By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Boxing Contributing Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Forget the "recognized" world championship.
It's small potatoes by comparison.
Lurking just below the grimy surface of the heavyweight division these days, there's a seamy underworld of overblown prospects, fringe contenders and over-the-hill impact-makers still plugging away for one last chance.
Evander Holyfield and Henry Akinwande kept their battle for kingpin status in the latter grouping alive on Saturday night, each scoring one-sided 10-round decisions against hand-selected opponents with little chance of upsetting the 40-plus apple carts.
Holyfield, 44, swept scorecards against journeyman Lou Savarese on a PPV show from El Paso, while Akinwande - a 6-foot-7 Brit making his home in Tallahassee, Fla. - performed a similar, albeit less-publicized number on Ukrainian pug Andriy Oleinyk.
Evander Holyfield swept scorecards against journeyman Lou Savarese.
The 41-year-old stylist earned the milestone 50th win of his career against the 12-8-1 Oleinyk in Moscow, going 10-for-10 in the eyes of all three judges in his first outing since dropping the IBF's intercontinental crown to Leg Platov last November.
That title was the most recent in a series of second-tier jewelry for the Londoner, who's also held the British Commonwealth, EBU, WBO, WBC/Fecarbox, WBC international and WBN intercontinental crowns while going 50-3-1 since his debut in 1989.
Still, he'd hock the trinkets for another crack at full-fledged WBC laurels and a chance to right the wrongs of a five-round clinch fest against Lennox Lewis - which ended in the passive challenger's disqualification in July 1997.
Only two men have beaten Akinwande since the Lewis debacle - Platov and, ironically enough, Oliver McCall (KO 10 in November 2001) - whose own go-round with Lewis had ended via teary fifth-round surrender just five months earlier.
McCall, for his part, has lost just once in 26 outings since his breakdown and actually moved closer to an improbable return to credibility with a 12-round decision over Sinan Samil San in a WBC eliminator on June 16 in Ankara, Turkey.
Meanwhile, coming up on the outside of the 200-plus pound scrap heap is hulking slugger Francois Botha, who'll end a nearly five-year ring exile tonight with a scheduled 12-rounder against one Bob Mirovic at the Carousel Casino in Temba, South Africa.
The outing - for the WBF's vacant interim title - is the first for Botha since he ended a 51-bout run with an eight-round TKO loss to Wladimir Klitschko in March 2002 and a 10-round stalemate against Clifford Etienne four months later.
The now 38-year-old Botha, like McCall and Akinwande, was also stopped in a grab for Lewis's top-spot status, falling in two non-descript rounds in a WBC/WBO/IBF championship fight in London in July 2000.
Yeah, yeah. that Klitschko guy is fighting again, too.
The 6-foot-6 powerhouse, who's not had a competitive bout since splattering Chris Byrd to win the IBF and IBO heavyweight crowns in front of the outgoing champ's angry wife 15 months ago, may see that easy streak come to an end Saturday.
In challenger Lamon Brewster, Klitschko looks across the ring and not only sees a guy worthy enough to hold one of the division's splintered belts as recently as 2006, but also one who stopped him via stunning five-round TKO in April 2004.
Klitschko's camp floated charges of poisoning following the defeat.
Poison or not, the loss was the third of three for the 31-year-old Klitschko, who's since won six straight - five by stoppage - and reinvented himself as the division's top enforcer under the tutelage of long-time Kronk king-maker Emanuel Steward.
Brewster, meanwhile, took the belt he won against Klitschko and defended it three times, toppling Kali Meehan (SD 12), Andrew Golota (TKO 1) and Luan Krasniqi (TKO 9) before an upset decision loss to Sergei Lyakhovich in April 2006.
He has not fought since the defeat, which dropped him to 33-3.
"We are not underestimating Brewster," Steward said. "He is an old-school fighter. He is a serious fighter. He punches with both hands. These are the two best punchers in the heavyweight division. We'll have to be careful until the end.
"But Wladimir is in his prime and no fighter can beat him."
The fight will be shown live on HBO at 5 p.m. and rebroadcast at 10:30 p.m.
Am I the only one looking forward to Hopkins/Wright later this month?
