The demise of the heavyweight division has been and continues to be attributed to many things. The decline of amateur boxing, the emergence of the NFL and the NBA, lack of an immediate payday, the fall of Mike Tyson, etc…
The two biggest names in the heavyweight division today, Wladimir Klitschko and David Haye, each had a different take on the issue. Klitschko and Haye will fight for the WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight championships on July 2 at the Imtech Arena in Hamburg, Germany on HBO's Championship Boxing.
The winner will be the first heavyweight to hold three of the four major belts since Lennox Lewis held the WBA, WBC and IBF titles in 1999. Klitschko and Haye shared their feelings about the decline of the heavyweight division with a select group of reporters and HBO executives during a special sit-down on Tuesday in midtown Manhattan.
Klitschko believes there is heavyweight talent in America, but said young fighters need more experience both in and outside of the ring.
“There’re some good fighters, but there not as creative or as loud as Haye,” said Klitschko. “But they’re good…They’re not demonstrative enough. Of course they have to be more developed. I think amateur has to be improved in the U.S.”
The heavyweight division is healthy over seas, where fights routinely draw 30,000-plus fans to outdoor arenas. The Klitschko-Haye bout is expected to draw a capacity crowd to the 57,000-seat Imtech Arena.
Klitschko has confidence the division will survive.
“The sport hasn’t died here,” Klitschko said. “The heavyweight division exists. It won’t go anywhere.”
Haye offered a different opinion and attributed the lack of talent in the division to the emergence of the NFL and NBA and the fast money those leagues offer to young athletes.
Said Haye: “You’ve got the talent and people who have physically progressed in the United States. All you’ve got to do is look at the NBA and NFL and realize that you’ve got heavyweight champions out there. Everyday you watch on the field and the court and you can see if they’ve been boxing for 10 years, they’d probably have belts at some point.”
Most experts would agree that money is the primary reason most of the high-class athletes in America are drawn to the football fields and basketball courts.
“Why should they be boxing when they can sit on a bench and get paid 10 times the amount. There’s no incentive in boxing at the moment,” Haye said. “There are literally a handful of guys in boxing now, if that, that can generate what an average NBA player makes.”
There isn't a major city or town in America that doesn't have a basketball court and a football field. Boxing gyms, on the other hand, aren't as prevalent. There's less sponsorship for amateur boxing and most of America's top young athletes don't want to wait to get pair or be a champion.
“When a kid’s growing up, do you want to be a boxer, get punched in the face and hopefully, one day, get at Klitschko for a half-million dollars and get tied into a bunch of options or do you want to play for the Lakers and get paid God knows how much?”
Klitschko and Haye’s opinions are shared by most boxing experts. Boxing historian Bert Sugar also cited other sports as a primary reason for the erosion of the heavyweight division.
“I told Lennox Lewis, ‘I blame you for the heavyweight division today’ and he looked at me and said, ‘What do you mean?’ ” Sugar told Newsday in an exclusive interview in 2007. “You proved that men 250 pounds and over can fight. Now I’m getting 310-pound men. The kid who is 250 will go into football. Ray Lewis to me is the best heavyweight out there.”