- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 11, 2004

Tonight the best of the heavyweight division — at least according to HBO — will be on display in Las Vegas when World Boxing Council champion Vitali Klitschko defends his title against Danny Williams. It has all the trappings of a fight that will capture the attention of sports fans and revitalize the carcass known as boxing.

Right.

After all, you have a heavyweight champion from Ukraine who looks as if he had a frequent buyer’s card at BALCO labs fighting a British heavyweight whose claim to fame before his shocking knockout of Mike Tyson in June was that he would sometimes cry before going into the ring — and sometimes would be so scared he wouldn’t show up for a fight.

Unfortunately, heavyweight fighting today doesn’t get any better than this.

It makes you long for the days when the division was in the tank 20 years ago, when champions like Tim Witherspoon wasted their talents and opportunities — but at least we knew who they were. At least they weren’t imported stiffs.

If you are a fight fan, tonight’s bout makes you wish for a savior, someone who can re-ignite the division and become a star who fans will know and care about — a Mike Tyson or Evander Holyfield (who, if he keeps fighting, will someday have federal legislation named after him to protect fighters from themselves). Or perhaps a Witherspoon.

Not Tim. He is 46-years-old and had his chance and blew it, although by the time Tim Witherspoon finally got his act together — and finally freed himself from his war with promoter Don King — he remained one of the better fighters in the division, even at 39.

No, we can only hope that the future of the heavyweight division will be in the ring at the Washington Convention Center tomorrow evening against James Daniels from Laurel as part of the Raging Promotions fight show, when 23-year-old Chazz Witherspoon — the younger cousin of the former heavyweight champion — makes his professional debut.

If Chazz Witherspoon proves to be the goods — and he is almost too good to be true — HBO won’t have to prop up a champion whose career highlight is a loss to Lennox Lewis or a challenger one fight removed from being a club fighter.

Chazz was a high school basketball star in Paulsboro, N.J., who had a chance to play in college for a number of schools. Instead, he accepted an academic scholarship from St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia, where, at 23, he will graduate in May with a major in pharmaceutical marketing.

“That’s where the money is at,” Chazz said. “Pharmaceuticals and companies pay great starting salaries and have terrific benefits, including giving you a car to use. The pharmaceutical industry is here to stay. People are living longer and more medicines are being developed and sold because of that.”

When was the last time you heard a fighter talk about legal pharmaceutical sales?

He already is being billed as the “Mensa Mauler,” and someone suggested “Brainiac Brawler” as a nickname.

But unless the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Witherspoon can fight, all he will be is a drug salesman with a unique hobby.

He has fought for less than three years but has shown tremendous natural ability, enough to walk to the championship of the National Golden Gloves tournament by being the first fighter in its history to win all five of his fights by knockout. He wound up an alternate on the U.S. Olympic team, even though he only had 32 fights — a rookie by amateur boxing standards. He expects to be a better professional than amateur fighter.

“I throw body punches and in the amateurs, with computer scoring, they tend not to score body punches too much. I jab a lot, too,” said Chazz, who was drawn to boxing by his cousin’s career.

“I thought about my future playing basketball. I didn’t think the NBA was an option. I could have possibly played overseas — I had some offers to do that — but I didn’t want to be that far away from my family. I thought about boxing because Tim had done it, so I took a shot. I ended up being OK at it, so I stuck with it. Now I am trying my hand at a pro career.”

Chazz has spoken at length to cousin Tim about the dangers that lay ahead, both in and out of the ring.

“He has told me to be careful and watch out for the pitfalls in the business,” Chazz said. “He tells me to make sure I always train and not to let up, to keep working hard.”

It doesn’t appear, though, that Chazz is predisposed to make the same mistakes as Tim, based on the foundation he has built for himself to get this far.

“My mother and my father raised me to be the man that I am now,” he said. “I have been a blessed individual. I have a good network around me that allows me to be doing what I am doing, with boxing and school. I used to work [delivering pizzas and working for the U.S. Postal Service], but I don’t anymore. It is a juggling act, doing all this, and you have to prioritize and make sure that you don’t let things fall through the cracks.

“I am blessed to be self-motivated. I want to push myself. I know a lot of people aren’t self-motivated, but I will train just as hard as I would train if my coach was there or not. When you are in the ring, it is all on you, so when you hold back on your training, you are only cheating yourself. I truly understand that.”

It’s almost a shame he is becoming a fighter; because his biggest fight will be to keep that protective network and stay motivated, especially if and when he reaches the top — where an annual drug salesman’s salary could pay the room service bill at a big-city heavyweight title fight, like tonight’s bout in Las Vegas.

Chazz believes he has a chance to reach that level of success because of the weak state of the heavyweight division. And he’s right. If Danny Williams can fight for the title (and it would serve HBO right if he wins), any big man out there with any level of talent has a right to believe he could do it as well.

“I think the heavyweight division is one of the most open divisions in boxing right now,” Chazz said. “That’s one of the other things I looked at when I decided to go forward with a professional career. I think if I had been a lighter weight fighter, there are a lot of talented fighters who have been fighting for a long time, with long amateur careers. They are really skilled fighters. In the heavyweight division, you can get away with having a late start like I do. The division is there for the taking by the right fighter.”

The right fighter could save the division. It would be great if Chazz Witherspoon was that fighter.

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