Where Art Thou, O’ Destroyer?

By Ted Spoon on December 22, 2015
Where Art Thou, O’ Destroyer?
The reason Rocky was so effective was because it was decided early that he had to fight.

Skillsets have been poor for so long new trainers have a limited understanding of what actually works if you’re not 6’7” and can move a bit…

I can’t deny watching Tyson Fury get the better of Wladimir Klitschko was captivating stuff, if only for the result. The fight itself was not really a fight, more like an overexcited, clumsy game of Pattycake. Since that upset in Dusseldorf there has been much commentary on our new, outspoken heavyweight king, though more interesting than accusations of homophobia are those who have been given more reason to believe in that theory which Wladimir’s reign implied — bigger is better.

Through most eyes the world appears to be in a state of progression. Buildings get taller, cars get faster, mobile phones are a step away from doing the dishes and athletes constantly improve. In more physical competition like rugby and heavyweight boxing it is the size of the competitors which has been the most notable development. In boxing any 200-pound man is granted permission to try his luck at the richest prize in sport, not that anyone would favor the chances of a man barely over 200 pounds. Most of the top guy’s today are particularly big or what we have come to know as a super-heavyweight, but I think there is some confusion regarding in what sense they’re super.

The vague synopsis of what some class as a modern super-heavyweight is of a man no less than 6’5”, with a reach of about 80”, a waist narrower than his shoulders and in possession of ‘superior skills.’ Those who avidly believe in this modern phenomenon are also the ones who insist men as great as Joe Louis would simply be “too small” to do anything about eating a buffet of jabs against these cerebral titans. Their misjudgement stems from two things — a misreading of past giants and an overestimating of our recent ones.

The likes of Jess Willard and Primo Carnera were not the helpless buffoons history likes to paint them as while Riddick Bowe, Wladimir Klitsckho and even Lennox Lewis (though much greater than the first two) were not impossible obstacles. Certainly in Wladimir’s case his apparent limitations were confirmed against Fury in a defeat which hinged more on styles than age. He was essentially beaten at his own game. Given how mundane things have been since Lewis made Vitali look like he had agreed to some kind of drunken dare with a garden strimmer I can’t blame our casual fans for thinking we’re in for another decade of dullness, that an even bigger Klitschko is ready to commence another jab-n’-grab-a-thon. What they fail to realize is that this idea of size and progression eventually hits the roof.

Jack Dempsey’s golden principle of putting your body weight into motion was something the 7’ Nikolai Valuev couldn’t hope to do any justice, struggling to shift his hulk around the ring never mind getting it into the positions necessary for explosive punching, and while Fury impressed me on many levels he didn’t change my mind about his deficiency in power; his best shot, a cuffing hook as Wladimir spun around didn’t even cause a shiver. In that sort of compromised position he should have been blasted. The immutable truth is that a mere man of 180 pounds can knock anybody out if he conducts himself properly.

A fundamental reason why Rocky Marciano and Joe Frazier were so effective was because it was decided early that they had to fight, no two ways about it, you’re too short so you have to get inside. Their styles were designed to turn the bigger man’s attributes into flaws, getting too close for their long arms, and they pushed this agenda with the unshakable belief that it would overcome. They did not exist in this weird grey zone of trying to get away before a punch lands, trudging forward with no clue, gradually mastered by the fear of taking a shot. We’ve seen a small army of these types make Wladimir look better than he really is, many owning a waistline that doesn’t allow for that lateral movement essential to dictate where a fight takes place. Equally shocking as Wladimir’s hook against Pulev was his opponent’s inability to move his head. 

Stuck onto this idea of superior bigger men is that they are now stronger. The majority are indeed heavier but stronger? Few have that functional strength in the ring which has little to do with your max deadlift or bench press. It’s common knowledge Frazier was rather poor when it came to the exercises that produce the kind of musculature on the likes of Anthony Joshua, but when it came to wrestling out of a clinch, getting the opponent back into his greedy firing line, Joe was masterful. Jab n’ grab was not the antidote once he started smokin’.

