Time for cruiserweights to shine

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Conrad M. Cariño

Conrad M. Cariño

Of the many divisions in boxing, perhaps the cruiserweight division can be considered the least prominent. Or even maligned.

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Some boxing experts still consider the cruiserweight division, with a limit of 200 pounds, as a “revolving door” because top boxers in the division eventually aspire to fight at heavyweight, supposedly the sport’s glamor division.

Why it is called the cruiserweight division deserves some explanation. Obviously, it is called such because the next biggest warships in a naval force are the cruisers (also called battle cruisers), while the largest or “heavyweights” are the battleships and aircraft carriers. However, aircraft carriers displaced the battleship as the flagships of major naval forces because World War 2’s major naval battles at Coral Sea, Midway and Leyte Gulf, and Philippine Sea between the United States and Japan were decided more by airpower than salvos fired from the huge guns of battleships. The US Navy today boasts of its Ticonderoga class cruisers while Russia has its Slava class, both of which can carry more than 100 missiles.

So just imagine if the cruiserweight division was instead called destroyer weight (in reference to warships lighter than cruisers) or super light heavyweight. Actually, the cruiserweight is also known as the junior heavyweight division. To me, continuing to call the division cruiserweight is the most appropriate.

The cruiserweight division was actually created to allow fighters who could not compete at light heavyweight (175 pounds), or were getting heavy for the division, to enter professional boxing. It also provided a breeding ground for fighters up to 200 pounds to challenge the heavyweights. Prior to the creation of the cruiserweight division in late 1979 by the World Boxing Organization, it was already impossible for most of the top light heavyweights to challenge the heavyweights who at the time weighed above 200 pounds.

So far, light heavyweight champions Tommy Burns and Michael Spinks were the only ones who were able to collar world titles at heavyweight, in 1908 and 1985, respectively.

The weight limit at cruiserweight was originally 190 pounds but it was increased to 200 pounds; obviously, allowing boxers weighing 191 pounds and above to fight those weighing as much as 210 to 230 pounds was suicidal.

But looking at how tall and heavy the heavyweights are today, it is virtually impossible for any of the top dogs at cruiserweight to go up against boxers standing 6’4” to 6’7” and weighing 220 to 260 pounds.

So far, only two cruiserweight champions have collared titles at heavyweight: Evander Holyfield and David Haye. Both had to bulk up to be competitive at heavyweight. Holyfield, however, was more lucky because during the 1980s to 1990s, heavyweights who stood 6’5” were a rarity.

If I were the manager of any of the top cruiserweights today, I would not let my fighter venture into heavyweight given the large size disparity of fighters from the two divisions. Instead, I would want my fighter to unify the titles in the division.

While no cruiserweight is ranked in The Ring’s Pound-for-Pound list, the boxing magazine’s list at the weight reveal fighters who could really punch: No. 1 Oleksander Usyk from Ukraine who is the World Boxing Organization champion (13-0 with 11 knockouts); No. 2 Murat Gassiev of Russia, the International Boxing Federation champion (24-0 with 17 KOs); No. 3 Tony Bellew of the United Kingdom (29-2 with 19 KOs); No. 4 Mairis Breidis of Latvia, the World Boxing Council champion (22-0 with 18 KOs); and No. 5 Denis Lebedev of Russia, the World Boxing Association champion (30-2 with 22 KOs).

Last September, the World Boxing Super Series kicked off to also determine who is the top cruiserweight, and many have placed their bets on Usyk and Gassiev.

So perhaps now is the time for the cruiserweight division to shine on its own rather than become a stepping stone for its top fighters to become one of the top challengers in the heavyweight division.

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