There are some divisions in boxing that are criminally over-looked. Whilst many of those divisions involve smaller men from the Orient one of the divisions is the Cruiserweight divison, a division that has repeatedly given us brutal, bruising, vicious wars over the years. For whatever those wars have failed wo win over the US audience though for the hardcore they have provided some true FOTY contenders in the last 5 or 6 years.
One of the most brutal and controversial battles we've seen in recent years was the WBA Cruiserweight title fight between Panama's Guillermo Jones and Russia's Denis Lebedev. The bout saw both men landing bombs for fun though unfortunately it's better remembered for Lebedev ending up a swollen, grotesque and disfigured mess and the Jones failing a drugs test.
That bout came more than a year ago and although a rematch was scheduled Jones failed pre-fight drug test and as a result Lebedev hasn't fought since.
This week Lebedev (25-2, 19) returns to the ring as the WBA champion, having been handed back the title Jones had taken from him in their first bout. Some how the loss has stood on Lebedev's record but it seems clear that the loss was a dirty one and that the WBA accept it was a dirty one. Unfortunately for the Russian he doesn't return in a gimme like so many other fighters returning after a long break or a really vicious and damaging fight. Instead the all action-Russian will be battling against the unbeaten Polish challenger Pawel Kolodziej (33-0, 18) in what appears to be a fantastic bout and a baptism of fire for Lebedev considering the circumstances of his last bout.
At his best Lebedev is one of the sports most exciting, entertaining and brave fighters. He is an absolute warrior who believes in himself so much that he's willing to go to war. He's short, stout, powerful and hits like a mule. He may not be the most athletically gifted or the most technically sound boxer but he's a tank with heavy artillery and the capability to stand up to real howitzers, as shown in his bout with Jones, until he tired out and was stopped from exhaustion in round 11.
In many ways Lebedev is similar to a modern day Rocky Marciano. The two are similar in stature and in some ways similar in style with physicality and power making up for technical inadequacies. If you enjoy fights of attrition fought with rocket launchers you will love watching Lebedev, if he's even 90% of the fighter he once was.
As for Poland's unbeaten Kolodziej we've got to admit we've not seen a lot of him. What we have seen suggests that he's not the best Cruiserweight in Poland though at 6'4" he's a nightmare for anyone in the division, especially for someone like Lebedev who is a short guy for a Cruiserweight. The Pole is a fighter who uses his height well, throws a lot of straight shots and moves a lot to try and make sure he can use his jab to set up other shots. Unfortunately due to his height he does look fragile and a bit too thin and scrawny, a bit like Light Heavyweight compatriot Andrezj Fonfara. That's not to say he is fragile but he does look it.
The problem with knowing how good the Pole actually is, is that his competition has been awful, to be polite. His biggest name foes have been a long way past their sell by date and he's with out a defining fight of any type. In fact his best win is a narrow decision over Cesar David Crenz and in his career he has only completed the 10 round schedule 4 times in 33 fights, not a good sign when you're going into your first world title fight.
On paper this should be a stylistic nightmare for Lebedev. He is giving up a freakish 5" in height and a huge amount of reach, he is also coming back from his long lay off and will be expected to struggle for timing against a guy capable of throwing very crisp jabs. Saying that however Lebedev does have the ability to get inside on fighters and with his power, work rate and ferocity he will give tall fighters nightmares and manage to cut off the ring and break down fighters.
We're expecting Lebedev to start very slowly and cautiously. This may see him giving away 3 or 4 rounds as he tries to ring rust and get back his sense of self belief and confidence. When that happens we think he'll close the distance and rip the body of Kolodziej who will slowly, but surely, crumble in the second half of the fight. The Pole being punished for his lack of competition prior to this fight and his relatively open body that will be a nice juicy target for the Russian destroyer.
(Image courtesy of http://akboxing.ru)
Last weekend saw the 49 year old Bernard Hopkins foll back the clock as he managed to over-come the significantly younger Beibut Shumenov and unify the IBF and WBA "super" titles at Light Heavyweight. Less than a week later another fighter over the age of 40's looks prove that age is just a number as Panama's controversial 41 year old Guillermo Jones (39-3-2, 31) returns to Russia his second straight fight.
In his last bout Jones controversially defeated Russian hard man Denis Lebedev (25-2, 19) to supposedly unify the WBA regular and WBA "in recess" titles. Things however didn't quite end up like that as the win was later ignored by the WBA following irregularities with Jones's drug test. This saw Lebedev reinstated as the WBA regular champion and now, 11 months later, we get a rematch as the men go to war again.
The first fight, last May, was genuinely amazing. Both men had to give and take in a back-and-forth way that saw Lebedev effectively punching himself out whilst landing massive bombs on Lebedev who appeared to be a division bigger than the Russian. Eventually a combination of exhaustion and Jones's punches took their toll and a badly swollen, bloodied and battered looking Lebedev was stopped.
The bout saw Lebedev praised for his insane amount of heart, it saw Jones, prior to the drug tests, praised for his skills despite being 40 years old, it saw both men praised for the action and excitement whilst the referee, doctor and Lebedev's corner were all criticised for putting the Russian's health at risk. The overall feeling was that Lebedev would never be the same, Jones was capable of unifying the division and we'd had an absolute classic.
Unfortunately all the praise of Jones was questioned when his drug test came back as dirty with many suggesting his energy and immense size advantage had been down to drugs. Whether Jones's performance was, or wasn't, due to performance enhancing substances is likely to be debated many times in the future one thing that won't be debated is just how much we're looking forward to the rematch.
