It has been a long time in the heavyweight division since a leading contender, a genuine threat to the tainted crown, had a record with as many defeats as Dereck “Del Boy” Chisora.
Chisora has lost four of his last eight fights, been dropped and hurt, fought like a novice, gained weight and had his licence suspended during two crazy years. He has also slugged his way through torrid rounds, given eccentric interviews and put together enough punches to be regularly compared to the late Joe Frazier.
“I like to give people some entertainment, get in real fights; it’s missing from the heavyweight division right now: I bring the fun back,” Chisora insisted, holding a straight face for a second until a smile broke through. He also has, it needs to be said, his critics.
Tomorrow Chisora, the new slim, focused and fearless version, defends his European heavyweight title for the first time when he meets Prague’s Ondrej Pala at the Copper Box, the iconic metal shed on the edge of the 2012 Olympic Park. Pala is the third opponent to be named, a sign now that meeting Chisora is not the smartest career move for any heavyweight with his eye on bigger prizes.
“It is never easy with Dereck,” admitted Don Charles, the fighter’s devoted trainer. “It can be a struggle, it can be frustrating but this Dereck is serious; something has changed and he now realises just how close he is to the title.”
Charles, it has to be remembered, had his jaw broken in the high-profile post-fight scuffle between David Haye and Chisora in Munich in February last year. The brawl, at the end of Chisora’s loss on points to Vitali Klitschko, was resolved in front of 30,000 at Upton Park five months later when Haye legitimately beat Chisora. On that night it looked to me like Charles was in more pain trying to smile than he had been when Haye had cracked his jaw.
The elite heavyweight division has never been so confusing, not even during the manic and disgraceful epoch known as the “Lost Generation” 30 years ago, when the sport blundered, the champions were disgraced and the fans first started to drift away. In the days between Muhammad Ali’s tragic and protracted exit from boxing in 1980 and the sudden rise of Mike Tyson in 1986 there was chaos; 14 men held a version of the world heavyweight title during a six-year period and 41 world heavyweight title fights took place during the same period. As a reminder of the excess, in the Fifties and Sixties only 47 heavyweight championship fights had taken place and only eight different men held the title.
“Those guys back then were wild but they could really fight and they all struggled to get the title,” Chisora said. “The same thing could happen when the Klitschkos retire or just get out of the sport; I can’t wait for them to go because when they have gone there will be some great fights. There are a lot of fighters ready to take over.”
The Klitschko brothers are certainly getting old in boxing years, with Wladimir at 37 and Vitali turning 43 next year, but they remain as dominant now as they have been for the last decade. However, simple logistics could end their reigns early because they have come close to exhausting the once seemingly endless list of challengers. The brothers have made a combined total of 33 heavyweight title defences and most of their fights have blurred into a vague memory of repeated beatings, often illuminated by either a kitsch entrance or the sudden violent sprawling on the canvas of another battered challenger.
Right now Vitali has to decide on his next fight by the start of next week or risk losing his title outside the ropes. Wladimir has earned some grace, having put on an effortless masterclass last month in Moscow to beat Alexander Povetkin, his nearest rival, on a night when a hard fight had been predicted. However, it was one-sided and a reminder of just how good the Klitschko brothers have become during the last 10 years. They look unbeatable at the moment, to tell the truth.
“The heavyweight division is pathetic right now,” claimed Aussie Joe Bugner last Saturday. “We had it all when I was fighting; great fights, great characters and men that were not afraid to take a risk or two.” Bugner is right in many ways but he would, I’m convinced, have a soft spot for Chisora.