Years from now, tomorrow's World Boxing Organization heavyweight title bout between American champion Shannon (The Cannon) Briggs and Russia's Sultan Ibragimov might be recalled as one of the last clashes between "normal sized" fighters for a piece of the most prestigious title in sports.
When they climb through the ropes in Atlantic City, the six-foot-four Briggs (48-4-1, 42 KO) will weigh around 235 pounds - about 15 pounds more than the six-foot-two Ibragimov (20-0-1,17 KO). Big men, to be sure, but relatively unremarkable compared to the likes of seven-foot, 330-pound former WBA champ Nikolai Valuev (46-1, 24 KOs), six-foot-seven, 250-pound IBF titleholder Wladimir Klitschko (47-3, 42 KOs), or even unbeaten Canadian southpaw Jean Francois Bergeron (26-0, 19 KOs), who's six-foot-six but tips the scales at a svelte 225.
The proliferation of gigantic, ponderous punchers has renewed calls for the major sanctioning bodies to officially endorse an Olympic-style super heavyweight division, but don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen. At least not until we see a jumbo-sized crowd-pleaser that's so dominant that he makes mere mortals look pathetic.
FREAKISHLY HUGE PRETENDERS
Boxing's marquee division has always been the big men, and while we're currently in the midst of an unprecedented wave of freakishly huge pretenders, the knee-jerk outcry to tinker with the heavyweight template is just a lot of hot air.
In the 1930s, Joe Louis, at six-foot-one and 200 pounds, was big. A generation later, Muhammad Ali, at six-three and 215, was considered physically formidable. Then along came George Foreman, a "monster" at six-four and 225. Any of them would barely break a sweat in mopping up the ring with any of today's big men. Ditto for Lennox Lewis, who at six-five and 240 was arguably the best of the post-Ali crop.
"Anybody in the 250-pound range is using up a lot of energy in the ring," Lewis, now an analyst for HBO, said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. "There may be an opponent out there that weighs 20 or 30 pounds less that can probably beat you, but he's definitely at a disadvantage in terms of height and weight. Still, bigger doesn't necessarily translate into better."
Briggs, who briefly held the linear heavyweight title after decisioning Foreman in 1996, concurs. "The big guys have never been the great fighters," he says. "Besides Lennox Lewis, there's never been a guy over six-four that's been a great champ. Why? Because for the most part, big guys can't punch."
NEXT SAVIOUR IN WINGS
Ruslan Chagaev, the six-foot, 220-pounder who chopped down Valuev to claim the WBA crown a couple of months ago, might very well turn out to be the heavyweight division's next saviour. Like Rocky Marciano, the 28-year-old native of Uzbekistan returned to the amateurs after initially turning pro in 1997, but unlike The Rock, he maintained an unblemished record (including two wins over six-foot-seven Cuban legend Felix Savon) and won the 2001 world amateur super heavyweight title. Now 23-0 (17 KOs), he has all the tools to become the first man since Lewis to consolidate the alphabet heavyweight titles.
And that's a giant-sized task in itself.
QUICK JABS: Former champ Mike Tyson, facing a court date on drug charges, yesterday was denied permission to leave Arizona in order to work in Ibragimov's corner tomorrow ... According to fightnews.ca and Gazeta.ru, the leading Russian electronic news service, Bergeron and Valuev will square off in Moscow on Sept. 30. Bergeron, from Montreal, is ranked No. 13 by the WBA #13 but hasn't fought since an easy TKO over Chad Van Sykle in January ... Heavyweight Shane Andreesen of Qualicum Beach, B.C. improved to 5-0 Wednesday night with a 62-second KO of Jose Beltran in Airway Heights, Wash. The six-foot-four Andreesen, who now has three knockouts, is scheduled to make his Canadian debut July 21 in Richmond, B.C.