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HOF Columnist Jerry Izenberg on Wilder and Golden Age of Heavyweight Boxing

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Jerry Izenberg will tell you he’s covered boxing for so long that the only reason he missed the fight between Cain and Abel was due to a big traffic jam writes Ryan Greene.

In all seriousness, as a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, he’s a man who has covered the sport since the 1950s and literally written the book on the history and the golden age of heavyweight boxing.

He authored the recently released Once There Were Giants: The Golden Age of Heavyweight Boxing, which chronicles the heavyweight division’s “golden age,” spanning from 1962-97. He’s continued to be an authority on the heavyweight division – and the fight game in general – even after that era came to a close.

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The weight class may never reach the peak it once did. But Izenberg believes that American world champion Deontay Wilder (37-0, 36 KO), who defends his WBC crown for the fifth time Saturday night in the main event of a Premier Boxing Champions event on FOX at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT, has the potential to be the division’s next true ambassador.

“Our guy from Alabama here, he could be a tremendous fighter,” Izenberg said. “I can’t compare Deontay with anyone (from the golden age) right now, because he’s not a finished product. For his sake and for boxing’s sake, I hope that he continues to evolve and mature. Then you can judge him. His strengths are size and power, and they both go together in his case. He has a tremendous right hand.”

Wilder’s title defense on Saturday comes against unbeaten challenger Gerald Washington (18-0-1, 12 KO). He’s made it clear that should he take care of business Saturday night, he’s eyeing a world title unification fight next, with the goal of unifying as many heavyweight titles as he can in 2017.

During the heyday of heavyweight boxing, Izenberg believes that it was more than talent that made the top guys like Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes and others great champions. It was the level of competition that was available to them all the way up the ladder to the top.

The depth of tough competition in those days made contenders into seasoned champions, and separated the best from the rest. Even though the heavyweight field is thinner now, Izenberg still believes a worthy leader of the pack will be crowned soon.

“Right now, it’s sort of (a process of) eliminating the weak,” he said. “What’s going to happen is we’re going to get down to two people (Saturday) in a fight for the future.”

That means an imminent collision between the winner of Wilder vs. Washington and the April 29 title bout between Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko – a fight that will give one man a rightful claim to the throne.

“In a fight against the winner of that other fight, Wilder might emerge as a heavyweight whose credentials are unchallenged,” he added.

Izenberg eloquently shares a story told to him by Frazier, who once said that the most important fight of his career was not a clash with Ali or George Foreman, but rather against a tough veteran named George “Scrap Iron” Johnson in May 1967. It was Frazier’s 16th pro fight, coming almost three years before he beat Jimmy Ellis to become the lineal heavyweight champion of the world.

Frazier won the fight via a gritty unanimous decision. He later told Izenberg that that fight taught him more about himself and what it would take to be a true champion than any of the marquee bouts that were ahead for him.

While Wilder hasn’t yet been pushed in that manner in 37 pro fights, he’s had to dig deep in terms of his heart and courage as recently as his last bout. In a title defense last July against veteran Chris Arreola, he suffered a broken right hand and torn right biceps in the early rounds, forcing Wilder to close the show using mostly his left.

It’s a type of courage that Wilder will likely need tap into again to become the true king in the new age of heavyweight boxing.

“Larry Holmes won the title just that way,” Izenberg recalled. “That’s a courage with which, if you can bottle it up and inject every fighter with it, every fight would be a world championship fight. And (Wilder) has that. We know that much about him, we definitely know that about him.”

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