Count me among those who had never seen Wladimir Klitschko vs. Ross “The Boss” Puritty. But cruising Youtube the other day, I found that Universum has a high res version, which they are probably all too happy to post, considering Wlad no longer makes them money. Puritty might have gotten beat by a lot of guys and treated like another opponent, but I want to go by what I see in this fight. He may have been dismissed as a journeyman but that doesn’t do him justice. First of all, he was big: A thick, solid, natural 250-pounder with good height and reach. He had meaty legs and slabs of hard beef around his midsection. A cement head on top of a sturdy neck. His hands were heavy and he was at ease working behind a steady forward-march and disciplined high guard. He was at a good age for a heavy (32) and had 38 fights against a Who’s Who before meeting a 22-year-old Wlad in 1998.

Anyone who thinks Wlad is just a headhunter needs to watch this fight. He may be that now but not then. He went to the body with wicked pinpoint shots to both sides and had a particularly hard straight right to the gut. But Puritty took it like few can. He demonstrated the power of pressure. Even though Wlad was winning every round and typically impressive, he was backing up a lot and forced to move more than he would’ve liked. His energy expenditure had to concern him and his corner. As the rounds accumulated, he slowly degenerated. His coordination became suspect, with rubbery legs and heavy arms; he looked 5% worse each round after the 5th. Lesser men than Puritty wouldn’t have been able to do this but he showed a serious tolerance to punches to the head and body.

He applied steady pressure on Wlad that wore down the younger man mentally and physically. Even though his feet were slow and he didn’t throw a lot of punches, he was strong enough to let most of the head shots ricochet off his gloves. He made Wlad work while conserving his own energy. Wlad ran a marathon in the ring, working the perimeter, rather than commanding the center with his formidable jab and turning his man. It was a skill he had yet to learn. Round by round, Wlad got floppier as he battled fatigue, having worked hard to gain such a commanding lead. Like a marathoner approaching the wall at the 20-mile mark, he had been reduced to crawling across the finish line.

Anyone that says Wald has no heart is wrong. He was spent well before the championship rounds, but trying like hell to keep it together. Fatigue had not made him a coward; just vulnerable. His desire to win was unremitting. But as with what later happened against Lamon Brewster’s bullish strength, big punch, determination, and almost inhuman capacity for punishment, Wlad’s Drago-like body began to betray him, which ushered in panic. He was used to hitting guys and having them fall over like toy soldiers. The American kept inching forward and didn’t mind the punches too much or even losing the first 10 rounds. Like Schmeling said of Louis, Puritty’s body language broadcast: I see something.

On this night Wlad reminded me of Amir Kahn today, particularly in his last fight against Marcos Maidana. Loaded with athletic talent, there’s a tension in their bodies that makes them subject to attrition. For all their gifts, they would not be classified as boxing iron men. That is not to say that they aren’t warriors or champions. But Jake LaMotta or George Chuvalo they are not. Forget the old chin issue, though that is hardly their strength. They are at their best when fresh. They look superb early on, or when they can dictate the pace. Once weariness sets in after they’ve been redlining beyond what can be sustained for 36 minutes, they fall apart. Those long appendages start to flail and their weakness registers everywhere. Never seen Money May like this; his rhythm, coordination, and overall body control looks the same in the last round as the first. B-Hop at his best is like this too; he does the controlling. If he’s losing control or getting tired, he’ll stop the fight for five minutes and claim a debilitating foul, as he did against Joe Calzaghe or Roy Jones Jr. in their rematch. So while Wlad was winning all those rounds, he wasn’t really in charge—his control faded as the rounds mounted.

Wlad has grown wiser and more conservative with age. He has developed into a legitimately great champion. But we will never see him go out guns-ablazing like he once did, which is bad for the fans but good for his ledger. If today’s version of Wlad fought the same well-conditioned, unintimidated Puritty that showed up in ‘98, the results might be the same. The blueprint is there. Brewster and Puritty were the right type of vets that withstood the onslaught. And when the stunning Ukrainian machine began to succumb to the elements, they had the power to finish the job.

But who today can follow this plan and hope to succeed?

There’s another approach to derailing Wlad, à la Corrie Sanders. This is the one David Haye would do well to follow. Is it a plan, though, or just faith in a puncher’s chance? Which is just a prayer that timing, speed and alignment converge in a moment of extraordinary physics that rearrange Klitschko’s fine porcelain features. For all of Haye’s explosiveness and power—that he may or may not carry to heavyweight—he’s not in Sanders’ category as a puncher. Of the South African’s 31 KO’s, 28 came within three rounds or less. 18 opponents never made it out of the first (although Puritty went the 12-round distance with him).

Adamek? Povetkin? Haye? Solis (should he get in shape and upset big brother Vitali this March)? Looks like Wladimir’s reign will go unthreatened for as long as he likes.

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