The Muddled Mess in the Light Heavyweight Division
With Andre Ward’s sudden, but not entirely unexpected, retirement the light heavyweight division is in disarray and supremacy is up for grabs. The three belts vacated by Ward will be scattered to the wind and it will most likely be a long time before any one man can truly say he reigns supreme in the division. Much of the responsibility lies with the fighters themselves as they can’t get out of their own way on their climb to the top.
Sergey Kovalev, of course, was ‘the man’ in the light heavyweight division before his two loses to Ward, and is probably the best candidate to become the man again. Unfortunately, Kovalev’s difficult personality has come to light. In the lead up to Ward v. Kovalev II, rumors began to circulate that Kovalev and long-time trainer, John David Jackson were having issues. In the aftermath of Kovalev’s 8th round TKO loss it was confirmed. Kovalev and Jackson sparred on social media and Kovalev announced that he will be training himself for his November 25, 2017 bout against Vyacheslav Shabranskyy. Simply put, a fighter without a trainer does not bode well for the fighter’s future.
Adonis Stevenson may be thought of as the next logical man to reign supreme at 175 lbs, considered to be the lineal champion holding both the WBC and Ring Magazine belts. Stevenson avoided Kovalev for years and essentially refused any attempt to unify all four belts. After calling out Ward following his two wins over Kovalev, negotiations between the two never materialized. Stevenson is now in “serious” negotiations with mandatory challenger Eleider Alvarez whom he has avoided for two years. Stevenson’s promoter is reportedly having trouble securing a venue, pushing the possible fight back to 2018. By all appearances, Stevenson, now 40 years old, is holding onto his titles by remaining inactive and avoiding any credible threat. By the time Stevenson does fight again he’ll likely to be so old that beating him should not earn the victor the lineal title.
The first of Ward’s vacated titles up for grabs is the IBF belt on November 11, 2017, in a bout between Artur Beterbiev and Enrico Koelling. Beterbiev has long been considered the future of the division and the most credible threat to Kovalev before Ward moved up in weight. Beterbiev can do the one thing that Kovalev appears unable to do: fight on the inside. Injury and possibly promotional problems have kept Beterbiev inactive for the past year. He has sued his longtime promoter, Yvon Michel, and the purse bid for the November fight was won by Top Rank who doesn’t promote either fighter. If the lawsuit between Beterbiev and Michel is not resolved soon, Beterbiev is unlikely to see any action after November for the foreseeable future.
Sullivan Barrera’s name often comes up as the most talented pure boxer in the division. His one loss was a complete mismatch in Andre Ward’s first foray in the division. Still, Barrera has climbed the rankings and is now considered a contender. However, Barrera just recently turned down a fight with Sergey Kovalev claiming he wasn’t happy with the $300,000.00 purse and that a larger purse wasn’t guaranteed should he win his next fight. Again, Barrera turned down a fight with Beterbiev in February 2017 because he wasn’t happy with his purse. For the Beterbiev fight, Sullivan was set to earn $62,750.00; a very nice purse for a match-up between men trying to make a name for themselves. While Sullivan has every right to demand a larger prize in “prizefighting,” he appears to be pricing himself out of the market and out of contention for a championship in the process.
Badou Jack is the newest entry to the light heavyweight mix. He earned a TKO victory over the tough but aging Nathan Cleverly in his first fight at the in the weight class, gaining one of the junior WBA light heavyweight belts in the process. One month later, Jack vacated the belt to avoid his mandatory challenger, the up and coming Dimitry Bivol, holder of yet another junior WBA belt. Jack claims he vacated in order to pursue a fight with Stevenson, a fight Stevenson’s promoter claims was never in negotiations because the WBC would not have sanctioned it. Jack is now left without a dance partner and after facing the tough James DeGale, Lucian Bute and George Groves in his last three fights at super middleweight, he now appears to be afraid of a challenge one division up.
When Sergey Kovalev ruled the light heavyweight division, he created a buzz because of his knockout prowess. The excitement for the division was amplified when pound-for-pound king Andre Ward announced he was moving up, and then subsequently dethroned Kovalev. It truly looked like the light heavyweight division could be one of the most exciting divisions in boxing. But with the light heavyweight throne now empty due to Ward’s retirement, the princes of the division appear more like court jesters.
(Feature Image: Chase Stevens / Las Vegas Review - Journal)