Cruiser-great, Heavy-state.

By The Way - Weekly Columns


By Alistair Sargent We may not yet have left the first month of 2018 behind, but already we have seen a titanic tussle that will be hard to beat when 'Fight of the Year' awards are dished out in 48 weeks time. Oleksandr Usyk and Mairis Briedis produced a cruiserweight classic as they unified the WBO and WBC world titles during their World Boxing Super Series semi-final. But that doesn't come as a surprise does it? About a third of the way through 2017, before the Super Series had been confirmed and the two world champions date with destiny was penciled in, I drafted a list on my phone of the bouts I dreamed of seeing: very close to the top of that list, just behind Golovkin - Canelo, was Usyk vs Briedis. I wasn't left disappointed when the time came for the two warriors to slug it out. And slug it out they did. Usyk, of course, eventually claimed a very narrow majority decision victory but both men exited the ring with their stock flying high. But I have my doubts that this sensational match-up will have gained the attention it deserves. The cruiserweight division is boxing's ugly duckling it seems. The shadow of the heavyweight division, and a very exciting light-heavyweight division chopping away at its southern border, is just part of the problem. The absence of a British, American or even Mexican star in the ranks of the 200 pound category also seems to dissuade the boxing media from giving their full attention to one of the sport's most exciting divisions. Heavyweight boxing has always been considered the pinnacle, the world heavyweight championship considered the ultimate crown: Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, Rocky Marciano, Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis et al have seen to that. The current king wears his crown well. But the mega appeal of Anthony Joshua is painting a false picture. There is a perception that the heavyweight division is in rude health - "on fire" as the kids would say. I give you exhibit A...

Exhibit B, your honour.

Feast your eyes on exhibit C, if you please.

And finally, exhibit D

The heavyweight division is most definitely not on fire, despite some very obviously huge beacons! It is a myth. A big fat whopper. A fabrication. It is time to bust the myth and allow the heavyweight cloud to break and the sun to shine more brightly on the big guy's little brother - the cruiserweight division. Let's take exhibit A - the return of Tyson Fury is a massive boost. He mustered the talent to break the Klitschko stranglehold that had spent a decade or more making the heavyweight division a simple procession. And his outlandish character is bound to bring attention to all he does. But David Haye, really? Sure he has made a big name for himself but are we really going to give more attention and get more excited about him than someone like Usyk or Briedis, Gassiev or Dorticos? Behave yourself. Exhibit B - Mauricio Sulaiman, chief of the WBC announcing the heavyweight division is on fire as he endorses his champion Deontay Wilder's defence against Bermane Stiverne. Yeah Mo, the division is so much on fire that your challenger was in his first fight in two years! After losing the strap to Wilder he had mustered one fight in over 700 days, against an opponent with 10 losses. In that time nobody else put themselves in a better position to challenge Wilder. Well they did. But then they got caught using drugs for the second time and banned. And Luis Ortiz is not the only heavyweight contender to fall foul to those tactics. Rather than be banned for life, Ortiz has eventually gained his title shot. "On fire" indeed Mr Sulaiman. C - You see Tyson, in your absence the heavyweight division has not been on fire. Anthony Joshua has been. He's gone on to superstardom and seemingly that means a division is on fire. AJ won the title from an absolute joke of a champion in Charles Martin - a guy who was somehow a #1 contender who became world champion when his opponent slipped and damaged his knee so badly he couldn't continue. He cemented his status as a leading light with a performance for the ages against big Wlad at Wembley. Deontay Wilder is a KO artist with a big personality and that sells. But he hasn't fought anyone of remote quality. And Joseph Parker, who gathered up the WBO belt that big Tyson vacated, has been utterly underwhelming in becoming world champion and defending it. He scraped past burst couch lookalike Andy Ruiz Jr to win the belt and then put on probably the worst boxing match I've ever seen with Ravzan Cojanu in defending the belt. His win over Hughie Fury was equally disappointing. He will be no match for AJ, despite what SkySports tell you to sell the fight. At least he shouldn't be. The rest of the contenders? Kubrat Pulev and Alexander Povetkin. Both decent but almost 40. Dominic Breazale: already definitively beaten by the division's best. Jarell Miller: never going to be a heavyweight for the ages. Dillian Whyte: as above. Average at best. Manuel Charr, the WBA world champion. World Champion! Allegedly. He fought a circus freak who couldn't throw a punch properly to win it. Tony Bellew? He's giving weight to my argument because, despite his win over David Haye being without a weight limit, he is a cruiserweight! And D - well that is just utterly laughable! An utterly ridiculous award for 'performance of the year', comparing Wilder to some of the great heavyweights of all time, for pummelling a guy who didn't look like he'd spent a day of his two year absence training. Give the trophy back, it's a fix!

