Wladimir Klitschko was once considered the savior of the heavyweight division.
He stood 6-foot-6, weighed 240 pounds, and moved remarkably well for a man that size. He had good fundamental skills, worked behind a snapping jab, fired in combination, and always seemed to be in marvelous shape.
His 2002 destruction of Ray Mercer was an example of his prowess. Klitschko, who towered over Mercer, kept the proper distance at all times, unloaded his combinations, and backed off. And though Mercer was a long way from his prime, he was still something of a useful heavyweight.
And he was helpless.
The win came ridiculously easy. And the stunning 1998 loss to journeyman Ross Puritty was considered an aberration.
The only part of Klitschko’s game in question was his ability to take a punch. Accompanying intangibles such as heart, guts and mental fortitude were also unknowns.
But, come on, this guy was a physical specimen. Surely, when God put this piece of human machinery together, he equipped it with a strong chin to go with all of his other strong body parts.
Just like John Tate, the WBA heavyweight champion from 1979-80, Klitschko was one of those heavyweights who looked like Tarzan and took shots to the mug like Jane. You remember Tate: He looked like the heir apparent to Muhammad Ali, dominated South African power punchers Kallie Knoetze and Gerrie Coetzee, and seemed unbreakable.
For more than 14 rounds on March 31, 1980, Tate lived up to his reputation against mediocre challenger Mike Weaver. He dominated Weaver, almost toyed with him, using a stiff jab, flashy, long-range combinations and good fundamental skills.
Then Weaver rammed a mammoth left hook into Tate’s jaw with 45 seconds remaining in the fight, and Tate crashed to the deck face-first before a horrified hometown crowd in Knoxville, Tenn.
Tate didn’t move a muscle as he rested peacefully in the same position for well over 10 seconds. Probably about five minutes.
Three months later, Tate’s china chin was exposed again, this time by another limited brawler, Trevor Berbick. Berbick knocked Tate cold in 9 rounds, and “Big John,” the supposed heir apparent to Ali, never challenged for a world title again.
Klitschko’s odyssey is eerily similar.
In March 2003, the streaking Wladimir took on the semi-retired Corrie Sanders. Sanders was a pretty good big man in his day, but hadn’t fought forever. Klitschko was using him as a tune-up for a proposed crack at heavyweight king Lennox Lewis.
However, Sanders was still fast despite his advanced years. And he was a southpaw. And, as it turned out, Klitschko knew nothing about them.
In a pitiful performance that brought back memories of Sean O’Grady’s 1982 demise at the hands of expected tune-up Andrew Ganigan, Klitschko was dropped too many times to remember and completely crushed by Sanders.
In less than two rounds, Klitschko went from Rocky Marciano to Duane Bobick.
Like Tate, he was exposed.
A year later, Klitschko met up with the unspectacular Lamon Brewster. For four rounds, Klitschko was perfect. He knocked Brewster down. He hurt him. He staggered him. It was a cakewalk.
Then, Klitschko fell apart.
Suddenly exhausted, Klitschko lumbered around like a neighborhood drunk in round five. Brewster, knowing he had a spent fighter in front of him, attacked. And, at the end of the round, he dropped Klitschko on his face.
Without having connected with a punch.
The fight was stopped, and the Wladimir Klitschko’s career was pretty much dead.
John Tate all over again.
Saturday, Klitschko will meet undefeated power puncher Samuel Peter in an attempt to right his career. But history has dictated that, once a heavyweight is exposed like Klitschko was exposed, he should probably give it up for good.
Wladimir Klitschko doesn’t have a chin. And that’s not a good thing when you’re a boxer.
So don’t expect any miracles Saturday night.