Of course 11 months is a long time. For Jones it was 11 months of ageing, 11 months of getting naturally older and 11 months of collecting rust. Sometimes a break from the ring can do a fighter the world of good but Jones has now fought just 11 rounds in well over 2 years and just 17 rounds in 3 years and just 28 rounds in 5 and a half years.
Whilst the lay off for Jones was about ageing we'd presume that the 11 month lay off for Lebedev was more about recovery. His face was a genuine swollen mess at the end of the last bout and he really needed time to recover before even thinking about returning to boxing. His right eye was a swollen, disgusting, discoloured mess, whilst the left side of his face was cut both above and below the eye. The break from the ring wasn't so much desired as needed.
In their first fight Lebedev threw everything at Jones, including the kitchen sink, but never managed to dent the Panamanian who proved his toughness was first class. Genuinely the chin on Jones had to be made out of titanium. He took huge shots and never took a step backwards. Unfortunately for Lebedev he wasn't the only one with heavy artillery and Jones landed straights and uppercuts almost at will as he deformed Lebedev's face. Although Lebedev will never be described as a "pretty boy" he ended looking a bit like a gargoyle.
Unfortunately for Lebedev his return to the ring leaves us with a lot of questions. Firstly will he be the tough, powerful, gutsy fighter he once was or will the "loss" to Jones last year have taken too much out of him? Will his face swell up like it did last year? Will it swell up even easier than it did last year? What has the 11 months really done for Lebedev's health? And most importantly does he believe he can beat Jones?
For Jones there is also questions. Was he cheating? If so is he going to be able to replicate his performance from last year with out the substance he is reported to have taken? Is father time going to be too much for Jones at last? Did Lebedev manage to take anything out of Jones last time out?
From where we're sat there is no way Lebedev will be the fighter he was a year or two ago. It's a real shame but there is no way a fighter can take that much punishment and be the same man afterwards, he was effectively put through a human grinder. With that in mind we expect to see Lebedev against have his face swelling, cutting and seriously damaged. The shots of Jones might not be concussive but they are heavy and damaging and this will be, unfortunately, the key to this bout with the reach and length of Jones helping him land shots at will on the brave Russian.
We'd love to see Lebedev win, he's one of the most exciting fighters out there, but unfortunately we don't it happening, especially not after what happened last year. Lebedev is still going to be caught by the heavy straights, the venomous uppercuts, the clean hooks and the hard jabs that completely destroyed his face last year and will again this year.
Courtesy of Steffaville
The Cruiserweight division over the past few years has been one of the sports most entertaining divisions despite often being over-looked. Fighters Marco Huck, Steve Cunningham and Yoan Pablo Hernandez have really put the division in to the limelight thanks to entertaining battles time and time again.
For many the best Cruiserweight on the planet, isn't one of the names mentioned above but is in fact Russian hard hitter Denis Lebedev (25-1, 19) who makes the second defense of his WBA title this Friday when he faces Panamanian Guillermo Jones (38-3-2, 30).
Lebedev, pictured above with Enzo Maccarinelli, is a short Cruiserweight (as seen quite evidently in the picture), though he's also a stocky, powerful fighter who can often negate his size disadvantages. Aggressive he's strong and hurtful, though also has very solid over-all skills, good patience (a little too good at times) and a fantastic finishers instinct.
Having faced a relative who's who in recent years, including James Toney, Roy Jones Junior, Maccarinelli, Huck and Alexander Alekseev it's fair to say that Lebedev is a proving quality. Sure he's managed to get a reputation of scalping big names who past it (Jones and Toney) but fights with Huck, Alekseev and Maccarinello were all against solid contemporaries.
The fight with Huck has been the most "interesting" of Lebedev's career so far. Although he "lost" a decision (a highly controversial one) to Huck, Lebedev showed not only his powerful punching (which apparently broke a rib of Huck) but also his solid boxing as he forced Huck to box almost entirely off the ropes. Out-manning Huck is never an easy task but Lebedev made it look genuinely simple.
Aged 33 Lebedev isn't a spring chicken but for a Cruiserweight he's still got a few years at the top and despite his face looking "weathered" he hasn't really been in many wars.
In Jones we have a very interesting challenger who has a career full of ups and downs.
Aged 41 Jones has been a professional since 1993 and has seen his body change from that of a lanky Welterweight kid to full grown Cruiserweight man. Although still very tall for the weight it was always amazing that he could ever have made Welterweight like he did in the early 1990's.
When fighters move up in weight we tend to see them scoring few stoppages but for Jones the move up hasn't really been shown to effect his power. At Welterweight, Light Middleweight and Cruiserweight he has been shown to hit hard enough to keep fighters honest with out necessarily being concussive (at least at world level).
At his best Jones was a very talented fighter who had exceptional skills and lived up to his name of "El Felino" (The Cat). He was quick, elusive, tough when he needed to be and hit with very clean but yet sneaky shots. His victories over Wayne Braithwaite, Firat Arslan and Valery Brudov were all solid victories and in fact he could well have also had notable victories over Steve Cunningham and Johnny Nelson had the judges favoured him like many fans did.
It was however, a long time ago that Jones was in his prime and what he has left is a really a big question. At his best he could certainly have held his own with the top Cruiserweights from throughout history though with just 2 fights in the last 4 years it's fair to say that he is not still at his best.
Prime for prime it'd be hard to go against Jones who will take a 5" height advantage and a notable reach advantage in to the ring, now however the logical view is Lebedev to win.
With his power, strength, explosiveness and excellent inside game it wouldn't be the biggest shock if Lebedev managed to stop Jones late in bout. The aging former champion, who actually enters on the back of 7 straight victories (6 by stoppages), is probably going to be made to look his age here.
World Title Previews
The biggest fights get broken down as we try to predict who will come out on top in the up coming world title bouts.