It’s the same thing with power. Many have their theories where it comes from. Generally speaking it’s down to the explosive harmony of the whole, ‘kinetic linking’ if you want to get fancy, but a key area oft goes unmentioned. If you observe the likes of Bob Fitzsimmons, Dempsey and Louis there wasn’t much eye-catching in the way of arms and chest, not compared to their well-developed backs. Have yourself a good pad session and note what muscles are sore the following day. It is that dense network of back fibers which slingshot your arms around. Older generations knew the importance of lean over swollen physiques as they enjoyed good stamina while keeping their punch, but because so many co-sign with this modern waltz they pack on the pounds in the hope they can join in. Skillsets have been poor for so long new trainers have a limited understanding of what actually works if you’re not 6’7” and can move a bit. It’s led to that crude dismissal of certain heavyweights being “too small.” Try not good enough.

Mercifully, the worst looks to be over. 

With Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder, Anthony Joshua and Joseph Parker we have a nice combination of young champions and prospects. Throw in a still very capable Alexander Povetkin, the chance of David Haye taking his comeback seriously and the heavyweight division might just start churning out some fights worth recording. The question is can one of these become the kind of heavyweight who cuts through conversation when mentioned?

It will be too easy to continue underestimating Tyson Fury until he loses his spot or retires. Despite the nonathletic build and famous episode of punching himself he can move, fight at a pace and is full of belief. My concern lies in that while proving a good anti-Klitsckho device I believe he is more vulnerable to the other top guys as he doesn’t have that Klitschko equalizer to stop them making inroads in this new era where the number of aggressive heavyweights are on the rise.

Deontay Wilder is a similar case, a work-in-progress, even more so than Tyson who’s refined his boxing over the past year. Raw and with virtually no concept of short punching Wilder can look like a novice at times but he proved there’s more to him than power with his decision over Bermane Stiverne in January of this year. The boxing world kept its frown over two sequential defences as Deontay made a meal out of fighters he should have minced though that cliché of fighting down to your opponent’s level has some truth to it. When the pressure’s on again we may just see the Alabama slugger shine. The issue is he may soon have more than Povetkin biting at his heels.

The man who a good chunk have touted to be (alongside promoter Eddie Hearn) the savior of the division just had his first acid test and came through, albeit with a few chips in the paintwork. Hulking Anthony Joshua crushed game Dillian Whyte and in doing so showed us there is some grit to go with the TNT. The concern here — not so much the fact he got buzzed than the fatigue and lack of head movement thereafter, highlighting what many view as an oxygen-sapping build, not ideal for longer fights against better conditioned men. And that brings us to the Kiwi he may be on a collision course with.

From a technical standpoint Joseph Parker may have more tools in the shed than all of them. He’s fast, measured and throws nice combinations. A little more patience and a tighter guard wouldn’t go a miss but at 23 there is plenty of time to fix that. Where the onus lies on team Parker is if they can get their man to develop enough skill to eat up that range when inevitably faced with men who hold those natural advantages. Boxing too much instead of attacking could handcuff him. And if this is how he is to meet his first set back the time will have come to restudy history’s bulldozers. 

To make things clear, I am looking forward to what unfolds. I do however wonder if the heavyweight division will reclaim that X-factor it’s been missing for donkey’s years. Wladimir deserves credit for his decade plus of dominance though while he was discouraging opponents so too was he decreasing people’s stomach for boxing. Now at the close of 2015 we look back at what has been a generally disappointing year. Many of the reasons are overfamiliar.

How much artificiality has worked its way into our sport! What with these fabled twitter wars and turning your name into a brand before you’ve made it. Inactivity is such a factor most of our conversation revolves around negotiations than it does action while this obsession over PPV numbers seems to be a voluntary distraction to the fact our big fights keep coming out like botched soufflés. We fuss over belts that should fall into oblivion; worship fighter’s until losing redresses them as hopeless. They’re all symptoms of this Mayweather era that helped us believe in bullshit, but I think I know where the disenchantment comes from.

Occasionally fans will break their gaze from another forgettable card to ask when the next Mike Tyson’s coming along. They reach out, somewhat in vain as you do trying to get back in touch with that once great friend. We don’t expect an answer but what the hell. 

Why deny ourselves the prospect?

The real savior might be spending his Christmas in the gym, denting a modern bag with lost technique.

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  1. Steve 12:09pm, 01/20/2016

    Mr. Spoon,

    You can write very well!  No one thinks the current champions are very good, they are just big.  You could say the contenders are better than the champions, and past all-time great big men in Bowe, Lewis or either Klitschko would easily defeat the likes of Wilder, Fury or Martin.

