When world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko retires from boxing in the not too distant future, one thing is certain. Nothing will ever be the same. Maybe that’s a good thing, but it’s probably not. At 39, the seemingly unbeatable champion has done more than fully harvest a once ripe heavyweight division. In fact, Klitschko has hammered it into submission so severely that its future as a viable enterprise in the modern boxing landscape appears as uncertain as it’s ever looked at the end of any comparably great championship reign. Klitschko’s dominance into his late 30’s is on par with 38 year-old, recently retired 49-0 superstar Floyd “Money” Mayweather. Boxing eras are ending fast, friends. Will new ones begin in their place?
Reigning and defending for nearly a decade with double digit title defenses, Klitschko (64-3, 53 KOs) holds four individual “major” title belts (WBA, IBF, WBO & IBO) and ALL of them will become vacant when and if “Dr. Steelhammer” leaves boxing as its universally recognized heavyweight champion.
That means four “new” champions to go along with an already “regular” WBA belt holder in Ruslan Chagaev and a dubious WBC titlist named Deontay Wilder, the current American King of the nowhere gang. You do the fuzzy math fight fans, that’s four (or five) illegitimate claims to an otherwise endangered species. That’s right, the heavyweight championship of the world as we’ve know it to be–a real thing–is at risk of becoming extinct.
If a new consensus world heavyweight champion somehow emerges from the alphabet soup group’s scrambling and the boxing media’s posturing, this would surely be an accident, albeit a welcomed one. Unfortunately, no official mechanism in boxing currently exists to produce a legitimate lineal successor to Klitschko when he inevitably vacates after a couple more successful title defenses.
In the “good old days” of our sport, the number one contender would fight the number two contender and the winner was the new champ. When Rocky Marciano retired as undefeated heavyweight champion of the world in 1956, it was decided that Floyd Patterson would face Archie Moore for the vacant title. Today, nobody can even say who the two top heavyweight “contenders” actually are, let alone make them face off for the universally recognized heavyweight championship.
Today, more than ever, the governing bodies of boxing, whose worthless belts will be up for grabs, exist to be independent money making organizations. Unifying and consolidating their various titles for the benefit of posterity is not in their economic interests and they will not do it voluntarily—if at all. “Boxing is not like other sports,” is to put it mildly. Truthfully, it’s the traveling circus of gypsies, tramps, and thieves.
The same muddled scenario was true when Lennox Lewis retired as heavyweight champion in 2004. The one and only heavyweight championship of the one and only known world was left vacant for an unusually long time. This was detrimental to the reputation of a title once held by ring legends Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson, and Evander Holyfield.
American audiences more or less tuned out the past ten years while heavyweight championship boxing turned into an endless AC/DC—Red Hot Chili Peppers concert series in Europe. “Nobody’s putting up a fight,” is right. “Knock out, but boy you better come to,” rings true. It’s been a long time since anyone not named Klitschko has been heavyweight champion of the world. Critics who deride Wladimir as bad chinned and boring should at least appreciate him and his brother Vitali for respecting the world heavyweight championship enough to piece it all back together after Lewis left it shattered.
For that, boxing ought to be grateful to the Klitschko brothers, not resentful. Despite their refusal to ever fight each other for the heavyweight championship of each other, they were good stewards of a singular title once thought to be the most prestigious in all of sports. Like Mayweather Jr., the Klitschkos will only be fully appreciated when they’re long gone and never coming back. When the aforementioned Lewis retired as champion after a controversial TKO win in 2003 against the now retired Vitali Klitschko, we at least knew the heavyweight division had a future in the two young Klitschko brothers.
They were rightly viewed as the heavyweight heir apparents. Today, the heavyweight division is an old, tired weight class, beaten down over time by the dull wielding of an aging champion’s trusty steel hammer. With the exception of 26 year-old British Olympic hopeful Anthony Joshua, (14-0, 14 KOs) there are no equivalent up and comers out there today.
The name of the next world heavyweight champion is anyone’s guess. In an April 2014 interview with KO Digest, Klitschko’s hammer might have hit the nail square on the head when he said, “It’s always been in the history of boxing that suddenly some guy, like a Mike Tyson, just pops up and conquers. Suddenly he was right there in the picture.””Maybe there is somebody [out there] we didn’t even talk about,” added Klitschko to the conversation. “If you look at the scale of the markets, it goes up and down. In boxing, it’s the same. You have some times that are exciting, and you have some times that are less exciting. It’s always been like that,” the calculating champion concluded.
The U.K.’s 6’9 Tyson Fury could’ve “popped up and conquered” on October 24 when the giant gypsy was to challenge King Klitschko for the championship in Düsseldorf, Germany on HBO. Fury, 27 and unbeaten at 24-0, with 18 KOs, talks a good game, something that’s been sorely lacking in heavyweight boxing under Klitschko’s über dignified rule. To wit: Fury had promised to “l–k this Klit,” insisting Klitschko has never fought a “Gypsy King” like him. According to Klitschko, Fury is “young and wet behind his ears.” That fight, as we know, has been postponed, because Wlad got injured. Regardless, it looks increasingly likely that the herculean Ukrainian will soon retire as world heavyweight champion. That leaves a motley crew of disjointed fighters to pick up the pieces and fill in the blanks. Alexander Povetkin, Bryant Jennings, Czar Glazkov, Bermane Stiverne, and Andy Ruiz Jr. are the best of a sad lot.
The future of boxing’s former glamour division doesn’t look quite so bright, does it? As the late great Yogi Berra once famously said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.”In fact, life after King Klitschko looks downright depressing.
Can Tyson Fury or Deontay Wilder or Anthony Joshua be the next Mike Tyson?Only time will tell if boxing’s heavyweight market can recover from its long recession.
Credentialed boxing writer Jeffrey Freeman grew up in the City of Champions, Brockton, Massachusetts. A member of the RingTV expert writer prediction panel for three years, the author also serves as Editor-in-Chief of the popular boxing website KO Digest (WWW.KODigest.TV) where he is affectionately known as “KO” by his many friends and readers in the boxing community.