The Seductive Id of Boxing?

By Peter Weston Wood on December 28, 2015
The Seductive Id of Boxing?
Lou DiBella’s “history-making night” is not a night to celebrate — it is a night to mourn.

Norman Mailer once called the rarest athlete in sports “The Big Toe of God.” Certainly a lofty honorific — sublime and sacred…

In 1949, when Joe Louis reigned, there were only eight living former heavyweight champions — Jess Willard, Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney, Max Schmeling, Jack Sharkey, Primo Carnera, Max Baer and James J. Braddock.

Today, the world is infested with former heavyweight champions. They are a dime a dozen. Currently, 45 former heavyweight champs are walking around on this planet.

Times have changed!

Eight former, linear heavyweight champions as opposed to 45 paper-manufactured “champs”?

Norman Mailer once called the rarest athlete in sports — The Heavyweight Champion of the World — “The Big Toe of God.” Certainly a lofty honorific — sublime and sacred. 

But today, “The Big Toe of God” is no longer rare, sublime or sacred.

Today’s “Big Toe”, (Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder, or Ruslan Chagaev), is discolored and diseased; yellow, thick and brittle with jagged edges; deformed, and overgrown with fungus.

It’s not Fury’s, Wilder’s, or Chagaev’s fault — it’s the fault of a terrible system which recognizes and manufactures unworthy paper, cheese-champions.

The alphabet boxing organizations — the WBC, IBF, WBA, WBO and IBO — are to blame.

Listed below are today’s living, (legitimate, and paper-manufactured) former heavyweight champions. I list them in alphabetical order. There are so many, I’m sure I’ve missed a few.

How many of these 45 former “Big Toes of God” would be recognized today if they tiptoed through Times Square in New York City?

My list does not include eight paper-manufactured champions who have prematurely passed away: Ernie Terrell, Michael Dokes, Ken Norton, Tommy Morrison, and “Big” John Tate. (Otherwise, this “former-champion” list would hit 50.)

1. Muhammad Ali – WBA & WBC 1964-1979 (intermittent reign)
2. Henry Akinwande – WBO 1996-1997
3. Johnathan Banks – WBO 2010-2013
4. Michael Bentt – WBO 1993-1994
5. Frans Botha – IBF 1995-1996
6. Riddick Bowe – WBC & WBA 1992; WBO 1993
7. Lamon Brewster – WBO 1994-1996
8. Shannon Briggs – WBO 2006-07
9. Frank Bruno – WBC 1995-1996
10. Chris Byrd – IBF 2002-2006; WBO 2000
11. Ruslan Chagaev – WBA 2007-2008; 2014—present
12. Gerrie Coetzee—WBA, 1983-1984
13. Franscisco Damiani – WBO 1989
14. Buster Douglas – IBF, WBC, WBA 1990
15. George Foreman – WBA & WBC 1973-1974; WBA & IBF 1994-95
16. Herbie Hide – WBO 1994-1995 & 1997-1999
17. Larry Holmes – WBC 1978-1983 & IBF 1983-1985
18. Evander Holyfield – WBC & IBF 1990-1992 & 1997-1999 & WBA 1993-1994 & 1996-2001
19. Sultan Ibragimov – WBO 2007-2008
20. Roy Jones – WBA 1993-1994 & 1996-2001; IBF 1900-19927; WBC 1990-92
21. Vitali Klitscho – WBO 1999-2000 & WBC 2004-2005 & 2008-2013
22. Wladimir Klitschko—WBO 2000-2003 & 2008-2015 & IBF 2006-2015 & WBA 2011-2015
23. Siarhei Liakhovich – WBO 2006
24. Oleg Maskaev – WBC 2006-2008
25. Oliver McCall – WBC 1994-1995
26. Ray Mercer – WBO 1991
27. Michael Moorer – WBO 1992
28. Samuel Peter – WBC 2008
29. Alexander Povetkin – WBA 2011-2013
30. Hasim Rachman – IBF, WBC, IBO 2001 & WBC 2005-2006
31. John Ruiz – WBA 2001-2005
32. Corrie Sanders – WBO 2003-2004
33. Bruce Seldon – WBA 1995
34. James “Bonecrusher” Smith – WBA 1986
35. Leon Spinks – WBA & WBC 1978
36. Michael Spinks – IBF 1985
37. Bermane Stiverne – WBC 2014-2015
38. Pinklon Thomas WBC – 1984
39. Tony Tubbs – WBA 1985
40. Tony Tucker – IBF 1987
41. Mike Tyson –  WBA 1987-1990 & 1996; WBC 1986-1990 & 1996; IBF 1987-1990
42. Nikolai Valuev – WBA 2005-2009
43. Mike Weaver – WBA 1980-1982
44. Deontay Wilder – WBC 2015
45. Tim Witherspoon – WBC 1984; WBA 1986

