As go the heavyweights, so goes boxing (or so goes the saying). And over the last several years the big fellas haven't been going much of anywhere. The era of compelling matchups between identifiable stars such as Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis has given way to one of lopsided beatings by Eastern Europeans with consonant-heavy names, a shift that has created a disconnect between fans and the sport's glamour division. "The general public doesn't know who the heavyweight champion is," says promoter and former HBO executive Lou DiBella. "It's a major factor in the decline of boxing."
This year, however, the division could get a much-needed jolt. Last Saturday in Newark, Tomasz Adamek, a Polish-born heavyweight who fights out of New Jersey, defeated Ireland's Kevin McBride in front of a raucous crowd at the Prudential Center. It was Adamek's sixth straight win since moving up from cruiserweight, and it set up a Sept. 10 showdown with Ukrainian WBC titleholder Vitali Klitschko, which will take place in Poland and be televised on a premium U.S. network. That bout will be preceded by a rare unification match this summer between the other Klitschko brother, Wladimir, who holds three alphabet crowns, and WBA champ David Haye of the U.K.—which will be the most anticipated heavyweight fight since Lewis-Tyson in 2002.
The next step, DiBella says, is to find and develop a top American contender. "Tyson is still the most popular heavyweight in America," says the promoter. "We have to change that." The current U.S. heavyweights—who include Chris Arreola, Eddie Chambers and Ray Austin—are limited fighters with microscopic Q ratings. "The heavyweight championship was once one of the greatest trophies in sports," says DiBella. "There has to be an effort to find the next great U.S. fighter. Because a strong American heavyweight champion would be a major asset for the sport."