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Heavyweight division starting to perk up

Picking on the heavyweight division these days is pretty easy. In an era when champion brothers Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko stand head and shoulders above the rest of the field, the popular refrain is that there's no competition in the weight class for them and that the division is a waste of time.

Between them, the brothers Klitschko have, in their current title reigns, combined to make 18 defenses since 2006. They have dominated every single one of the fights, without exception, and won 13 of them by knockout.

It doesn't help matters, at least on this side of the pond, that there is such a dearth of American contenders, especially when Americans used to own the division.

And because, as we all know, the Klitschkos have said since Day 1 that they will never fight each other, many have just written off the division. HBO and Showtime, the leaders in American televised boxing, have all but given up on it. Even when HBO dipped its toe back into the heavyweight business last year, making a deal with the Klitschkos to televise Wladimir's defense against David Haye and Vitali's against Tomasz Adamek, it didn't get one competitive round out of the 22 combined in the two fights. Maybe the most compelling drama in both bouts was watching Haye embarrass himself by blaming his loss on a sore toe and then whipping out the digit to show HBO analyst Larry Merchant in his postfight interview.

But you know what? A funny thing happened on the way to the heavyweight black hole: The division is actually starting to perk up. There are reasons to watch, fighters to be interested in and, lately, some pretty good bouts.

Two weeks ago, Vitali rolled to a lopsided unanimous decision against British crazy man Dereck Chisora, essentially as a one-armed fighter because he suffered a left shoulder ligament tear early in the fight. It was the first of three heavyweight title bouts in three weeks on American premium network Epix, which has picked up the slack for HBO and Showtime. But although it was a one-sided fight on the scorecards, it was an absolutely entertaining scrap (watched by more than 13 million people on German network RTL), probably Vitali's most exciting bout since his 2004 brawl with Corrie Sanders. And Chisora certainly spiced things up with his loose cannon behavior before the fight (when he slapped Vitali at the weigh-in and then spit water in Wladimir's face in the ring before the bout began) and after the fight, when Chisora instigated a brawl with Haye at the press conference. Chisora behaved like a buffoon, but for better or worse, he brought a lot of attention and excitement to the division.

It wasn't Chisora's first entertaining fight, either. His loss (a robbery!) to Robert Helenius (another young contender to keep an eye on) in December was an entertaining fight, as was his collision last summer with England's up-and-coming Tyson Fury, who also has been in some entertaining bouts.

Just last week, Alexander Povetkin defended his version of the title against Marco Huck, a cruiserweight titleholder who moved up in weight. It was a terrific fight -- one of the best in the heavyweight division in a long time -- even if the majority decision awarding the decision to Povetkin wasn't so good.

But Povetkin is a normal-sized heavyweight, not a giant like the Klitschkos, so Huck wasn't overmatched despite his moving up to heavyweight for the first time. Povetkin has been in other good fights as well.

If you can put the Klitschkos to the side for just a minute, there are good fights that can be made involving Chisora (assuming he keeps his license following his latest antics), Adamek (who returns from his loss to Vitali on March 24) and the always-entertaining Cristobal Arreola (who two weeks ago won a fight that lasted only one round but was quite exciting).

Hopefully, Huck will stick around at heavyweight, too, because a pressure fighter with a big right hand and a big heart is always welcome.

Even though it wasn't the most significant heavyweight fight, Americans Bryant Jennings and Maurice Byarm, who were pressed into action at the last minute on Jan. 21 when the original main event fell out, produced a fun heavyweight fight in the first main event of the new "Fight Night" series on NBC Sports Net.

There are other heavyweights to watch who could develop, including Seth Mitchell (America's current best hope); younger and rawer American Deontay Wilder (a 2008 Olympic medalist who is 21-0 with 21 KOs and has a massive right hand but who hasn't fought anyone with a pulse); British giant David Price (a 2008 Olympic medalist who is 12-0 with 10 KOs); Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev (15-0 with 7 KOs, who goes for the vacant European title March 31); and Ireland-based Cuban Mike Perez (18-0, 12 KOs), who has looked good in recent fights.

So even though Wladimir is expected to roll through yet another title defense, this time against former cruiserweight champion Jean-Marc Mormeck, on Saturday, just as he and his brother have made routine, it doesn't mean the heavyweight division is dead.

You just have to respect the historic dominance of the Klitschko brothers and then take a minute to look beyond them for satisfaction. If you do, you'll find that the heavyweight division isn't so bad after all.