The bastardization of the heavyweight division continues. On January 16th, the 46th “Big Toe of God” will be coroneted when Charles Martin fights Vyacheslav Glazkov in an IBF elimination title bout at The Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Charles who? Vyacheslav what?

Lou DiBella, the promoter of this upcoming fiasco, has labeled this a “history-making night” because TWO heavyweight title fights will take place on ONE night. First — the WBC heavyweight title fight between world champion Deontay Wilder and challenger Artur Szpilka; secondly, the IBF elimination title fight between contenders Charles Martin and Vyacheslav Glazkov.

DiBella’s “history-making night” is not a night to celebrate — it is a night to mourn.

Lou DiBella — someone once considered a candidate to be a bold, progressive, dynamic leader for boxing — is simply falling in line, and complicit in dumbing-down an already dumbed-down sport.

Just in case you haven’t noticed…as the heavyweight division goes, so goes boxing.

Boxing dives while UFC thrives.

I’m not jumping ship, but fewer and fewer people are interested in boxing — a fading sport with phony manufactured cheese champs.

UFC has blossomed into the new boxing. It has become the new seductive id of sports — a sublime and sacred title once held by Boxing alone.

Peter Wood is a 1971 NYC Golden Gloves Middleweight Finalist in Madison Square Garden; a Middleweight Alternate for The Maccabean Games in Tel Aviv, Israel, and author of two books: Confessions of a Fighter, and A Clenched Fist—The Making of a Golden Gloves Champion, published by Ringside Books.

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  1. Nikk63 12:46am, 10/31/2016

    Honestly, some of those names. Henry Akinwande was always good to watch when I had trouble sleeping.

  2. huhu05 10:53am, 01/08/2016

    Two championship fights in one night!!!

    I’ll take it while the you whiners whine about how good the past used to be.

  3. Alan W. 03:21pm, 01/04/2016

    Acute observations, Peter:  I don’t know much about boxing anymore.  When I was a kid, I watched all the time on over-the air black and white TV with my old man, and read about it—the matches I couldn’t see, along with stories of the champs and all the up-and-comers—in the paper, which gave it not quite enough ink.  With the advent of the alphabet soup of sanctioning groups, the sport became impossible to follow.  You might call what happened to boxing a mass suicide.  My generation, which loved boxing and would have loved to follow it, stopped paying attention—and we didn’t bother to teach the generations behind us to pay attention to what was an enterprise that was quickly dying of self-inflicted wounds.

  4. nicolas 02:31pm, 01/01/2016

    I for one did not like this article at all. First, while Mr. Wood certainly has some boxing skill, I would like him to walk up and call some of these men cheese champions. As far as manufactured champions, the point really is that throughout boxing history, in reality, many boxers have been manufactured champions. Should we forget that up until the late 30’s, there were many colored heavyweight champions, because a colored barrier was enforced. Should one not contemplate that maybe some of these men who many of you consider true world champions would not have been world champions had this not been enforced? Would not George Godfrey, or Larry Gains been world champions if they had been given the opportunity, Gains who defeated Primo Carnerra, and had earlier knocked out in two rounds Max Schmeling? One of the issues one has today in this sport that in many ways it has become a far more world sport than in the past. I suppose many of you would suggest that Stanley Ketchel if he were alive today would be world middleweight champ, and I don’t want to say that he would not, but what man back hen from what is now Kazakhstan, or even Mexico had the opportunity to become champion?

  5. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 04:10pm, 12/29/2015

    Eric-Instead of deporting Muslim scum in no-go zones that molest, rape, and defile their children they move to deport this obvious security risk. When that mau mau in the White House sent back Churchill’s bust and back slapped the Queen those feckless Johnny Bull fux should have gotten up on their hind legs instead of curtsying like they did. The UK and the EU with some notable exceptions is one colossal clusterfuk of a “Heaven’s Gate” suicide cult.

