Bunce on boxing: Lack of legit challengers is a heavyweight problem


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The Independent Online

More than 50,000 people turned up for Jean-Marc Mormeck's boxing wake in Stuttgart on Saturday night, when the tiny Frenchman added his name to a list of heavyweight challengers to crumple at the fists of the Klitschko brothers.

Mormeck looked scared, threw three punches in fear at Wladimir and took the full count looking the referee in the eye; he then claimed that it was stopped too early with a shameless flourish that deserves to be punished as severely as the fisticuffs that marred the last Klitschko fight in Germany. Boxing is a tricky business, half the things you hear are not true, but that level of denial is ridiculous.

The heavyweight division has run out of legitimate new challengers and it is inevitable that several old men, victims already of the Klitschkos, will get chances in the future. David Haye was confirmed as Vitali's next opponent, having lost to Wladimir last year. Trust me when I say Haye is a good challenger compared with some of the recycled relics that could feature. The problem, which is unique to heavyweight boxing, is that there are simply no proper challengers and by that I mean men with the right amount of ring experience and youth and craft to give them a realistic chance against either Klitschko.

In other divisions boxers like Paulus Moses, who challenges for the WBO lightweight title against Ricky Burns on Saturday, can be moved from good fight to good fight, winning and losing against good fighters. There is more depth in the lower divisions, but there is also less reliance on keeping a fighter unbeaten. Moses has lost just once but has been matched in several 50-50 fights; Burns had twice lost over 12 rounds in British title fights before winning the WBO belt.

Wladimir Klitschko has fought five unbeaten men and eight boxers with one loss during his 12 years at or near the top. So many fighters have simply panicked when he has started to hit them; the challengers had been protected as they moved towards a big payday in a championship fight and that is dismal preparation. At the moment a bunch of unbeaten young heavyweights are falling into position for a challenge and they are all cursed with their unbeaten records. There are exceptions to the unbeaten record dilemma; Mike Tyson was unbeaten but tested in some difficult fights before he won the title and that was probably because his backers wanted to see what would happen if an opponent didn't fall over.

In America the unbeaten pair of Deontay Wilder (21 wins, all by stoppage) and Seth Mitchell (24 wins and a draw) would become better fighters if they risked losing. The pair have become the supposed saviours of the heavyweight sport in the US but they have barely broken sweat, let alone faced a risk and survived.

In Britain, Tyson Fury (17 wins) has, often for the wrong reasons, been in a few hard fights and now, even at 23, looks the best prospect for the future. He has been hurt, been over and each time he has found a way to win, and in modern heavyweight challengers that is a rare fighting trait. It is, therefore, a real shame that Fury vacated his British heavyweight title rather than face Liverpool's unbeaten David Price in the type of fight that both winner and loser win in the long run.

Thankfully, there are fights like Burns against Moses to remind everybody what a 50-50 world title fight looks like.