In the ring together, Wladimir Klitschko and … Chauncy Welliver?
“It does seem a little surreal,” Welliver conceded.
Maybe. But professional boxing has made the surreal a craft, and so no one would so much as jack up an eyebrow if come December the Hillyard Hammer is in a ring in Germany, giving it his Rocky-all in a bout for the heavyweight title.
Well, no one except Welliver, that is.
“Send me the paper – I’ll sign,” he said. “You fill in the rest. Fifty bucks, I would do it.”
Fortunately, Welliver has a manager to save him from himself on the financial score. Besides, at the moment this is about matchmaking, not bookkeeping – and making the match remains as much of a long shot as Welliver would be even if he manages to climb into the ring with The Other Klitschko.
Here’s the set-up: Klitschko, the WBO and IBF champion (brother Vitali owns the WBC title), is making a “non-mandatory” defense of his belts in December, meaning he can pick his opponent. Several names have surfaced and been discarded – or disqualified themselves. James Toney, who didn’t do himself any favors by swaggering into the MMA quagmire and losing to Randy Couture, has been deemed unsuitable due to “inactivity.” Contenders such as David Tua and Jean-Marc Mormeck have passed. Ray Austin and Odlanier Solis are matched in an eliminator to face Vitali next year.
So the fight has been offered to young Derek Chisora, the British and Commonwealth champion with all of 14 fights to his name. His people are mulling it over, perhaps wondering if their guy is ready.
Plan B – or would that be Plan L, M or N? – appears to be Chauncy Welliver.
He is, after all, ranked 10th in the most recent WBO rankings, and could be higher in the next set. He has won nine straight fights after a TKO loss to Solis two years ago, a match he took on short notice and waddled into weighing 282 pounds. He has a couple of those oddly named regional belts from the WBO and WBC to prop up his legitimacy, but what’s really made him legitimate is a new determination and dedication after years of clowning around the division’s fringes.
He’s not just a nickname, some XXXXL love handles and a shtick anymore.
“What happened with the Solis fight is that Chauncy realized maybe he’d been underestimating himself,” said Roland Jankelson, Welliver’s manager. “It was no longer, ‘I’m here to entertain people and I don’t need to prepare.’ That’s when the switch went on. The weight has always been a problem, and this kind of training doesn’t come easy for him. But he’s worked hard to change his physique and conditioning, and it’s happening. You see him and ask, ‘Are you sure this is the same guy?’ ”
For his last fight – an August defense of his interim WBO Asia Pacific title over Daniel Tai – Welliver weighed 240 pounds. He may be under that later this month when he’s scheduled to defend his WBC Continental Americas belt against Brad Gregory in Detroit.
Look, Adonis can rest easy. But now Welliver doesn’t look like the imposter inside the ropes.
Plus, there’s a niche out there to be filled. Why shouldn’t he fill it?
“No disrespect to the Klitschkos, who are very skilled guys and champions,” said Jankelson, “but because they have centered the heavyweight division out of the United States for so long now, the heavyweight situation has really been diminished.
“That’s why you see the ‘big’ fights in the smaller weight classes. Eventually, the Klitschkos – either of their own volition or not – will relinquish that control, and when the heavyweight division becomes interesting again to boxing, to sports fans and the media in the U.S., it will be a whole different ballgame. The field is wide open for a guy who can fight and who has the personality to connect with the public. Chauncy is a charismatic guy. He just had to get things together.”
Of course, getting things together with Klitschko is beyond his control at the moment. The likelihood is Chisora will get the next chance. So Welliver will try to position himself better. He’s been chasing his New Zealand pal Tua for a fight that could put the winner in line for Klitschko’s next mandatory defense. And Jankelson is eying a fight in Spokane early in 2011, as it’s been more than three years since Welliver fought locally.
“We’re just going to do it,” said Jankelson, who would likely promote the fight himself. “It’s important to Chauncy, and I’m here to help him achieve what he wants.”
To make it real, and not just surreal.