True enough, it's a clash of defense-first masters that could rival televised chess in terms of boredom, but for some reason I'm still expecting a little something better when the two champions of the cognoscenti get together on July 21.
Quotes from the respective camps - both Hopkins, who's working with Freddie Roach at the Wild Card Gym in Los Angeles; and Wright, with veteran trainer Dan Birmingham at Round One Gym in Las Vegas - this week certainly indicate the two are ready to go.
"Everyone knows I love to train. I'll train every day - morning to night - and Freddie loves it, too," said the 42-year-old Hopkins, who toppled 175-pound champ Antonio Tarver in his last outing 13 months ago. "Some days we'll get so into our workouts, talking technique (and) strategy, my guys will have to pull us out of there to rest.
"Luckily Freddie owns the place, or they'd shut it down on us."
And Wright, who unanimously beat veteran Ike Quartey in December, said "bring on the heat. Training in Las Vegas in the summertime, you better be prepared to sweat. I work hard. I sweat hard. And I fight hard. Running is my least favorite exercise, but I run every day regardless. It's the first thing I do every morning to get it out of the way."
But great fight or not, it's a guaranteed win for pay-per-view buyers.
Regardless of whether the heavy training adds up to compelling in-ring action from either competitor, the event unconditionally promises a match-up of the biggest post-fight crybabies and woe-is-us fan bases since the twilight halcyon days of ex-heavyweight champ Larry Holmes.
To hear Winky and his die-hard supporters tell it, in fact, he's never actually lost.
Forget the five knockdowns against WBA junior middleweight champ Julio Cesar Vasquez or the fact that nary one of six judges saw subsequent title bouts against Harry Simon and Fernando Vargas in his favor - to the Wright brigade, the 17-year veteran remains perfect through 54 career outings.
Meanwhile, Bernard's "the establishment hates me" complex is the stuff of legend.
Ignoring the fact he was a 20-defense champ and clearly the drawing card going into a pair of bouts with the then-largely unknown Jermain Taylor, the crotchety Philadelphian barked loud and long that the consecutive decisions - in which he lost on five of six scorecards - were the stuff of venomous persecution, not Taylor.
Heck, with all that potential "I got screwed again" drama awaiting Larry Merchant or whomever else handles the HBO PPV microphone in the mid-ring aftermath, it might be the first time in my viewing career I find myself actually rooting for a draw.
Aside from Klitschko-Brewster and the rest of the never-say-goodbye heavyweight gaggle, this weekend's pickings appear slightly less heralded.
Florida-born Nate Campbell headlines ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights" card in his backyard in Tampa, where he'll try to stay in the lightweight title picture with a 10-rounder against 33-year-old Colombian export Wilson Alcorro.
Campbell, a loser in previous IBO and IBF championship shots against Isaac Hlatshwayo (lightweight, SD 12) and Robbie Peden (super featherweight, TKO 8), is a mandatory challenger for current IBF 135-pound belt-holder Julio Diaz, who must face him by November or be stripped of his title.
Also on the card is middling heavyweight contender DaVarryl Williamson, who dropped a 12-round decision to Byrd in an unsuccessful IBF title try in October 2005 and has fought just once since - defeating previously unbeaten Mike Mollo via fourth-round TKO in May 2006.
Elsewhere, Travis Simms will defend his WBA junior middleweight title at Harbour Yard Arena in Bridgeport, Conn. against unbeaten Haitian-turned-Canadian challenger Joachim Alcine.
It's the first outing as champion for Simms, who won the belt with a ninth-round TKO of first-defense champ Jose Antonio Rivera at the Seminole Hard Rock Arena in Hollywood, Fla. in January.
Also on the Don King-promoted docket is mighty mite Vic Darchinyan, who'll make the sixth defense of his combined IBO/IBF flyweight titles against Filipino-born Nonito Donaire, who's won 16 straight bouts - nine by stoppage - since a unanimous decision loss in his second pro outing.
Former super flyweight kingpin Luis Alberto Garcia rounds out the show's three title bouts with a try for the vacant IBF bantamweight crown against Mexican veteran Genaro Garcia, who lost a 12-round decision to WBC 118-pound champion Hozumi Hasegawa in his last fight eight months ago.