[UPDATED] Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix Writes The Single Worst Boxing Column In Any Mainstream Publication In Forever

[MAJOR UPDATE: All right then, he says it WAS a mix-up. He corrected it this afternoon at around 3 p.m. to say “best heavyweight.” So if you’re just stumbling across this, enjoy my attack on someone for having an accidental goofy opinion for a day!]

I tried to understand, I really did. I even tried to talk to him about it. It had to be some kind of mix-up, this column by Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix headlined thusly: “Klitschko simply best fighter of generation.”

It’s been hours, and he hasn’t responded. I can only assume he really, really means it. And if he does, this is the worst boxing piece I’ve seen under the banner of a major publication in… ever? I don’t know. I haven’t read all of them ever. It’s certainly the worst I’ve seen since I began writing about boxing myself in 2007.

Let’s go deep on this terdsak, (pale imitation of) Fire Joe Morgan-style.

History may have a few questions for Wladimir Klitschko. It may question how his chin would hold up to the powerful right hand of George Foreman, how he would have countered the speed of Muhammad Ali or how he would have withstood the relentless pressure of Mike Tyson.

I’m with you so far, Chris, even if the personification of history as a question-asker is a bit on the “forced” side.

History, however, cannot question one irrefutable fact: Wladimir Klitschko is the best fighter of his generation.

NO. NO SWEET LORD NO. THAT IS SO WRONG. What “history” is Chris referring to? Is “History D. Freisner” the name of a crazy man on the street near SI’s palatial headquarters who shouts about how the government is having sex with his ex-wife? Since history is anthropomorphized in that sentence in a way that allows it to answer questions, I can only assume that Chris is talking about a human being whose first name is “History.” If this is who Chris is talking about, I can’t say whether Mr. Freisner would or could refute this “fact,” as I don’t know him personally.

But it’s not the most stable premise for a column, if so.

If it’s not that, it just happens to be way worse.

It’s because what Chris has put forward here is not a “fact,” since these matters are subjective, and it most certainly isn’t “irrefutable.” It is refutable. So very, very refutable.

Ask 1,000 boxing fans who the best fighter of Klitschko’s generation is. Eight hundred would probably tell you Manny Pacquiao, age 31. One hundred ninety-eight would probably tell you Floyd Mayweather, age 33. Only two people would tell you Wladimir Klitschko, age 34: Chris Mannix and History D. Freisner.

I don’t know why I’m even arguing this, but for comparison’s sake, Pacquiao’s last opponent, Joshua Clottey, probably wouldn’t crack the top 10 best opponents Pacquiao has beaten in his career. Yet Clottey is better than anyone Klitschko has beaten except Chris Byrd.

If you want to be generous to Chris and say Klitschko’s the back end of the generation — let’s assume 10 years defines the borders of a generation, rather than, say, 20 — then you have to contend with Roy Jones, age 41; Joe Calzaghe, age 38; Marco Antonio Barrera, age 36; Juan Manuel Marquez, age 37; Felix Trinidad, age 37; and several others. Don’t make me argue this one. If you don’t think Roy Jones is better than Klitschko, nothing but chemicals can help you.

So naturally you’re eager to hear Chris’ explanation of why Klitschko is “irrefutably” the best fighter of his generation.

Klitschko (55-3, 49 KOs) reminded us of just how good he really is last month, when he delivered a stunning 10th-round knockout of Samuel Peter. A forgiving judge or a member of the Peter family might have given the ex-champion a round or two, but the outcome was already decided when a cluster of combinations from Klitschko sent Peter to the canvas like a tree falling in the forest.

It looked easy. Klitschko’s fights usually do. Under the guidance of Emmanuel Steward, Klitschko has become a master of using the jab to keep his opponents away from him and to soften them up for thudding combinations. The win over Peter was preceded by knockouts of Eddie Chambers, Ruslan Chagaev and Hasim Rahman. In each of those fights, you would be hard-pressed to find a single round to take away from Klitschko.

