It’s been 11 years since heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis turned back the challenge of the emerging Vitali Klitschko, way back in June of 2003.
Lewis-Klitschko was a very fan-friendly and action-packed bout for the six rounds it lasted. Klitschko actually got the better of the ill-prepared Lewis. When the fight was stopped after the sixth round due to Klitschko’s severely cut and injured left eye, he was leading on all three judges’ cards, 58-56. And since then many have speculated who would’ve won had the fight continued. However, fighters being cut during a bout is nothing new in boxing. Vitali was never cut that bad before or after fighting Lewis – so it must be noted that Lennox really nailed Vitali with a monumental right hand to gash him the way he did. That’s boxing.
Well, in the 11 plus years since Lewis-Klitschko, Vitali and his younger brother Wladimir have dominated the heavyweight division. Since June of 2003, Vitali compiled a record of 13-0 (10) and he didn’t fight for nearly four years between 2004 and 2008. Over that same course of time, Wladimir has gone 23-1 (16). That’s a combined 36-1 (26) since Lennox Lewis, who was clearly the alpha fighter in the division, retired and smartly never once really flirted with making a comeback.
Many observers and fans continue to refuse to give the Klitschkos the due props they deserve and have earned in the ring as professional fighters. But in reality both Vitali and Wladimir are extremely formidable boxers. They’re both very tall and strong and always in top shape. They can box and punch and above all else, they’re very proficient at utilizing their height, reach and unorthodox style. In other words, they were/are more than a tall order for their opponents.
That’s all fine and good. Now the question becomes: If Vitali and Wladimir are the two best heavyweights of the past 10 years—and who would argue that?–who is the third best heavyweight of the last 10 years?
That is a question that is not only impossible to answer, it’s almost unprecedented regarding the top three or perhaps four heavyweights in any decade since the second half of the 20th century.
During the 1950s, Rocky Marciano emerged as the greatest heavyweight, followed by “Jersey” Joe Walcott and Ezzard Charles. Muhammad Ali was the king of the 1960s followed closely by Sonny Liston and “Smokin” Joe Frazier. The 1970s were again owned by Ali, only exchange Liston with George Foreman and Frazier again finishing in the money. Larry Holmes and Mike Tyson owned the 1980s with fighters like Tim Witherspoon, Michael Dokes, Greg Page and Pinklon Thomas, along with one or two others fighting it out for 3rd, 4th and 5th best. Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, Riddick Bowe and Mike Tyson were clearly the best of the best during the 1990s. Compiling the list of the top three or four heavyweights of each decade circa 1950-1999 was easy and didn’t require much more than memory. This is a task much tougher when it comes to trying to list the top three heavyweights during the years 2003-2014. We know the top two, but three? That’s a toughie…
Granted, it would be easy to list the three best heavyweights in between 2000-2009. That list would read Lennox Lewis and Vitali Klitscho followed by Wladimir Klitschko. The problem with that is, Lewis never fought again after mid-2003. So if we’re looking back over the last 11 calendar years, we can’t include Lennox. If we try to list the top three heavyweights since Lewis retired, I can’t come up with the fighter who a bullet-proof case to occupy the third slot. Can you?
The fact that there isn’t one clear candidate to rank as the third best heavyweight of the last 11 years adds credence to the fact that the era in which the brothers have dominated is/was very pedestrian, and that’s being nice. Any fighter that you name, it can be said about them, “Sure, they didn’t compete with either Vitali or Wladimir, but neither did anyone else.” And that’s a fair point. The problem with that is, you can’t say that Manuel Charr, Derek Chisora or Odlanier Solis were all that impressive and stood out in any of their other bouts before or after their fight with Vitali. And the same thing can be said about Alex Leapai, Alexander Povetkin, Mariusz Wach and Tony Thompson before or after they fought Wladimir.
Again, the opponents who challenged Vitali and Wladimir for their titles in most cases failed miserably. And that’s because both brothers were/are that outstanding and formidable. My indictment on the era is based on how their opponents looked when they fought other opponents excluding Vitali and Wladimir. The reality of it is, only David Haye, who is an over-fed cruiserweight, looked impressive a few times before and after losing a lopsided decision to Wladmir Klitschko a little over three years ago. And Haye is a legitimately good fighter who was at or near his prime when he fought Wladimir. Haye would probably be favored over any opponent either brother fought on the night they faced them starting in late 2003 or early 2004.
It’s amazing that there are no heavyweights in the last eleven years who warrant serious consideration as to who the third best heavyweight over that time period is. That says a lot for how soft the era was/is. And it also says something on behalf of both brothers – and that they did what they were supposed to do when confronted by limited opposition… and that’s dominate an overwhelming majority of the time.
However, the era will be remembered just as much for its ineptness as much as the Klitschko’s domination. Regardless of how one evaluates Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko regarding their ring superiority, it’s very damning that most respected boxing historians living today need to look on Boxrec to try and remember who they fought in trying to find one outstanding opponent who contended for the heavyweight title between the years 2004-2014.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com