by Kelsey McCarson
Ruslan Chagaev (27-1-1, 17 KOs) steps in the ring as an underdog this August 27th against an undefeated heavyweight, angling his way for a unification fight (of sorts) against reigning champion Wladimir Klitschko.
Ruslan Chagaev has been here before.
In 2007, the undefeated Chagaev outslugged Nikolay Valuev, handing the seven foot giant his first professional loss and becoming the WBA heavyweight champion. It wasn’t a fight many had Chagaev pegged to win. The sheer size disadvantage he would face that night would be difficult for anyone to overcome. Chagaev gave up more than ninety pounds in girth and over a foot in height to Valuev but made up for it with a combination of sheer aggression, precise punching and voracious tenacity.
As one observer commented after the fight, “it was sort of like watching a pit bull maul a horse.”
After the win, Chagaev was on top of the heavyweight world – well, almost.
Like every other fighter in the division, Chagaev realized that to be the true king of boxing’s historically most important division, he would have to slay another previously undefeated heavyweight giant – Wladimir Klitschko. After two more wins over less than notable opponents, plus a brief struggle with Hepatitis B, he would have his opportunity.
If the lumbering Valuev was a horse, then the piston-jabbing Klitschko was a steel-plated tank. It was the biggest heavyweight fight in years –really, it was. The winner of the contest would be crowned the Ring Magazine heavyweight champion of the world, something the sport had not seen since Wlad’s elder brother Vitali had vacated it four year’s prior because of injury.
This was Rulan Chagaev’s chance at heavyweight glory – an opportunity to stand on top of the mountain.
The two undefeated big men met with little ballyhoo. The interest level was actually so low that the fight aired on ESPN because HBO didn’t care to televise it. Chagaev didn’t care. He was sure he’d shock the world. He’d defeat Klitschko and claim his spot atop the heavyweight mountain. The fighter nicknamed “The White Tyson” would no longer be a little known fighter struggling to make an imprint on the boxing world. And who knew? Maybe someday there would be a fighter nicknamed after him too—The Black Chagaev anyone?
But it wasn’t meant to be. Truth be told, then (as now) the gulf between what Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko are, and what other heavyweights are, is wide and filled with everything and anything but legit threats to the crown. Sure, there are also-rans, never-weres, big-talkers and little-walkers, but few men that actually possess the might to wrestle the title away from the masters of the division. This night was no different.
By the end of the contest, Chagaev was humbled with his first professional loss. It was like any other Klitschko fight you see. Wladimir jabbed his way to an insurmountable lead and followed it up with crisp, penetrating right hands to finish the job. Chagaev just could not find the answer.
“Throughout the fight, I searched for the keys to unlock a win, but I just couldn’t find them,” Chagaev lamented after the fight.
But Chagaev has pressed on, and in an age where title challengers look for reasons not to fight and have excuses ready before the blood even dries, Chagaev represents admirable persistence. Instead of a white version of Mike Tyson, the smallish, southpaw Chagaev appears to be doing his best impersonation of a real life Rocky Balboa.
Picking up wins over Travis Walker and Kali Meehan in 2010 has put Chagaev back in position to be in yet another big heavyweight fight. A win over Povetkin would make Chagaev a contender to Klitschko’s heavyweight crown– again.
And while a bogus title belt is somehow on the line for the fight, it doesn’t do the event any real favors with the boxing public. The fact of the matter remains that the winner of the Ruslan Chagaev – Alexander Povetkin contest will be right where Chagaev was almost four years earlier – one step closer to a chance at heavyweight glory and another opportunity to stand on top of the mountain.
Kelsey McCarson believes the heavyweight division is as awesome as you want it to be. Follow him on twitter @TheRealKelseyMc and prove him wrong in 140 characters or less.
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