Now I want to see Anthony Joshua face Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury as much as the next person, but this notion that the heavyweight division is on fire is nonsense. And it is taking away the spotlight from a more talented, more competitive division a few pounds south. Cruiserweight is the last of boxing's divisions to have a weight limit. Now that means that there are some big lads in the mix who hit incredibly hard - leading to explosive action. But it also means that its competitors have to be in shape; they have to push themselves during training to get down to the 200 pound limit and that means that they are in peak condition to compete. The fitness levels of Usyk and Briedis during Saturday's WBSS showdown were incredible. In contrast we've seen heavyweights like Nikolai Valuev or Alexander Ustinov - certified giants who move with the grace of an arctic truck and who didn't even throw punches properly, such was the uncontrollable nature of their gargantuan limbs - achieving success by virtue of being too big to hit. Hardly worth writing home about. Thankfully the World Boxing Super Series has given the cruiserweight division the kind of exposure it deserves. Former Olympic champion Usyk has looked brilliant in beating long-time divisional king Marco Huck and then Briedis, while Yunier Dorticos and Murat Gassiev scored quick, brutal and highly impressive KOs in their quarter finals. Expect bombs to go off when they meet this Saturday. I have been mightily impressed with the skills of Usyk in particular, but also Gassiev and Briedis who throw hard shots with incredible accuracy. And Dorticos hits like a train. Briedis is the oldest at 33, but having come to the party quite late he is still fresh. Dorticos and Usyk are both 31 but only have 36 fights between them (37 come Saturday), with Usyk spending a long time among the unpaid ranks before racing to a professional world title. Gassiev has had the most professional bouts (25) despite being the youngest (24). Time is on their side. Unlike much of the heavyweight rankings. A quick look through the BoxRec and Ring Magazine heavyweight top 10s gives us the following names: Anthony Joshua, Alexander Povetkin, Deontay Wilder, Luis Ortiz, Tony Bellew, Kubrat Pulev, Joseph Parker, Dominic Breazale, Jarrell Miller, Dillian Whyte, Adam Kownacki and Tyson Fury. How many of them would beat the World Boxing Super Series semi-finalists? I'd back the four cruiserweights to step up a weight and beat all but three or four of that list. Briedis already has a KO win over the WBA's paper world champion Manuel Charr. Usyk and Gassiev will be heavyweight world champion one day. Perhaps that is the problem for cruiserweight boxing: the allure of the big prize is just too much for talent to stay put at 200. While the excitement builds around Anthony Joshua's latest huge appearance the heavyweight division on fire chat will only intensify. But I'm just not having it. Usyk and Briedis have already stolen the show for the cruiserweight division in 2018 and on Saturday Gassiev and Dorticos have the chance to follow suit. Around the same time Lawrence Okolie and Isaac Chamberlain, two of the divisions brightest prospects, will showcase what the future holds as they settle their 'beef' in London. And with former world champions Marco Huck, Krzysztof Glowacki, Denis Lebedev and Kyzysztof Wlodarczyk; beaten Super Series quarter finalists Mike Perez and KO specialist Dmitry Khudryashov plus rising talent Andrew Tabiti all on the scene there is plenty to enjoy. The point is that you probably don't know the names the way you know Whyte or Chisora, yet they are more credible contenders. The cruiserweight division is a victim of middle child syndrome, surrounded by heavyweight big bro and the light-heavyweight baby. Heavyweight boxing will always come first. There's just something about it - the history, the spectacle of giants standing face to face - that mean it will always comes first. And the absolutely jam packed light-heavyweight division full of established stars and young pretenders has given it apple of the eye, baby status. With the eyes of the world on the heavyweight scene they are being drawn away from little brother. And that is a sin. It is time to recognise the phenomenal standard of boxing on show, and turn the spotlight shone around about it towards the 200 pound division. The World Boxing Super Series semi-finals will ensure that the early weeks of 2018 belong to the cruiserweights but it can't be allowed to fade away when it all comes to an end in May. A re-match between Usyk and Briedis in the autumn would do nicely to keep the momentum going.