Boxing Roundtable: Can anyone dethrone Wladimir Klitschko?

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CHRIS MANNIX: History will recognize Wladimir Klitschko as the premier heavyweight of his era. But the simple truth is we will never really know just how good Klitschko really is because he will never face serious competition. Consider: Chambers was recognized by the WBO as the No. 1 contender, but before you go criticizing them for elevating him take a look at the rest of the field. David Haye? Alexander Povetkin? David Tua? Ruslan Chagaev? Club fighters compared to Klitschko, who will go unchallenged for the rest of his career unless he suddenly decides to fight his brother Vitali. As for the Americans, well, if your comfortable with John Ruiz representing U.S. heavyweights, you can rest assured that even if he loses to Haye next month the WBA will continue ranking the Quiet Man as their No. 1 contender.

RICH O'BRIEN: What I took away from Saturday's fight was an urge to take up a collection among boxing fans. How much cash would it take to persuade Mama Klitschko to give her blessing to a fight between her two sons? I mean, I know that Wladimir and Vitali promised their mother that they would never face each other in the ring, but there's just no other worthy opponent out there for either of the Klitschkos.

As for the fight itself, I have to say that Wladimir is a much more aesthetically pleasing fighter than Vitali. (The latter's herky-jerky, arms akimbo style usually has me howling in frustration by the second round.) Maybe it's the schooling of Emanuel Steward, but Wlad fights in crisp, economical fashion; he keeps his hands up and moves well. Certainly his confidence level is way, way up. (Compare his demeanor against Chambers with the lost-deer expression he wore for much of his 12-round thrill ride against Sam Peter less than five years ago.) Honestly, I think Wlad's as good and complete a fighter as he can ever be right now -- and it's a pretty darn good one. Still, Chambers, who was dwarfed against Klitschko and was obviously not there to take chances, was able to reach Wlad with counter right hands throughout the bout. Had Fast Eddie had a bit more power or a bit more commitment, he might at least have made Klitschko worry a bit.

Of course, even without any sanctioned fraternal fracas, the Brothers K can't go on forever (Wlad's 33, Vitali 38). Who stands as the heir apparent is far from clear. But I'm not counting on a new Golden Age of the American Heavyweight. Mainly because the only good American heavyweights are golden agers. (James Toney, anyone? John Ruiz?) Frankly, I don't see any real prospects out there. Chris Arreola may yet make a better case for himself than he did against Vitali last fall, but he's no world beater -- and he's no guarantee to get by Tomasz Adamek on April 24.

Hey, can we consider Cuban defector Odlanier Solis American now? Solis, who is 16-0 with 12 knockouts since turning pro, has the combination of speed and power that could give the Klitschkos a challenge.

BRYAN ARMEN GRAHAM: Funny you mention Solis, who dominated Carl Drumond so comprehensively Saturday on Fox Sports Espanol's "Top Rank Live" that Drumond quit on his stool rather than answer the bell for the fourth round. (You can watch the replay on Fox Sports Net on Monday at 8 p.m. and midnight.)

Solis' almost cartoonish doughboy physique -- the Cuban tipped the scales at 268½ at Friday's weigh-in -- makes Chris Arreola look like Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino. But the unbeaten 29-year-old packs TNT in both fists and moves with economic agility. He's had just 16 pro fights, but an impressive amateur pedigree (including a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics) put him on the short list of opponents for Vitali until Albert Sosnowski got the call. I'd love to see Solis get a few more name opponents under his belt prior to a title fight with either brother in 2011.

I rank Vitali among the 20 greatest heavyweights of all-time with Wladimir just missing the cut, but the younger Klitschko is building a serious case for inclusion as those embarrassing defeats to Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster move further away in the rear-view mirror. Saturday's victory marked the 12th consecutive title defense for Wlad, who's gone nearly six years since losing a fight. That's an impressive run in any era, regardless of competition. Whether you're down with Wladimir's technical approach, you've got to give the champ propers for making the most of himself under Manny Steward. As I wrote in my Sportsman of the Year nomination for the Klitschkos in November, Rocky Marciano, Larry Holmes and Mike Tyson didn't exactly cut their teeth on a parade of in-their-prime legends. Indeed, fight fans have complained about the lack of great heavyweights in almost every era of boxing.

While it's unfortunate the two best heavyweights since Lennox Lewis won't meet in the ring, it's also an integral part of the story. If you think Venus-Serena showdowns make for awkward viewing (and they do), try to imagine Wladimir and Vitali attempting to render one another unconscious. Klitschko-Klitschko is a meaningful, obvious fight, but I'm not convinced it's the insta-classic most fight fans envision in their REM sleep.

2. Besides settling a personal score, what does Bernard Hopkins have to gain by fighting Roy Jones Jr., on April 3 in Las Vegas?

MANNIX: Money, and hopefully not much of it if fans are smart. This is nothing more than a pathetic cash grab by Hopkins and Golden Boy Promotions, which blew a chance to put the Executioner in a meaningful (and entertaining) fight with cruiserweight champion Tomasz Adamek in a sold-out arena in Newark because Hopkins has an overinflated sense of his own star power. Instead, Hopkins and Golden Boy are subjecting us to Hopkins-Jones, a putrid and unbelievably overpriced ($49.95) pay-per-view event that promises to be devoid of any real action and is, in every possible way, utterly meaningless. I'm disgusted, not so much with Jones (he's taking a payday, you would too) but with Hopkins, who had a chance to cap a Hall of Fame career with something meaningful but instead elected to take the easy way out.

