This is Wladimir's signature fight, and it comes late, at age 35. Wlad has to be hope he isn't following Michael Spinks' footsteps…
Wladimir Klitschko 55-3 (49) has held the the IBF heavyweight title since April of 2006 and the WBO version of it since February of 2008. Which means that for at least three plus years Klitschko has held no less than half of the so-called legitimate titles that a heavyweight fighting in 2011 can hold, with the WBA and WBC being the others. Vitali Klitschko, Wladimir's older brother, is the current WBC title holder and his next opponent, David Haye 25-1 (23), is in possession of the WBA title. Klitschko has gone 13-0 (10) since he last lost to Lamon Brewster, who he stopped in a 2007 rematch almost threes after he lost to Brewster via a 5th round stoppage back in April of 2004.
Presently, Klitschko is in the midst of the most dominant and impressive run of his career. In his last 10 consecutive title bouts, Wladimir has been utterly dominant. Not only has he remained unbeaten, you could count the rounds he's lost on one hand. In reality, he hasn't been involved in a fight that could even be considered competitive since he won a unanimous decision over the unbeaten and overrated Samuel Peter in September of 2005 in a title elimination bout. And I couldn't care less how the fight was scored officially. Wladimir won at least eight of the 12-rounds the fight went, despite going down three times because of him being hit and pushed as he was trying to get away from the wild swinging Peter, who more resembled a bull in a china shop than an upper-tier heavyweight contender.
Since Klitschko, 35, signed to meet the cocky and tough talking former cruiserweight title holder, David Haye, the odds favoring him have dropped. As of this writing Wladimir is less than a 2-1 favorite to retain his IBF/WBO titles. In part because he's now in his mid-thirties and also because many observers and pundits believe Haye is the most skilled and dangerous opponent he'll have been confronted by since he began his current run of 13 consecutive wins back in late 2004.
Unfortunately for Wladimir Klitschko, this will become his signature fight and probably the one he'll be most remembered by. For Klitschko, the perception of his career and title tenure is that he's feasted on very inferior and limited opposition. With Haye being seen as his biggest challenge, he can't lose. And if he does, especially if it's in a devastating fashion, it'll be almost as if his four plus year strangle hold on half of the heavyweight titles never even happened. I'm not saying that's fair or accurate, but that's the way it is.
Only former heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis was older than Wladimir Klitschko when he fought what basically turned out to be his career defining fight against Mike Tyson at age 37. Yes, I've excluded both Jersey Joe Walcott and George Foreman because they both beat many hall of famers before they defeated Ezzard Charles and Michael Moorer after the age of 35. And as we've seen during the last 25 or 30 years, boxing can be unforgiving even to certified all-time great fighters who lost their signature fight at the end of their career.
Here's an example that should scare Klitschko. Think about former light heavyweight/heavyweight champ Michael Spinks and how he's thought of today by some fans, if he even is. Spinks was destroyed by a prime Mike Tyson in one round in his last fight, and that's what most boxing fans and writers sadly remember about him. Yet Spinks was one of the most accomplished fighters and champions of boxing's modern era. Think about Spinks for a moment. Over half of his bouts were title fights. He dominated one of, if not the deepest era in light heavyweight history. Spinks could use the ring and box, step back and fight as a counter-puncher or press the action and fight as the attacker. Michael had dynamite in both hands and scored one-punch knockouts with his hook, uppercut and right hand over first class opposition (how many all-time greats can say that). Not to mention he never lost at his natural weight while fighting a resume of who's who at 175. And lastly, he was the first reigning light heavyweight champ to defeat the reigning heavyweight champ, Larry Holmes, who happened to be undefeated when they fought. Sure, Holmes was 36 but Spinks still accomplished what 48 heavyweights couldn't, and Michael clearly won their first fight to make history.
Today, most fans wrongly remember Michael Spinks for losing to Mike Tyson, a fighter who was younger, stronger, bigger and had the perfect style to beat him. In addition to that, many, despite them being wrong, flirted with the thought that Tyson was the greatest heavyweight champ in history the night he stopped Spinks in 91 seconds. Some fighters don't get the benefit of history for one reason or another, and Michael Spinks is one of the greatest examples one could use to illustrate that. And if it can happen to Spinks, think about how tough history will be on Wladimir Klitschko if he loses to David Haye. Wladimir doesn't posses half the credentials or resume that Spinks did, so you better believe Klitschko will be brutalized by the boxing media and fans if he loses his signature bout at the age of 35 at the end of his career. And if Haye himself proves to be a less than dominant champion (in the event he beats Klitschko), Wladimir's legacy will suffer even more.
Again, I'm not saying whether or not that's fair – it's just the way it will unfold if Wladimir Klitschko loses to David Haye early next month. And for that reason, among others, Klitschko must beat Haye and capture his WBA title belt. No, beating Haye won't solidify Klitschko as a great fighter. Actually, if Klitschko wins, it'll be said that Haye was an overfed cruiserweight with a porcelain chin. But a win is a win and Klitschko will own three of the four universally recognized heavyweight title belts in boxing. And the debate will continue as to how worthy or unworthy he is in comparison to past title holders and champs who held the title an extended length of time. Which is a life-time better than the other discussion that'll be unfolding if he loses to Haye.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com