New Zealand boxing's next big bout could be ... no, not Sonny Bill Williams... little-known American-Kiwi Chauncy Welliver fighting veteran US heavyweight Oliver McCall, a meeting which could bring Welliver closer to an even more resonant international heavyweight clash than his victory over Bert Cooper yesterday.
That's as long as Welliver did not break a bone in his hand - as some reports had it - in his 10-round victory over the tough Cooper, a well-known US heavyweight veteran with some big names on his boxing CV.
If not, the theory goes as follows: a bout in New Zealand against former world champion (and conqueror of Lennox Lewis) McCall and then, maybe, a title fight against one of the Klitchsko brothers, Wladimir or Vitali. Don't laugh. These are strange days in heavyweight boxing and David Tua had a fight in the offing against Wladimir, the dominant force in heavyweight boxing these days, had he managed to beat US journeyman Monte Barrett.
The Klitschkos have run out of credible contenders. Few had heard of Wladimir's latest victim, Frenchman Jean-Marc Mormeck, and in July he will be reduced to fighting 40-year-old Tony Thompson, an American whom he knocked out in a title defence in 2008.
Vitali not long ago dealt with Derek Chisora, a big-talking fighter whom few had heard of outside the UK.
Welliver is the 28-year-old originally from Spokane, Washington, but now New Zealand-based after first coming here as a sparring partner for Shane Cameron several years ago - and developing a liking for the country. He beat 46-year-old Cooper in the US yesterday, winning a unanimous points decision, retaining his WBC Continental Americas title.
Cooper, while well past his best, still has names like Evander Holyfield, Riddick Bowe and George Foreman on his record. Welliver has had 62 fights - a lot for a 28-year-old - and has been climbing up the credibility charts after linking with new manager Roland Jankelson. The latter is a wealthy backer who trained two heavyweights to title fights with one, Pinklon Thomas, WBC heavyweight champion in 1984 and 1985. His other title contender, Joe Hipp, is now Welliver's trainer and was the first native American to fight for a heavyweight title (ironically, one of his losses was to Cooper in 1991).
Welliver has risen to sixth in the WBC world rankings and seventh in the WBO's. He is a busy boxer - fighting 17 times since September 2009 - defending his WBC Continental Americas belt. A lesser title, it has nevertheless had some class holders including Holyfield, Michael Moorer, Leon Spinks, James Toney and others. Welliver, under Jankelson's guidance, has sometimes defended that title in China, where one of his bouts drew a TV audience of 15 million.
There is no confirmation that a Welliver-McCall fight will happen; approaches have been made but no decisions. But the bout against Cooper and the McCall approach shows that Welliver is beginning to take on bigger names.
WBO supervisor in New Zealand, John Glozier, said Welliver had approached McCall's camp but nothing had been settled yet: "I know he is trying to fight McCall here in New Zealand. People should not think Chauncy couldn't get a title shot because they haven't heard of him. The Klitschkos are getting on a bit [Vitali is 40 now] and a lot of the guys they are fighting ... there's not a lot of talent around."
Welliver's profile has been low up to now. He came into many of his fights overweight and under-prepared. He has addressed that and is a heavyweight with good hand speed and durability although maybe lacking a real power punch. Boxing being what it is, you don't have to be the baddest, meanest man on the planet to get a title shot. Politics, good management, connections and convenience all play a role.
Welliver called out Tua recently, offering a $500,000 purse but, with Tua seemingly sliding into retirement after his twin reverses against Barrett and the Cameron-Barrett bout (a fight with little hanging on it anyway) now postponed from next month to July, there is a gap in New Zealand's sparse boxing calendar.
McCall is best known for being one of only two boxers to defeat Lewis during his 10 years as heavyweight champion of the world; his surprise knockout of a complacent Lewis in 1994 one of the great modern surprises in the division. McCall was soundly beaten in the re-match three years later where, famously, the referee stopped the fight when a disturbed McCall seemingly had a breakdown, refusing to fight in two rounds and bursting into tears.
Now 46 and, like so many other heavyweights, on a comeback, McCall has some impressive scalps on his career belt - Lewis, Henry Akinwande, Oleg Maskaev, Larry Holmes and others. McCall's comeback began in 2010 and his best showing, after losing to tough fringe contender Timur Ibragimov on points, was a surprise split decision over another contender, Fres Oquendo. He has now picked up a couple of minor belts and, even at 46, has never been knocked down in his career, though he has lost a few fights on TKOs.
His many problems with recreational drugs and arrests are seemingly behind him and, if the fight with Welliver does come off, both will approach it as a bridge to a fight against one of the Klitschkos.By Paul Lewis Email Paul