    But yet Wilder, Fury, and Martin are on top for the moment.  Why is the question?  One can be very skilled with a knife, but is he a match for opponents with a longer sword?  Smaller heavies are bringing a knife to a sword fight.  It’s true.  The examples of a longer armed skilled jabber being out jabbed by a much shorter opponent in boxing are pretty rare.

    For the significantly smaller opponent at heavyweights to win, he’s going to need to be extra strong in the power and chin department, and also skilled on how to avoid clinching once he negotiates through the area where he can’t hit, but can be hit.  Fast feet will be needed to.  We can cry until we are blue in the face. Its just how the game ie evolving. 

    The current champions are all super heavyweights, and the best prospects in Ortiz, Parker and Joshua are also super heavyweights.

    The 2016 Olympic field has some talent, and the best super heavies are the tall ones. 

    The 6’ 200-pound heavyweight is a thing of the past.
    The last champion to fit these dimensions was Michael Spinks.  That was long time ago, and he really wasn’t very good.  Just opportunistic to catch an older Holmes on the decline and favourable judging in the 2nd match.

  2. Jethro's Flute 04:05pm, 12/26/2015

    Billy Conn and Tommy Gibbons would not have been allowed to fight at heavyweight after 1979. They were not even cruiserweights.

    As for Lewis, he was not in the peak of condition and did not perform well and still managed to grind out the result against a man who lost very few rounds in his subsequent career.

    Lewis won, end of story.

  3. Darrell 10:07pm, 12/25/2015

    Congratulations on a fair minded article, unlike a handful of recent ones.  Despite the author leaning largely towards the side of the old-timers he at least puts forward a cogent argument without unnecessary denigration of the modernist viewpoint.  I would take issue with the charge that there is less skill in the game, the accumulated knowledge base doesn’t seem to have eroded in my neck of the woods, though with the seeming proliferation of fat heavyweight contenders/prospects/journeymen, conditioning (or more likely desire) is at a low…..

    Being a Kiwi, I’ll be hoping Parker does well, though nothing in boxing is certain.  For his own sake, and prospects (as matchmaking can be difficult down here), he’ll need to find some decent opposition this coming year.

  4. Mike Casey 08:03am, 12/24/2015

    Merry Christmas too, Irish - have a good one. Perhaps I can visit your planet one day.

  5. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 06:39am, 12/24/2015

    Mike Casey-You actually believe that the “Klits” as you refer to them would have to lean all over Conn and Gibbons to get dull points decisions?! You really do! Here’s my sarcastic, incoherent, and irrelevant rebuttal…..if the “Klits” (sarcasm?) leaned all over Conn or Gibbons for even one round their legs would give out from the utter stress and strain and they wouldn’t be able muster the the strength to get off their stools to answer the bell for the second round. God Bless and Merry Christmas Mike!

  6. Mike Casey 02:17am, 12/24/2015

    Consult my archives, Irish, where you will find a full and generous tribute to Fritzie Zivic. I thought this thread was about something else. You talk a lot and wrap it all up in plenty of sarcasm, but you never actually present a coherent and relevant argument, do you?

  7. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 02:59pm, 12/23/2015

    Fritzie Zivic beat Charley Burley, Eddie Booker, Kid Azteca twice, Henry Armstrong twice, and Lew Jenkins twice…the three greatest fighters to come out of Pittsburgh or anywhere else for that matter were Harry Greb, Charley Burley, and Fritzie Zivic….Billy Conn and Bob Baker just barely make the cut. During one period between August 1935 and February of 1936 Fritzie lost seven straight decisions but he persevered which speaks volumes about this “dirty” fighter’s character.

  8. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 02:35pm, 12/23/2015

    Welterweight Fritzie Zivic lost on a split decision to Billy Conn who could not find the time to fight another Pittsburgh Kid named Charley Burley yet fought and beat Honey Boy Jones five dadgummed times.

  9. Mike Casey 12:54pm, 12/23/2015

    Conn and Gibbons were far cleverer than the men of similar weight around today. I think Tyson would have done for them both at some point in the fight, but Wlad and Vitali? They would still have been tentative and cautious because it’s in their nature. Neither enjoys getting hit or messed around. Using their maximum strength, they would probably lean all over Conn and Gibbons for a dull points win, much as Carnera did against Loughran. What I simply can’t comprehend regarding the Klits is the continued insistence of so many that they were absolute killers out of the Ivan Drago mould. They weren’t! And how often were they ever tested by truly imaginative opponents with multiple skills, imagination and movement? They defeated a conveyor belt of depressingly mediocre one-track opponents who came into the ring with one shaky game plan and nothing at all to back it up when it didn’t work. My god, it really is true that blandness and mediocrity eventually becomes excellence in the eyes of those who love to be led.

