“It was dreadful.”
That was Hall of Fame broadcaster Al Bernstein’s appraisal of Wladimir Klitschko’s unanimous decision victory over top contender Alexander Povetkin on Saturday in Moscow.
“Povetkin is a limited fighter. He couldn’t figure out what to do, and so we had this amazingly repetitive fight. Povetkin comes in, Wladimir leans on him and the referee breaks them. I mean, if it happened once, it happened 50 times in that fight.”
Bernstein is wrong. According to an astute TSS forum poster, there were actually 181 such instances in the fight.
“It was just astonishing,” said Bernstein.
Bernstein said it wasn’t all Klitschko’s doing. He said Povetkin played a part in it by not changing his approach as the fight progressed despite suffering four knockdowns in the contest and losing just about every single round.
“Povetkin’s corner couldn’t figure out one single way to have him do one different thing? How do you do the same thing over and over again for 12 rounds knowing the result is going to be exactly the same? I mean, I don’t even know. If you and I were playing in a racquetball game, and you kept doing the same thing over and over again and kept getting a point, even if I didn’t think I was capable of doing something else, I would try something else.”
Still, Bernstein said the brunt of the criticism should be aimed squarely at Klitschko. More specifically, Bernstein said he believes Klitschko’s skills are beginning to erode, and that it’s up to him to figure out why.
“This wasn’t the best version of Wladimir Klitschko,” he said. “Look, it’s easy to pile on. Wladimir is 37 years old now. Manny [Steward’s] passing is going to be difficult for him. This is in no way a rap against Jonathan Banks. I’m not trying to put him down in any way. But some of the things that Manny instilled in him, things that made him watchable and hard to beat, are things you can see eroding now. They may be eroding because of age. They may be eroding because of not as much daily attention. But in this fight…this was not a precise version of Wladimir Klitschko.”
Klitschko has now accomplished just about everything a heavyweight champion could. Since grabbing the IBF and IBO title straps in 2006 against Chris Byrd, Wladimir has proven to be the best heavyweight in the world. He’s unified every championship belt he can, save the WBC version his brother owns, and is clearly the top heavyweight on the planet. In fact, Klitschko’s dominance compares quite well statistically with the very best heavyweights ever.
Klitsckho’s title reign of over seven years is the second longest in history (Joe Louis held it for nearly 12 years). Saturday’s win was his 15th consecutive title defense, which is third most ever behind only Joe Louis (25) and Larry Holmes (19). Moreover, Klitschko is now tied with Muhammad Ali for second most total title bout wins (22).
That’s great company. Unfortunately for Klitschko, dominance is only half of the equation. The other is good, old-fashioned entertainment value.
“That match was not exciting. It was a match that needed to happen because Povetkin had built himself to a certain point,” Bernstein said. “But it does typify that right now…in terms of depth, the heavyweight division is not a good place. It’s not just that it’s not American…it’s that the division is not compelling enough.”
Bernstein said it was difficult for non-American heavyweights to gain traction with fans on this side of the pond, but not impossible.
“Lennox Lewis eventually caught on enough in America so that people got a kick out of him. He fought the people he was supposed to fight. He was more entertaining than Klitschko. Yeah, there were moments [during his career] where he fought in the same style, but Lennox was more entertaining. He was better than Klitschko to be perfectly candid. He was more fluid and more entertaining.”