HBO and Showtime and more commonly fighting on the smaller Epix network.
Duva has a notion, one that she said is shared by NBC Sports, to bring the weight class back to life here. Saturday’s card in Newark, N.J.,, then, is Main Events implementing that idea.
“The heavyweight division, everybody talks about how it’s moribund,” Duva told TQBR Wednesday. “We’ve fallen into this pattern with the American heavyweight. Instead of fighting competitive fights against people with similar skills, they’re getting a bunch of wins, then they go to Germany and get KO’d.”
Said Duva: “I don’t think we should give up. We’re going to build heavyweight fighters here.”
Duva has talked in the recent past about her desire to revitalize the heavyweight division, so it’s a concept that’s been in the works for a while. Adamek has already fought on NBC Sports’ Fight Night — which debuted this year — as has Jennings twice.
The heavyweight division has long been tied to the overall success of boxing, although there have always been eras in boxing where the heavyweights were down and the sport still had success domestically; two welterweights, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, currently sit atop the sport and rake in huge pay-per-view dollars.
But when the heavyweight division thrives in America, boxing as a whole usually thrives. There’s a reason for that.
“There is something about the big men, when they really are good, that’s exciting,” Duva said. “When the first punch gets thrown you can really feel it. Everybody’s fascinated by it. But it hasn’t presented to them in right way in recent years.”
She continued: “Fighters in Europe are active getting a lot of experience lot of practice our guys are stagnating. We see a lot of room for growth in some of these higher weight divisions…. There are an awful lot of heavyweights that are all in the same age group, and a whole lot of them are really interesting. They need to start fighting each other. The winner between Adamek and Chambers, that guy moves onto another interesting fight and maybe he is prepared to win that fight in Germany.”
Adamek and Chambers know vividly how difficult it is to win “that fight in Germany,” as both have already fallen to the Klitschko brothers, and brutally, too. As long as the Klitschkos fight on at their current level, they will be the favorites against anyone, American or otherwise.
So maybe “that fight in Germany” isn’t all that winnable, at least not for the foreseeable future. But Vitali Klitschko is saying his next fight is his final fight. And while younger brother Wladimir probably has at least few more years in the ring if he wants them, there are a number of young American heavyweights in need of seasoning who could be poised to take over when the Klitschkos have left the sport.
Whether someone knocks off the Klitschko brothers or they just leave, Duva can imagine a not-too-distant future where the division is much better off in the United States.
“In three to five years we could have a really lively, vibrant heavyweight scene,” she said.
Actually, Duva won’t even concede that it’s uninteresting now: She points to Jennings and Seth Mitchell as two young heavyweights of note, and said that her company is looking to sign some Eastern European fighters who are interested in making waves in America.
It’s commonly thought that America’s best would-be heavyweight boxers are all playing in the NFL these days, where riches are easier to come by for men of enormous size. But Duva said it won’t take very many quality U.S. heavyweight to make a stir.
In an earlier era, Holyfield, Michael Moorer, Mike Tyson, Riddick Bowe and Brit Lennox Lewis more or less ran the division, she said. “Those five guys — one of them European — made some amazing fights,” she said.
Lewis’ experience back in England is, however, instructive, Duva noted. Before two Brits, Lewis and Frank Bruno, fought back home in 1993 for a title, the division wasn’t well-stocked in England. Now, the U.K. is practically overflowing with heavyweight boxers: David Haye, Dereck Chisora, Tyson Fury, David Price…
If all goes according to Duva’s plan, and the current crop of young domestic heavyweights all square off, perhaps a few new big names can emerge, she said.
Maybe, just maybe, that plan gets a lift with Saturday night’s rare sight: a heavyweight double-header, staged and televised in the United States.