O'BRIEN: Presumably, from his point of view, an easy win and payday. However, it may be messier than that. Jones is a dangerously shot fighter. He's 41, he's lost five of his last 10 bouts. In three of those losses he was, as they say on the message boards, KTFO. In another, against Joe Calzaghe in 2008, he was thoroughly and frighteningly beaten up. The twist here, though, is that Hopkins may be the one type of opponent with whom Jones still matches up well. Hopkins has never been a huge puncher; nor is he, like Calzaghe, a high-volume attacker. Jones's athleticism could still give B-Hop trouble, as it did when Jones won a 12-round decision over him 58 years ago (in 1993, actually). Bernard will have to go a little out of his comfort zone -- step up his work rate and take a few more chances than usual -- or risk having Jones (against all logic) flit and potshot his way to another win. My hope is that Hopkins, who has no doubt been jonesing for Roy since their first fight, brings some real passion to this one. Either way, though, this fight is way too-little, too-late to have any real effect on either man's legacy.

GRAHAM: Even before Danny Green's spectacular first-round knockout of Jones on Dec. 2 in Sydney, the long-awaited rematch with Hopkins was a dud. But even though Jones-Hopkins II is irrelevant, I'm willing to give Bernard a pass on it.

Hopkins, who turned 45 in January, says the Jones fight is "personal," and I believe him. It's not expected to be very competitive -- Bernard is a 6-to-1 favorite on merit -- but if Jones represents the easy way out, it's uncharted territory for Hopkins, whose legacy will show that he took on all comers. In his prime, he beat them all. And in the twilight of his career, he continued to only take fights against guys who are in or near the pound-for-pound Top 10 -- none of whom could say they had an easy night against him. If Hopkins hasn't already eclipsed Archie Moore as the greatest fighter of all time past the age of 40, he's in the neighborhood.

So I don't begrudge Hopkins a victory lap against a rival who's been second-rate since boiling down from heavyweight in 2003 and '04. I just hope it's not his last fight.

3. Amir Khan will defend the WBA junior welterweight title against Paulie Malignaggi at Madison Square Garden on May 15. What do you make of this fight?

MANNIX: It's a solid matchup. Malignaggi earned a bigger fight when he dismantled Juan Diaz in December and deserves a shot at Khan's 140-pound title. Make no mistake, though, Malignaggi represents the next stop in Freddie Roach's rehabilitate-Amir-Khan-after-Breidis-Prescott-nearly-killed-him tour. Roach, who took over Khan's training after the Prescott fight, has carefully selected Khan's opponents and Malignaggi is no different. Khan will need to bring his A-game against the slick Malignaggi but Paulie's soft hands are no threat to Khan's delicate chin. Roach is patiently rebuilding Khan's confidence so that eventually Khan can be a factor in the heavy hitting junior welterweight division.

O'BRIEN: I actually like this fight. This is a match that offers real opportunity -- and real risk -- for each guy. Malignaggi is the very definition of the crafty slickster. He's genuinely accomplished defensively and very tough to look good against. He is also insufferably smug and annoying in the ring (though capable of being charming out of it). I'm on record as saying I'd love to see him get his braided block knocked off, which is why Khan is an attractive opponent. The 23-year-old Khan can really punch. The question is whether, in his fifth fight under trainer Freddie Roach, he can actually find Malignaggi. Khan's people know what they're doing, though: Their man's chin remains a huge question mark. But against the light-hitting Malignaggi (who couldn't KO Madeline Kahn), it shouldn't be a concern. All in all, this is a fun and engaging match-up between guys who have something at stake that offers plenty to root for -- and against.

GRAHAM: I dig it. What better venue for Khan's U.S. debut than Madison Square Garden? And what better opponent than Malignaggi, the slick Brooklynite whose speed and awkward style could prove troublesome for the Bolton native? For Khan, there's the opportunity to gain a foothold in the American market without putting his dubious chin to the test. (Malignaggi, bless his heart, couldn't break an egg.) For the Magic Man, there's the opportunity to nab the career-defining win that's eluded him for so long while playing to a hometown crowd.

4. What possible good can come from Evander Holyfield and Frans Botha meeting on April 10 in Las Vegas?

MANNIX: You have to wonder what the Nevada State Athletic Commission was thinking licensing Holyfield, who continues to slur "undisputed heavyweight champion" at anyone who will listen. The sad part of all this is that Holyfield will probably beat Botha, an even-more-washed-upformer champ who hasn't fought in the U.S. since earning a draw with the immortal Clifford Ettienne in 2002. Even sadder is that some seedy promoter will try to capitalize on Holyfield's name and feed him to one of their contenders down the road. It seems everyone is willing to wait until Holyfield get seriously hurt to step in.

O'BRIEN: Holyfield-Botha? Holy s---! Botha these guys should be retired, out grilling burgers with George Foreman or playing golf with Gerry Cooney (or even racing pigeons with Mike Tyson). No good can come from this fight. Holyfield, at 47, remains a name, though, and Botha, 41, is a vaguely familiar figure from the past. People will pay attention. And that, of course, is the problem. The sport is desperate for fans, and this is what gets offered.

And do you guys realize that, between this bout and the Hopkins-Jones travesty we're talking about 170 years total?

GRAHAM: Child please. First made for Feb. 20 at Nelson Mandela Stadium in Uganda, the freak show between Holyfield and Botha was rescheduled for April in Las Vegas when the promoter missed a scheduled payment. It's hard to believe that six years have passed since the New York State Athletic Commission banned Holyfield -- then 42! -- from boxing due to "diminishing skills" after a third consecutive defeat against journeyman Larry Donald. Someone needs to save Holyfield from himself before it's too late.