Gone are the days when the flagship division in boxing was ruled by the Americans. With all four of the heavyweight champions being from the former Soviet Union, the heavyweight division is now a Russian empire, and it's time for the Unification of the Soviets.
Wladimir Klitschko, the Ring Magazine's number one heavyweight and considered by virtually every expert as the best of the four titleholders, is the man on mission. He is set to begin his journey at the Mecca of Boxing and end it in a Unified Kingdom. The first stop – WBO titlist Sultan Ibragimov.
The IBF champion puts his title on line against his fellow WBO titlist Sultan Ibragimov in a long-waited heavyweight unification at Madison Square Garden tonight, paving the way for a possible undisputed heavyweight champion–a designation that has been unfilled since the departure of the universally recognized champion Lennox Lewis in 2004.
Although Klitschko and Ibragimov share much common ground – they are both Olympic medalists, both from the former Soviet Union and both world heavyweight champions, the upcoming showdown between the two compatriots is a sheer mismatch in terms of size, strength and quality of oppositions.
Klitschko, standing at 6'6″ and weighing 243Ibs, is the today's super-size giant while the 6'2″, 219-pound Ibragimov is more typical of an average man among the bigs.
The Olympic gold medalist from the Ukraine has reeled off seven straight wins, only one of which went the distance, and that came when facing the iron-chinned Samuel Peter.
Since dethroning the then IBF champion Chris Byrd with a seventh-round TKO in 2006, Klitschko has knocked out the previously top-rated Calvin Brock cold, swept the big Ray Austin within three and jabbed his way to victory over the former WBO titleholder Lamon Brewster in six rounds. Blessed with the huge 81-inch reach and his terrifying punching power, he has become a Killing Machine, pure and simple.
Although Ibragimov has a KO percentage of 74%, his power isn't as impressive. The flabby Olympic silver medalist from Russia won the WBO title in a sleeper of a fight against an overweight, lethargic Shannon Briggs last June and defended the title in another forgettable performance against the wore-torn Evander Holyfield; both went to the distance.
Apart from a bulky Briggs and a shopworn Holyfield, the only name that carries some weight on Ibzagimov's resume is Ray Austin, yet he barely scraped a draw against Austin after suffering a knockdown in the 10th whereas Klitschko blew out the American big man in a three-round mismatch.
In spite of the fact that Klitschko is a year younger than the 32-year-old Ibragimov, he has more than double the pro experience and has ventured a fair amount of tough opponents: Corrie Sanders, Samuel Peter, Lamon Brewster, the list goes on and on.
But does the little man stand any chance against the Ukrainian Giant?
Maybe his southpaw stance could cause Klitschko into some troubles? That probably won't be the case, however. Klitschko has fought five left handers, going 4-1, losing only to the heavy hitter Corrie Sanders. He registered a decision victory and a seventh round TKO against Chris Byrd, a first round stoppage of Najee Shaheed and a fifth-round KO of Joseph Chingangu. It demonstrates that Klitschko could comfortably handle the southpaws.
Granted that Ibragimov has exceptionally good speed among the heavyweights, but will it pose any danger to the much bigger yet equally intelligent Dr. Hammer? Probably not. The only way for Ibragimov to win is to outbox Klitschko, using his fast hands and movement to his full advantage. However, have you heard Klitschko lose by virtue of a decision? Never! All three of his losses as a pro have come by knockout. There's no way Ibragimov could go the distance with Klitschko.
The scenario will most likely unfold like this: Klitschko starts coolly and calmly, working his thudding jabs to wear Ibragimov down and keep him from establishing any real momentum, and the “Dr. Hammer” right hand will find its target in the late rounds.
Zhenyu Li is the columnist for People's Daily online and a member of the International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org