  6. Eric 09:43am, 12/29/2015

    Irish… Here is a something to ponder on. The UK is thinking of deporting an illegal immigrant back to S. Africa. She is an elderly white lady with health problems and is 93 years old. Poor lady is pleading not to go back to S. Africa where the situation is bloody awful.

  7. Mike Casey 05:16am, 12/29/2015

    Honestly, some of those names. Henry Akinwande was always good to watch when I had trouble sleeping.

  8. peter 03:21am, 12/29/2015

    Jan “Hawkeye” Swart strikes again! Once more, you are correct, good sir! Joe Frazier—one of my favorites—indeed, qualifies for my paper-title-manufactured list by virtue of that politically-generated NY State Championship…The hapless Marvin Hart?  To simplify matters, I start with Muhammad Ali.

  9. Jan Swart 10:03pm, 12/28/2015

    The late Joe Frazier, one of the GOAT in my opinion, actually also belongs on the “manufactured champ” list due to his recognition as part-champ by among others New York State (when Ellis was WBA champion). BTW: seeing that part-recognised “champions” are listed as such, should Marvin Hart not be elevated to champion status as well? At least when he was “champion” there were not three of four others vying for the “title”.

  10. Eric 08:28pm, 12/28/2015

    Irish…Poor little critters.  If I had Uncle Jed’s money, I would own as many critters as Ellie May. Love just about all animals with the exception of snakes & rats. People fall somewhere in between dogs and rats on the totem pole. hehe.

  11. Bob 08:21pm, 12/28/2015

    The author has very eloquently and accurately described the cannibalization of a once noble and respected sport. It is no wonder boxing has such a small fan base when there are more living heavyweight champions than retired NFL quarterbacks or MLB outfielders. I found myself getting both angry and sad while reading this fine article because I was reminded of how much I used to love and respect the sport, but have since lost all interest. The sport just doesn’t let you love it anymore, and Mr. Wood offers graphic illustrations of so much that went wrong. Great piece of work.

  12. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 05:47pm, 12/28/2015

    Eric-This might interest you…I live here in Arizona close to the Colorado River….this morning a herd of wild burros came into town on the Nevada side of the river in Laughlin, NV and sauntered (that’s how they roll) across Casino Drive….three of the little buggers got hit by cars!

  13. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 05:25pm, 12/28/2015

    Wide open beanpole is about to get KOd in the tintype that accompanies this article….he’s wide open and clearly not paying attention, meanwhile Fatty is loading up his Sunday punch.

  14. peter 11:44am, 12/28/2015

    @ Sean Matheny—Good catch! You’re right—Lennox Lewis is missing! Thanks.

  15. Sean Matheny 09:12am, 12/28/2015

    Peter- Well said and spot on.  When I was a kid, most true boxing fans could name all the former heavyweight champions (at that time Sullivan through Patterson) from memory in order!  I doubt there’s a man alive that could do that now!  Of all the post-Ali champs, I only consider Frazier, Foreman, Holmes, Tyson, Lennox Lewis (whom I didn’t see on the list), Holyfield and perhaps W. Klitschko as having what it takes to be even considered a legitimate heavyweight champion!  Sad indeed.

  16. Eric 09:00am, 12/28/2015

    “Boxing dives while UFC thrives.” Not for long. MMA and the UFC are declining somewhat in popularity. Other than a few fighters like Conor McGregor, Holly Holm, and Rousey, the world of MMA taint what it used to be by a long shot. Some outfit/organization ( a minor league UFC) is even planning on pitting a fitty plus year old Ken Shamrock in a third match against Royce Gracie. Shamrock was last seen losing an obvious FAKE/FIXED match against street fighter Kimbo Slice that looked to be straight out of the WWE.