  10. Eric 11:15am, 12/23/2015

    A small sampling of some of Rocky’s opponents and their weights in 1951.

    Red Applegate 11-14-2   weight 196lbs
    Art Henri 13-15-1 weight 184 1/2lbs
    Harold Mitchell 3-13-3 weight 181 1/2 lbs
    Keene Simmons 8-8-1 weight 200 1/2 lbs.

    When you look at some of the weights of Maricano’s opponents you can clearly see that the myth of Rocky beating much larger men has been blown out of proportion. Matter of fact some of Marciano’s opponents were lighter like Harry Matthews who was barely more than a light heavyweight for his fight with Rocky. Matthews weighed all of 179lbs. Ask yourself what would have someone like Wlad or Vitali have done to Rocky’s opponents? Would a 170lb Billy Conn last into the 13th round with Vitali or Lennox Lewis? Would 175lb Tommy Gibbons go the distance with a 220lb Mike Tyson?

  11. Eric 09:01am, 12/23/2015

    Very easy to dispute this nonsense that size doesn’t matter when it comes to contact sports like boxing or football. IF the giants of today are such easy pickings, then why hasn’t any light heavy or cruiserweight sized fighter stepped up and captured the crown? Last I checked there is no minimum weight needed to actually fight for the heavyweight title so there is nothing stopping any 185-200lb fighter from taking on these giants. There are plenty of fighters who fall into the 6’-6’2” 190-210lb range out there but none are serious contenders for the heavyweight title. WHY would they languish in relative obscurity in the cruiser division for smaller paychecks? Put Dick Butkus in todays NFL and he wouldn’t be as dominant as a force as he was back in the day. Butkus was considered large for his position back in the day and that had as much to do with his dominance as his remarkable talent and dispositon of a crocodile.

  12. Clarence George 03:25am, 12/23/2015

    Well done, Mike, on Vingo.  He was a good-looking guy, and that never would have occurred to me.  Here he looks like Jake (Wilfred Walter) in “The Dark Eyes of London.”  But blows from Marciano were nothing if not distorting.

    His death a few months ago went completely unnoticed by all, including by me, as I only found out about it recently.  I’d heard he’d been living in Florida, but he died in the Bronx.  And nobody, not even Ring 8, knew where he was, or if he needed help?  The last surviving Rocky opponent, he deserved better.  A whole lot better.

  13. GlennR 08:03pm, 12/22/2015

    FMJ is not an “improvement” on SRR….. and these been a lot of time between the two.

  14. Clarence George 07:40pm, 12/22/2015

    Refuting “everything improves as time marches on” would be like shooting fish in a barrel.

    Take the heavyweight division…please.  At a recent trivia night, my brother tells me, the question was, “Who’s the current heavyweight champ?”  One party, and one alone, knew the answer.  And nobody else had ever even heard the name Tyson Fury.  But there was a time when everyone, boxing fan or not, would have known the answer to be Dempsey, Louis, Marciano, Ali…

    The “improvement” escapes me.

  15. andrew 07:01pm, 12/22/2015

    Lewis made Vitali look like a “drunken dare…” by catching him with a thumb to his eyebrow while behind on all three judges’ cards. However, enough Geritol makes anything from the old days seem better than modern reality. Why can’t old folks accept that everything improves as time marches on?

  16. Robert Ecksel 04:57pm, 12/22/2015

    Mike Silver knows boxing. Carmine Vingo it is.

  17. Clarence George 04:50pm, 12/22/2015

    You beat me to it, Mike.  I was about to ask that very same question.  I have no idea who that is.  Gino Buonvino?

  18. Mike Silver 04:17pm, 12/22/2015

    Excellent analysis Mr. Spoon. Guess we have to get used to the fact that some people just cannot grasp or accept the truth. You know whereof you speak.
    BTW, who is that getting belted by Rocky? Carmine Vingo?

  19. GlennR 01:49pm, 12/22/2015

    Good article Ted.
    Ill go back to my previous comments regarding W.Klitschko, he’s been allowed to smother and drape himself all over smaller fighters the minute they try to work inside, the Povetkin fight was an absolute disgrace. How he wasn’t warned, or penalised, is beyond belief.

