With the fast approaching IBF heavyweight title fight this coming Saturday between champion Charles Martin and challenger Anthony Joshua, I found myself asking the question – is it all too easy to secure the heavyweight title and even easier still to get a shot at a title nowadays?
On April 6th, 1998, a frail and disorientated 78 year old man was found wrapped in a urine drenched bed sheet weighing little more than 110lbs. He had been living in a filthy, unheated attic of his daughter and son in law’s home in Collinwood, Cleveland, USA.
Jimmy Bivins was hospitalized after his discovery in Cleveland after police found him wasting away in appalling conditions.
From fighting great fighters like Archie Moore, Ezzard Charles, Joey Maxim and Gus Lesnevich, Jimmy Bivins the one time time heavyweight contender was now fighting a different fight.
He was fighting just to survive.
It’s fair to say Jimmy Bivins was a champion in all but name. Born in an era and a time ravaged by war, with no realistic chance of winning the title but as William Nack stated in his 1999 Sports Illustrated article:
“Bivins may have been the greatest modern heavyweight who never got a shot at [the] crown.”
With Bivins’ ability, talent and skill who could argue that if he was fighting today within this current crop of heavyweight champions, that he would have at least got one shot at a title?
In fact, he would have been spoiled for choice in regards which title to opt for. In a professional career spanning 16 plus year, Bivins fought 11 fighters who at one time or another, held different world championships belts, beating eight of them in the process and still no title shot was made available to him?
In 1942 Bivins was ranked the no. 1 contender in both the heavyweight and light-heavyweight divisions and yet for reasons reasons unbeknownst to me, was never offered a title shot.
The best reason offered probably came from the man himself when he recalled:9.
“This mob guy from New York talked to me. He said I should play ball with him. Shoot, I told him I wasn’t a ballplayer, I’m a fighter.”
The nearest Jimmy Bivins got to anything approaching a title was in 1943, with the absence of the then heavyweight champion Joe Louis who was serving in the Army at the time.
Bivins won the unsanctioned title of ‘duration champion’ but only for and as the title suggests, the duration of World War II or until Joe Louis had returned to the ring.
And still Bivins was never afforded a title shot. How times have changed.
Charles Martin is a heavyweight champion in today’s times and Anthony Joshua is a challenger but in truth, through no fault of their own.
Both men are not really on reflection at that stage in their respective careers, if the truth be told. Their current standing as such is probably unwarranted.
This isn’t just indicative of the heavyweight division but a characteristic of boxing in general.
It serves to promote the appearance that in modern boxing and not just in the heavyweight division, but at any weight, a title shot or a title more often than not comes prematurely – and before the ability of the fighter and his body of work dictates the chance.
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