  17. Eric 08:45am, 12/28/2015

    Damn, we’ve only had 44 POTUS in over 200 years vs. 45 heavyweight kings in the last 37 years. I remember when a plump 201lb Eddie Mustafa Muhammad was preparing to fight Renaldo Snipes back in ‘81, Mustafa equated being heavyweight king with being POTUS. Mustafa said that being the 175lb title holder was like being the VP and he was ready to become President. Mustafa wasn’t a serious candidate, it was one and done and back to being VP just long enough to get beat by Michael Spinks. It always escapes me at how Big John Tate isn’t or wasn’t considered the lineal champion, after all Big John took the title vacated by Ali. Sure, Holmes had beaten the man who beat Tate later, but the title that Tate won was the “real” title.

  18. Clarence George 07:17am, 12/28/2015

    I used to be a voracious reader, Irish, but that’s no longer the case.  I kinda lost my taste for it, though I’m not really sure why.

    No, I never read “Autobiography of a Flea,” but I assume it’s the same type of Victorian porn as “The Way of a Man with a Maid,” which I read many decades ago.  I also read some Marquis de Sade, and remember my amusement at all these critics insisting he was an intellectual.  Oh please.  Which reminds me of a hilarious piece in “Mad” from at least 40 years ago, about a mild-mannered accountant who’s taken over by Sade’s spirit.  Appalled by the depraved thoughts galloping through his head, he drives out the maniacal Marquis—“Go away, Marquis!  Go away!”—only to recall that his life pretty much consists of supporting a tiresome mother-in-law and trying to pay off the mortgage.  “Come back, Marquis!  Come back!”  I still remember the drawing of Sade, sunken-mouthed and wild-eyed.  Ah, seems like yesterday.

  19. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 06:13am, 12/28/2015

    Clarence George-It just came to my mind and I’m betting that you read a book a week when you were an associate at that book store in your previous life….am I wrong? Moreover, I’m betting that you’re reading a book a week in the present day. Which reminds me, have you read “The Autobiography of a Flea….one of my all time favorites.

  20. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 05:58am, 12/28/2015

    Peter Wood-Great research and write up….that list represents gazillions in sanctioning fees….looks like they’ll be some double dipping on January 16….both the WBC and the IBF will be dipping their beaks.

  21. Clarence George 05:30am, 12/28/2015

    On-target piece, Peter.  Though the “bastardization” (indeed, balkanization) isn’t exclusive to the heavyweight division, you’re quite right that “as the heavyweight division goes, so goes boxing.”  Unless and until the sport’s once kingly division returns to full vigor, boxing will continue to do nothing more than hang on by its fingernails.  Unfortunately, there’s no reason to think that we’ll ever again see a true Heavyweight Champion of the World.

    Excellent use of “coroneted,” though I could have done without “Today’s ‘Big Toe’, (Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder, or Ruslan Chagaev), is discolored and diseased; yellow, thick and brittle with jagged edges; deformed, and overgrown with fungus,” at least at this hour of the morning.  I’m trying to have my oatmeal over here!

  22. peter 04:57am, 12/28/2015

    Jan “Hawkeye” Swart! You are so correct! Jimmy Ellis (WBA 1968-1970) belongs in there! Thanks for the correction! I’m guilty of another grievous error—I left out one of my favorite “Big Toes”—Smoking’ Joe Frazier. That makes 48 “Big Toes”—as opposed to 8!

  23. Mike Casey 04:18am, 12/28/2015

    Excellent, Peter - absolutely excellent. Look at the current heavyweight ratings - and I don’t care whose ratings you look at - and the lack of true talent makes you want to despair. Anthony Joshua - a very promising prospect but still only a prospect who has much to learn - has already nudged his way into the Top 10 by beating nobody of real note. But why not? Who else is there? A couple of comeback wins and Ike Ibeabuchi could be right back in there. Scanning the various sites each morning as part of my homework, I find it comparable to those TV soaps that are curiously watchable but where nothing really happens. You can go away for six or seven weeks and everything is still pretty much as it was when you get back. Welcome to the brave new era of the big and the super-sized and a title belt for one and all. Never mind the lack of talent - feel the muscles, suck up the promo bullshit, learn to recite the current heavyweight ‘champions’ off by heart (careful you don’t forget one of them) and tell yourself you’re having a great time and that your head isn’t really aching.

  24. Jan Swart 04:08am, 12/28/2015

    Sad times, indeed. Perhaps one should refer to The Ring magazine - recognised best as the world champions in each division. BTW you overlooked the late Jimmy Ellis (WBA) in your list of paper-manufactured champions who had passed on.

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