The Last Man Standing: A Look at Today’s Heavyweight Division

There’s been a lot of talk recently about historical comparisons of heavyweights of older generations to heavyweights of the new generation. I’ve been asked on many occasions where I stand on this debate; my perspective is that more experience in amateur bouts makes for a more seasoned and skilled professional. It’s not my intention to knock or take away from any of today’s fighters, nor is it my intention to overly glorify fighters of the past.

When you look at the state of today’s heavyweight division you have a group of young up-and-coming talent who are basically still learning and perfecting their craft at the championship level. Yeah, it adds excitement to the division, but I still haven’t seen what I would call the clear cut “last man standing”.

Most of the top HW fighters today don’t come from a pedigree that has a long amateur career.  If you look at Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua, both competed in the Olympics and won medals, but they also didn’t have extensive amateur careers to build up on before turning pro.  What they did have was amateur success in the form of gold and bronze medals.

Generally, these are things that translate into launching pads for professional careers and it’s no different in the case of Joshua and Wilder.  I used my success in the 1988 Olympics to do the same.

However, my setbacks in the 1984 Olympics, caused me to step back and re-evaluate, and I chose to hone my skills further as an amateur, pursuing that gold medal ticket for another four years.  As I progressed in my amateur career, I picked up a ton of valuable experience that would pay dividends for me as a pro. Along that road, the Olympic gold-medal became my only goal. I vowed to get back to the Olympics and win it in 88!

You might also remember that in 1984, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and myself were all going for the top prizes in amateur boxing.  Tyson didn’t make it past the US trials, losing to the eventual heavyweight gold medalist, Henry Tillman. I lost during Olympic competition to the eventual Super Heavyweight Olympic Champion, Tyrell Biggs and Holyfield went on to win a bronze medal in the light heavyweight division.

As an amateur, I was a pugilist. When I turned pro, I became the “pugilist specialist” by specifically preparing for each fighter I faced. My extensive amateur experience showed me how to face and deal with any type of opponent. I fought over 90+ amateur fights.  Evander Holyfield fought over 160. It’s not a coincidence that we were the best of our generation. By comparison, Joshua, Wilder and Tyson Fury each had about 50 or less total amateur bouts.

Amateur pedigree makes a difference because this is where you hone your craft. You learn to face different styles and different physical types of fighters. You also learn these things as a pro, but with a limited amateur background you have to be more cautious in the pros because you haven’t learnt some of the tricks of the trade. You have to be more concerned as you don’t want to get too far ahead, or stay too underdeveloped, as you make your way up, knowing one loss can derail a fast moving career.

Every good fighter takes something from those that came before. I did it by watching Muhammad Ali, and based some of my style on his. Ali looked at Sugar Ray Robinson and based his style along those lines.

It feels like the state of the division has a lot of under-developed champions that must now learn on the job. The talent in the division isn’t what it used to be, but the playing field is much more level than anytime in the last 10 years.

This adds excitement to a lackluster division as we wait to see who becomes the last man standing…if there will be one at all but we are a long way from making historical comparisons. Let’s wait to see who’s really been taking notes among the current heavyweight crop.  Don’t be surprised that it might not be the one you think.

– Lennox

 

14 thoughts on “The Last Man Standing: A Look at Today’s Heavyweight Division

  1. Exactly whatever boxing experience the most the better, the more you fight the more knowledge. So a vast amateur career, will bring you all types of fighters with different styles, it will develop your style and tactics. I believe the quality of fighters now would have been beaten easily than the fighters in your era, because simply they are not of that standard. You were the last undisputed champion mainly because you chased all the fights and unified all the division, you fought and beat everyone. In your era there were 3 (including you) great skillful boxers, who started young and had most fights. You look at the division now, Wilders 32 and Joshua’s 28 and they haven’t as much fights and like I said they don’t have the same quality of boxers in your time.

  2. Expert analysis from the champ and a point well made. Of course these aren’t the glory days, but that doesn’t mean they have to be the boring days. The rough edges of the more level playing field could be exactly what the doctor ordered for the HW division. Certainly, I don’t see the pedigree and razor sharp skills of yesteryear watching the current crop. Athleticism seems to be the order of the day, but never have I ever caught myself bored watching these guys mix it up.

  3. Exactly as you have rightly said the current crop of heavyweight are all the same. They are all learning on each fight the consequence would be that a single fighter won’t be able to dominate for a long time like the Klitchko brother did. The belts will be changing hands between the heavyweights.

  4. Couldnt agree more Lennox. One question I’ve got for you though mate is IF you’d had won gold in 84 would you have turned pro or still fought on till 88?

  5. Interesting view pointing to a factor that had not been mentioned by others as such. That is what you get from a true and very intelligent all time great.

  6. Great analysis, Lennox, so thanks a million. There is nothing equal to the experience that one gets having real fights, and the amateurs is a great place. But someone like Holyfield was sometimes at a disadvantage because, as you know, an overly aggressive style can lose you points in the amateurs, something Holyfield was sanctioned for in the Olympics. In the pros, that type of style is just what you want, though, and is why Holyfield did so well professionally.

  7. Lennox is as usual correct and is still relevant enough today for people to sit up and take notice . Eddie Hearn is a great promoter it would seem but is he a great manager ? Emphasis with him seems to be on building a brand and not a fighter . Yes Lennox came back to the UK because of the platforms it offers with U.K. commonwealth and European titles and a quick high profile. But by the the time he did that with his amateur perigree he was ready for a world title . Joshua seems to have something frank Bruno never had who was similarly promoted in the U.K. with Chinny opponents in that for a heavy muscled guy he seems to have a good gas tank. But his power it was proved on Saturday is good but not exceptional he is not Foreman or Ernie shavers and does not have the boxing chops of Lennox . He could do well to develop the uppercut that Lennox had to get rid of the smaller tough guys the only one who seemed impervious to it was Ray mercer. Lennox has the amateur experience to draw upon when power is not enough I’m not sure where the others do but no pun intended Wilder could be the wild card in this current pool of talent . Fury needs to get a licence and get his weight down before he can be considered . Talk is cheap . He talked it last year but walked away when he found that coming back to fitness is harder than maintaining it but he needs to prove he can do it or just learn to go away quietly something he can’t seem to do .

  8. You guys are all forgetting that today’s heavyweights are getting bigger all the time. Lewis was a giant of a man back then, today there are several much bigger fighters.
    Going back in time, Henry Cooper fought Ali at about 14.5 stone, Ali was about 15. How much of that skill set would be on display today against big, heavy hitting giants?

    How often could Ali have faced Foreman without being defeated? The skills may not be what they used to be, but neither is boxing. That’s all down to greed and egos, PPV killed boxing.

  9. Brilliant analysis, the only thing i could possibly disagree with is leaving Bowe out of the equation when you said yourself and Holyfield were the best of your generation, a fit and focused Bowe is as good a heavyweight as i have seen and he certainly bettered Holyfield although Holyfield wasn’t a natural Heavyweight so he does deserve special praise competing with the likes of you and Bowe

  10. Right here is the perfect blog for anyone who would like to
    find out about this topic. You understand a whole lot its almost hard to argue with you (not that I actually
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  11. This is real food for thought. Champ, your analysis is not only brilliant , it also tell why the older generation of HW remained evergreen and inspiring. It is a common saying that, if a foundation is bad, the house will most likely crumble.

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