    But put him with a big guy that can move and box a bit???? Well, weve seen the result.

    Out of the new guys its Parker that grabs my attention the most….. theres a little bit of Joe Louis in him

  20. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 11:54am, 12/22/2015

    You’re giving high marks to Parker who hasn’t fought anyone and who KO’d Martz with a dadgummed rabbit punch (that round house right was so round about that it landed not only behind Martz’s ear but on the back of his head).

  21. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 11:30am, 12/22/2015

    Ted Spoon-Please enlighten us on how you would down grade George Foreman’s skillset. We know this much….he literally bounced that irresistible force Joe Frazier like a basketball. @Eric-You’re bringing way, way too much common sense to the discussion here.

  22. Clarence George 11:17am, 12/22/2015

    Very good article.  I deplore the emphasis on gigantism among the heavyweights, especially as it’s to the exclusion of pretty much everything else.  Bigger is not necessarily better, as the poor quality of today’s lumbering lugs proves.  I’m keeping an open mind on Joshua and Parker, but consider Fury and Wilder the nadir.

  23. Ediz enver 09:22am, 12/22/2015

    Boxing history shows us great champions that were unable to change tactics or keep up with the opponent and so lost their belts-Evander Holyfield being one he was also able to win the rematch and get his titles back the same way I would hope Wladimir is going to do!

  24. Eric 08:48am, 12/22/2015

    Punchers are born and not made, therefore punchers come in all shapes and sizes. Some are muscular like Mike Weaver or Mike Tyson while others can look like a bag of bones ala Jimmy Wilde or Carlos Zarate. Frazier’s inability to lift a modest weight over his head in the Superstars competition had more to do with Frazier’s inexperience with lifting weights and very poor technique. I believe Frazier barely missed lifting 170lbs overhead which is pretty damn strong for someone who has never lifted a weight in his life. Frazier was totally clueless in the event, he assumed almost a boxing stance and never utilized his massive legs at all. You have nationally ranked 148-165lb Olympic weightlifters who can probably put more weight over their heads than 98% of all 250lb plus gym rats out there. I do think the old-timers training routines were far more beneficial for the sport of boxing. Face it, chopping trees is more sport specific than strength building movements on some weight machine or some crazy exercise using a swiss ball, and bulky muscles usually hamper stamina. That said, I wouldn’t compare today’s giants with the Primo Carneras, the Abe Simons or the Jess Willards of the past. Carnera and Willard came to the sport late in life, Willard in the White Hope search and Carnera’s story is well known. Asking a 5’10” 184-187lb Marciano to compete with 6’5”-6’9” 235-255lb TRAINED FIGHTERS is really asking a lot even for someone as fit, tough and powerful as Marciano. It would be akin to asking the 135lb version of Roberto Duran to take on light heavyweight champ Bob Foster back in the day. No one would even remotely say that the giant Tyson Fury is near the fighter that Marciano was, but his sheer size would more than likely be quite an obstacle for Marciano to overcome. Matter of fact, Marciano probably fought only two quality fighters who ever weighed more than 200lbs and they were an overweight, old Joe Louis and the bloated Don Cockell.

  25. Carlos Riva 08:17am, 12/22/2015

    I have seldom read a finer boxing article than this one by Mr. Ted Spoon. The article is full of insights and it teaches us a lot. Needless to say that Mr. Spoon is a very intelligent man.
    The analysis about punch, or power is always a fascinating one. Once I asked my engineer brother:¿ How can we measure impact?, He said there´s a formula for it in physics: impact=speed x mass. This formula would translate in the fact that small or light boxers although fast carry less mass. And big or heavy boxers tend to be slow. So, as Mr. Spoon says, the secret is to hit with all the body behind your fist, That was the secret of a small heavyweight as Ernie Shavers was. He swung with all his body.  Anyway, congratulations.

  26. Mike Casey 07:46am, 12/22/2015

    Shouldn’t genuinely great champions be able to handle different tactics and NOT ‘bottle it’?

  27. Ediz enver 07:36am, 12/22/2015

    Wow another I hate Klitschko article but what is really annoying is the fact that Lewis was very lucky to beat Vitali and retired rather than face him again bottled it.
    Wladimir and his brother would beat most if not all of the best heavyweights of all time Tyson only won because of his tactics and the fact that Wlad bottled it that night in the rematch Wlad should regain his titles if he comes to fight.

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