You did not have to be a particularly educated student of the savage science to note after two rounds on Saturday evening that Wladimir Klitschko was essentially performing with one hand tied behind his back against Calvin Brock at Madison Square Garden.
Dr. Steelhammer, a patient dissector of foes, relied almost exclusively on his left jab, sometimes thrown with serious intent, sometimes thrown with halfhearted effort as part of his lengthy sizing-up process.
And when he finally took Emanuel Steward’s advice, and released his right from solitary confinement, the Boxing Banker, the 31-year-old Brock, paid dearly.
In the Garden, and after doing some unofficial polling on message boards and with random fans in attendance, the consensus take on the main event was that Brock looked in over his head, tight and nervous, and the 6-6, 241-pound Klitschko took too long to get down to business and take out the overmatched North Carolinian.
Brock, at 6-2, 224½ pounds, drew impolite guffaws in the first as the big Ukrainian tossed him to and fro with embarrassing ease. At that moment you could flash back to Emanuel Steward labeling Shannon Briggs a more dangerous foe than Brock, and thoroughly sign off on that notion.
Before the post-bout press conference kicked off, the super-amiable Briggs held court, and rightfully chided Brock for not pressuring Klitschko, whose stamina and cool can be challenged with concerted pressure, which Brock did not apply. The Brooklyn-born Briggs, the poster child for asthmatics everywhere, would set forth on Klitschko, given the opportunity, with the singularity of purpose of a bill collector, he said.
I cannot fault Brock totally for his strategy. He was after all physically overmatched, with an inadequate reach and physique to match up favorably with the powerful PhD. He did winning work with his meaningful rights to the body that made Wlads’ left side blush with discomfort. He took what was given to him, really. But to best attack Wlad, I believe, you must take not what’s not given to you. You must press the matter, get Wlad into a mental danger zone. You must give him a bad acid flashback with an assault that makes him think he’s back in with Corrie Sanders. The born-again Brock, by all accounts a solid citizen, owns a demeanor that will no doubt make him a respected member of his community, but never a feared practitioner of this bloodsport.
But will Klitschko ever be seen as the same?
Steward, before the bout, was positioning his man as moving towards a level of skillfulness and regard that would approach his last best student, Lennox Lewis. He was talking about some of Wlad’s tools in glowing fashion, comparing them with some of the all-time Canastotans. But this effort, against Brock, I suspect, will quell that mindset from Manny.
Let me back off a half step, here.
This was a win, let’s bottom line it. Wlad beat an undefeated fighter, another undefeated fighter. And he did it in exclamatory style, planting Brock’s face deep into the grimy canvas at MSG.
But until he delivered that exclamation point, too many question marks lingered in the minds of the 14,000 fans in the Garden and those watching on HBO who were hoping for Wlad to put a firm stamp on the division.
Why is he waiting so long?
Is there a clause in his contract that forbids him from throwing a right hand till the fifth, so the fight will go a certain distance?
Will Wlad ever be truly healed, mentally, from his brown acid bad trips against Sanders and Lamon Brewster?
Reading body language is an inexact proposition so this has to qualify as speculation, somewhat. But Steward didn’t look or act overly joyous at the post-fight press conference. He was slumped in his chair, that trademark grin was absent.
“We wanted him to throw rights earlier,” Steward said when a writer asked about that tardy right hand.
Wlad followed that critique by saying that in his mind, the left is the key to everything, and he wanted to make sure that when he unleashed the right, it would find its target.
“I wanted to make sure it landed not in air, but on chin,” he said.
That’s a wise tactic, to be sure.
But “wise” tactics aren’t what most of us who want one clear heavyweight leviathan to separate himself from the pack of tweeners.
We desire closers, finishers, we want sharks in trunks.
We don’t tune in to the heavyweights to marvel at a measured performance most notable for its dazzling game plan.
“It was not one of his better performances,” Steward said. “He was a little more patient than he should have been.”
Perfectly said, Emanuel.
“It’s all’s well that ends well,” the trainer said. “He will be better his next fight though.”
So for now, comparisons with Hall of Famers will cease.
On Saturday, Wladimir Klitschko got the job done, but in underwhelming fashion. He did it in New York, where we expect more. In the Greatest City in the World, we expect greatness. Not solidity, or competence.
Klitschko is a well-spoken gentleman who I will admit a certain newfound bias for: with his worldly outlook and his philanthropic works, he is the antidote to the walking, talking “black eyes” who have too often represented the sport and the division.
His humility, too, is one of his most admirable assets, and he rightfully showed it after the Brock bout.
“I intend to unify the heavyweight division,” Klitschko said. “I don’t consider myself the real champion. Only the guy who unifies the championships will be respected.”
Wladimir Klitschko, age 30, a veteran of 50 professional fights, is still a work in progress, and it remains to be seen whether he can still be the fighter Steward hopes and thinks he can be.