COMMENTARY | Yes, the heavyweight division has seen better days and the American talent pool, specifically, has seldom been this shallow. Still, there are at least a couple of reasons for American fight fans to be optimistic.
With Vitali Klitschko easing into retirement and taking on the world of politics, the WBC belt is now up for grabs. Plus, although Wladimir Klitschko currently holds the other three recognized world straps, he turns 38 in March and has more career behind him than ahead of him. Chances are good that, in the immediate future, an American fighter will have a legitimate shot at capturing at least one world belt.
However, the reality is that there are few world class American heavyweights on the scene and few prospects on the horizon. An American presence on the world boxing stage is possible, but it would require the right combination of an overachieving American pug and a bit of good luck.
Here's a look at the Top Ten active American heavyweights:
1. Chris Arreola (36-3, 31 KOs)
It has just been reported that Arreola and Bermane Stiverne have reached a deal to face off for the vacant WBC title. Last April, Stiverne battered Arreola en route to a decisive unanimous decision victory. A focused, in shape Arreola has a chance at winning the rematch to become the first Mexican-American to ever hold a world heavyweight title and the first American to hold a world title since 2007. Arreola is big, strong, and can both take and deliver a punch. Conditioning and focus have been the Californian's biggest weaknesses.
2. Tony Thompson (38-4, 26 KOs)
Two shocking TKO wins over UK prospect, David Price, in the first half of 2013 kept the 42-year-old Thompson in the role of fringe contender and away from drifting off into retirement. A one-sided unanimous decision loss to Kubrat Pulev in August of that same year, however, brought the tall southpaw back down to Earth.
3. Deontay Wilder (30-0, 30 KOs)
The big, powerful "Bronze Bomber" upped the level of his opposition in 2013 and kept his KO streak alive against the likes of Audley Harrison, Siarhei Liakhovich, and Nicolai Firtha. Wilder has shown himself to have legitimately heavy hands, but is still lacking in some basic ring skills. Something special may develop, but talks of world domination are still very premature.
4. Bryant Jennings (17-0, 9 KOs)
Jennings is athletic, mentally tough, and developing a sold ring IQ. However, a lack of size and one-punch power may keep him from being a threat at the highest levels of the division. This Saturday, January 25, Jennings will meet Polish battler, Artur Szpilka, in a bout that could confirm Jenning's status as a real player in the division.
5. Amir Mansour (20-0, 15 KOs)
The 41-year-old Mansour has crushed the usual suspects en route to a high ranking, but has yet to test his skills against a legitimate Top 10-20 challenge. Only modestly talented, Mansour will go as far as his grit and determination take him. Realistically, Mansour is more gatekeeper than main stage player.
6. Johnathon Banks (29-2-1, 19 KOs)
Banks' oddly passive unanimous decision defeat to Seth Mitchell completely ruined the career momentum he had received after knocking Mitchell out in the second round just seven months earlier. Since the loss to Mitchell, Banks has returned to his spot as head trainer of Wladimir Klitschko and has been seemingly ambivalent about a full-time return to the ring.
7. Malik Scott (35-1-1, 12 KOs)
Scott has all the tools to be a world class fighter, except power and a style exciting enough to draw big fight interest. A controversial draw with Vyacheslav Glazkov last year and even more controversial TKO loss to Dereck Chisora five months later made for a disappointing 2013. Scott is scheduled to return to the ring this Friday, January 24 against journeyman Grover Young.
8. Franklin Lawrence (19-2-2, 14 KOs)
With only one fight in 2013 and nothing planned for the immediate future, the modestly-talented Lawrence seems to have removed himself from the possibility of trying to make some waves in the division of the big men.
9. Seth Mitchell (26-2-1, 19 KOs)
A rematch victory over an utterly passive Johnathon Banks did little to rebuild the quick-failing career of the former NCAA star. Three months later, a first round knockout loss to Chris Arreola effectively killed off any career momentum Mitchell still had. The former top American prospect has been forced into the "opponent" category and, unless he can work up some masterful defense and expert ring intelligence to protect his vulnerable chin, isn't long for the pros.
10. Steve Cunningham (26-6, 12 KOs)
Former cruiserweight champ, Cunningham, is now 2-2 in his heavyweight run, but the experiment hasn't been a complete failure. Many observers feel he should've been given the nod in a heavyweight rematch against former cruiserweight rival, Tomasz Adamek and, despite being stopped in the seventh round by the 6' 9" Tyson Fury, he certainly had his moments, registering a second round knockdown of Fury while giving away six inches and forty-four pounds to the UK fighter.
On the Cusp: Fres Oquendo, Antonio Tarver, Brian Minto
Paul Magno was a licensed official in the state of Michoacan, Mexico and is the author of Notes from the Boxing Underground. His work can also be found on Fox Sports and as Editor-in-Chief of The Boxing Tribune. In the past, Paul has done work for Inside Fights, The Queensberry Rules and Eastside Boxing. For breaking news, additional analysis, and assorted crazy commentary, follow him on Facebook, @TheBoxingTribune or on Twitter, @BoxingBTBC.
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- Chris Arreola
- Wladimir Klitschko
- Johnathon Banks
- Vitali Klitschko
- Seth Mitchell