It may have escaped notice, in the murky state of boxing's heavyweight division, but by the latest census there are now four heavyweight champions of the world. Two more were acclaimed the other night in a Don King Productions, Inc. title carnival in Buffalo.
Greg Page was unhorsed from his World Boxing Association title by one Tony Tubbs, and earlier in the evening on the same card Tim Witherspoon won recognition as world champion of the North American Boxing Federation by knocking out James Broad, representing 261 pounds of flab.
Witherspoon's feat offers a commentary on the whole tawdry heavyweight division: First time a heavyweight championship of the world was ever won in a preliminary bout. Such is the wretched state of the heavyweights.
No boxing championship was ever more populated. Already in place as the most recognized champ is Larry Holmes (47-0), representing something called the International Boxing Federation; also Pinklon Thomas, who fights in the cause of the World Boxing Council as its heavyweight champ.
Gone are those wonderful, simple times when everybody know who, exactly, was heavyweight champion of the world. The title was absolute and monolithic. It was owned by the likes of Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali and Smokin' Joe. There were no pretenders. The champ was the champ.
The heavyweights used to be the glamor division of the business. Now they are sub-class, forced to operate on network television, the low-rent district of the business, as opposed to the middleweights Hagler-Hearns, who could draw $20 on closed circuit. Before that the big gates were commanded by a welterweight, Sugar Ray Leonard.
There no longer is any focus on the heavyweight division, so cheapened by the proliferation of titles and acronyms: WBC, WBA, NABF, IBF, alphabet soup. Holmes himself walked out of the WBA title and kissed off the WBC, too, proclaiming himself the world champion of the new outfit, the International Boxing Federation. The NABF, the North American Boxing Association, was confected somewhat later.
The high irony is that Holmes, unbeaten in 47 fights and apparently with all the credentials for demigod status, actually has been no asset to the division.
In the ring, he is the mechanic, with his standup fighting style that is overly patient and lacking in delight. The most stirring moments of his fights, it may be said, were provided by Mike Weaver, Renaldo Snipes and Earnie Shavers, three B-League opponents, who suddenly decked him. Nor has Holmes' boasting about all the money he has made and will continue to make promoted much endearment of him.
For the last couple of years, he has been fighting "my last fight" and threatening to retire. It hasn't evoked any protest marches. Nor were any cheers heard when he told USA Today recently that he was taking his wife's advice again, and would fight "for a few more dollars."
He has already nominated his next victim, the widely unacclaimed Carl (The Truth) Williams, in defense of his IBF title May 20 in Reno. It may be said the boxing world and others can hardly wait.
Don King Productions hasn't discouraged the proliferation of titles. Networks place some store by them, even the specious kind. King has the help of his son Carl in bringing fighters into the ring. Carl King manages or controls 26 fighters, he told The New York Times. Need a match? It could be put to music: "Here a King . . . There a King . . . Everywhere a King-King." An index to the quality of some of the heavyweight champions is offered by Page, who in losing in title to to Tubbs, was suffering his third defeat of his last four bouts. The WBC champion, Thomas, beat Page before Tubbs did.
Thomas beat Page with one hand, his left. His right was either useless or nonexistent. Against Tubbs the other night, Page started fast in the first three rounds and for the next 12 showed the same reluctance that got him licked against Thomas.
Tubbs taunted champion Page throughout the bout, holding his hands low and daring Page to come in and fight. Tubbs won a unanimous decision, but he didn't beat much. Neither did Witherspoon, who dispatched Broad in two.
That brings up the fascination of those career records they have compiled, numbers that defy total belief: Page 24-4, Broad 17-2, Tubbs 23-0, Witherspoon 19-2. One is pardoned for wondering just who were those quaint characters these guys have been licking so consistently on their own way to semi-obscurity.