The cruiserweight division has long been the Rodney Dangerfield of boxing divisions. It gets no respect. Heavyweight is the traditional glamor class. Light heavyweight, when it has the right fighters (like it does right now) has no trouble grabbing center stage. But in the United States, at least, it almost never happens that a cruiserweight bout draws the attention of the boxing world.
There’s no obvious reason that this should be the case. In MMA, some of the very biggest stars of all time, from Chuck Liddell to Jon Jones, have been light heavyweights, competing at 205. But 200-pound cruiserweights in boxing toil in something like obscurity.
There is no doubt a historical aspect to this. The cruiserweight division was not established until 1980, which makes it a baby in terms of boxing’s long and fabled history. Many of the iconic heavyweights, such as Rocky Marciano and Jack Dempsey, were really cruiserweights by modern standards. I think the existence of a special weight class for 200-pound fighters casts a shadow over the pleasant myth that the likes of the Rock could compete on even terms with a modern, monster heavyweight like Vitali Klitschko.
The talent pool for cruiserweight is further diminished by the fact that any cruiser with the skill or power to compete at heavyweight invariably does so. A fighter good enough to be a champion at cruiserweight can make better money as a contender at heavyweight.
Still, there is unquestionably a need for the weight class. With modern sports science, it’s not difficult for an athletic big man to reach 230-240 pounds while maintaining a high level of lean muscle mass. Over 12 pounds, those 40+ pounds are just too much for a smaller man to contender with. A classic example of this was former cruiserweight champion Steven Cunningham’s fight in 2013 with current heavyweight champion Tyson Fury. Cunningham knocked Fury flat on his back and dominated the early rounds of the fights, but eventually Fury’s six-inch height and 60-pound weight advantages were simply too much. He was worn down and knocked out in Round 6.
In Europe, especially the former Soviet Bloc, the respect level for cruiserweights is much higher. Not surprisingly, a majority of the best 200-pound fighters hail from that region. Polish WBO champion Krzysztof Glowacki has won two of the most exciting fights of the past year, knocking out German Marco Huck to win the title last year and flooring Cunningham four times in a defense earlier this year.
Another top cruiserweight is in action this weekend, when undefeated Latvian Mairis Briedis faces Nigerian native Olanrewaju Durodola in his native country. Briedis recorded one of the best knockouts of 2015 when he knocked out former heavyweight title challenger Manuel Charr with a beautiful right uppercut/left hook combination. Charr crashed through the ropes, face down, unconscious even before he began to fall.
Briedis and Glowacki as perfect examples of the potential for great, exciting fights in the cruiserweight division. A trained, well-conditioned fighter at 200 pounds is still much bigger than the average person. There’s the potential for explosive power and athleticism. American fans should catch up and get with the program.