And that’s the sum total of Chris’ argument. There’s no point even going into the rest of the column, because there’s no further explanation from Chris about why Klitschko is so great that no one can possibly argue with the Hard Truth that he is the best fighter in ten years, one direction or the other. Heck, why even compare Klitschko to Pacquiao or Mayweather or Jones? It’s just obvious. You might even say irrefutable, although you probably wouldn’t, because you aren’t Chris.

This part of Chris’ piece does have some irrefutable parts. Klitschko did beat Sam Peter, unranked in the top 10 in the division by Ring magazine, and he did it easily. He did it so easily Peter was like a tree falling in a forest. That’s what the greatest fighters of generations do, you know. They make sub-top-10 boxers fall. Like a tree. In the forest. There’s a veritable forest of fallen fighters out there. It’s gross and nobody likes to go hiking in it, because knocked out fighters don’t make as pleasurable scenery as, say, logs, and they smell worse than woodland wildflowers because they are still sweaty.

Those wins over Chambers and Chagaev were much more commendable, for sure. Both were arguably top-5 opponents. They got there legitimately. But let’s not confuse them for great boxers. Chagaev, for instance, got his ranking by barely beating John Ruiz and barely beating Nicolay Valuev. When I said that Clottey was probably a better opponent than every one of Klitschko’s, I was including Chagaev. If you shrunk Chagaev down to welterweight and made him fight Clottey, Clottey would win. If you blew Clottey up to the size of Chagaev and made them fight, Clottey also would win. Maybe you think it’s not that obvious, but if you took some of Pacquiao’s other wins and did a similar experiment — say, Miguel Cotto, Barrera, Marquez, Erik Morales, etc. — there’s just no comparison. Except maybe Byrd. Maybe.

And, hey, Klitschko’s pretty good. But he’s fighting in a fairly weak heavyweight division by comparison to the era of Muhammad Ali, sure, or even by the overlapping Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield-Riddick Bowe-Lennox Lewis eras of the last 20-30 years. Klitschko’s name belongs with those names, in the pantheon of dominant heavyweights of recent vintage. If you said Klitschko was the best heavyweight of his generation, you would have an argument, although some people would point to Klitschko’s brother Vitali.

I wondered if that’s what Chris meant, so I asked. Best heavyweight of his generation, right? But if it is what he meant, he hasn’t taken the opportunity to correct it. The column has been up on SI’s website since 2:39 p.m.

So we’re left with this, the most nonsensical sentence to appear in a worldwide publication’s boxing column in three years, but also possibly since the dawn of time. That last part’s really hard to verify.

Nor is this the first time Chris has said something silly, like the time he said Juan Diaz landed 400 jabs and 296 total punches, or a variety of other things Chris has said that BLH has made fun of dating back to some of my earliest days as a boxing writer. But mostly he hasn’t been this silly in three years, but also possibly since the dawn of time. I’ve even credited him at times for his reporting.

I know what you’re thinking. “Tim, you’re jealous. You wish you wrote for Sports Illustrated. It is an august publication, and you are a mere boxing blogger.”

I’ll grant you that. Chris gets to sit in front rows at fights more often than I do. More people read SI than TQBR. I’d trade places with him in a second.

But as a gesture of my magnanimity, I’ll wager a guess about what I’d do if SI were to approach me with a magical wish and said, “Tim, we will replace Chris Mannix because you’re right — he’s just too focused on his basketball writing duties not to say fantastically, laughably erroneous things about boxing. But there’s a condition. We have to replace him with someone other than you, because you were an asshole who made fun of us.”

I would shed a tear about my accursed plight. I would also have a long list of suggested replacements.

Alternately, Chris can be reformed. Maybe he can have an editor! I assume he doesn’t. And make it an editor who understands boxing! That way, next time Chris goes “Mark my words”… I — nope. I can’t come up with the hypothetical sentence equally preposterous to “History, however, cannot question one irrefutable fact: Wladimir Klitschko is the best fighter of his generation” that this knowledgeable boxing editor would veto. But that’s what he’s there for, this editor; he’s an emergency backup plan for the unimaginable badness.

And that’s an irrefutable fact, you sassy history you.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (http://www.tbrb.org). He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.