The first gloved heavyweight champion, the great John L. Sullivan, was a loudmouthed drunk who relied on brute strength to overwhelm his opponents. The first time he faced a real sweet scientist, one that hadn’t aged beyond his worth, he was beaten till he dropped.
His successor, dainty boxer and wannabe actor, James J. Corbett, was knocked to his knees by a single body blow from a middleweight.
That middleweight, Bob Fitzsimmons, was overwhelmed by a giant slugger who basically relied on wearing down his opponents through equal parts toughness and girth until they were too tired to defend themselves.
The giant slugger, James J. Jeffries, retired undefeated before racial prejudice brought him back to the ring to face a 5-loss, 7-draw boxer named Jack Johnson who toyed with and humiliated him until knocking him out in the fifteenth round.
Johnson was beaten up by a giant, slow-footed fighter who didn’t even really like boxing. After he was knocked out, he was so embarrassed by it that he claimed he let the other guy win.
That giant slug of a man, Jess Willard, was butchered by a tiny hobo in the most one-sided beat down in boxing history.
That hobo, Jack Dempsey, was easily out-boxed by a careful technician named Gene Tunney, who barely even wanted to be heavyweight champion.
Tunney was knocked out by that same hobo in the very next fight, but was saved by a referee’s long ten count. He held onto win by decision, fought once more then plumb quit.
Max Schmeling was a Nazi.
His successor, Jack Sharkey, lost to a mob-controlled fighter who looked and fought more like a professional wrestler than a boxer.
That big oaf, Primo Carnera, couldn’t throw a straight jab-cross to save his life.
The man who saved the world from Carnera’s title reign, Max Baer, hit like a mule. But he didn’t take boxing seriously and was defeated by maybe the worst heavyweight champion ever.
James J. Braddock was a dockworker who got lucky against Baer, then held onto the title as long as he could until he was whacked by Joe Louis in eight rounds.
Joe Louis held the heavyweight championship for 12 years, but he fought bums and palookas most of his career and managed to get himself knocked down by the likes of Braddock.
Ezzard Charles was a blown up light heavyweight who was most famous for beating up Louis when the former heavyweight champion had returned from retirement and was an old man.
Jersey Joe Walcott was an even older man who was barely good enough to defeat Charles twice in three fights and got knocked out by a crude slugger named Rocky Marciano.
Marciano retired undefeated but he was short, stocky and cut easily. Marciano had terrible footwork and relied mostly on power and gumption.
Floyd Patterson was such a weirdo that he would dress up in costumes after he got knocked out in fights, which was often.
Sonny Liston knocked Patterson down a bazillion times in their two fights but was a mob-controlled fighter who got whipped by a loudmouth kid from Louisville.
That kid, Cassius Clay, later changed his name to Muhammad Ali for political reasons. Ali was all about pushing political propaganda because it was the right thing to do, but he called his opponents every name in the book so he could make a few dollars more on fight night.
Joe Frazier was tough as nails, but he was dumb enough to stand in front of George Foreman like a heavy bag both times he fought him, and managed to lose two out of three against Ali, his biggest and meanest rival.
Foreman was great when guys would stand in front of him like Frazier did, but had trouble with fighters who used their brains for more than just animal instincts. Foreman got beat up by an old version of Ali and wasn’t mentally strong enough to come back from it until years later.
Leon Spinks couldn’t fight his way out of a paper bag.
Larry Holmes was just a poor man’s Ali. He was slower, dumber and much more boring outside the ring than Ali and never nearly as popular. He almost eclipsed Marciano’s 49-0 record but then lost to a light heavyweight twice that Marciano would have crushed within three rounds.
That light heavyweight, Michael Spinks, was a better fighter than his brother, Leon, but was only good enough to outpoint the poor man’s Ali. The best thing you can say about Spinks is that he was dumb enough to fight a young Mike Tyson but smart enough to stay on the canvas when he was knocked down in Round 1.
Tyson, a convicted rapist, was great when people were scared of him. But when they weren’t, he was just like every other schoolyard bully who met his match: dead meat.
Buster Douglas fought one good fight. He beat Tyson like a red-headed stepchild but then ballooned up like a cow and got hammered by a spindly-legged cruiserweight named Evander Holyfield.
Holyfield tried to fight bigger guys by standing in front of them and slugging it out. That was fine against bums and fatties, but when he faced top-level fighters like Riddick Bowe and Lennox Lewis, he almost always lost.
Bowe had real talent but wasted it because he was an idiot.
Michael Moorer only became heavyweight champion because he was too afraid of his trainer to stop hitting Holyfield when the latter was suffering from heart palpitations. He then got knocked out by a 45-year-old Foreman.
Nobody cares about Shannon Briggs or Hasim Rahman.
Lennox Lewis was just bigger than everyone else. The first time he picked on someone his own size who could actually fight, Vitali Klitschko, he got lucky by winning on cuts, then retired so he’d never have to fight him again.
The truth can be twisted to whatever you want it to be so long as you choose to ignore whatever points you don’t feel like agreeing with. In reality, all these men were the heavyweight champion of the world at one time or another, an accomplishment unlike any other. There are only a handful of people in the history of the sport who were good enough to earn that distinction.
These men did it.
It’s easy to nitpick this or that about Wladimir Klitschko’s fighting style or his level of his competition. But Klitschko is king of the mountain and no one has been able to knock him off his perch. No one. And when someone does, or if he retires and someone else wears the crown because of it, he’ll certainly have done more in boxing than most.
Because, like the men listed above, Klitschko will have been the heavyweight champion of the world. So if you’re the type who buys into narratives like those presented above about anyone who has achieved such a lofty goal, you probably believe the same kinds of things about Klitschko, too. But you shouldn’t. Because like the rest of these guys, Klitschko is probably much better than you think.