He really was a poor man’s Klitschko, and he stood right in front of Wladimir with his head straight up and offered little or no movement. Yes, that's basically the strategy the slower-handed Kubrat Pulev 20-1 (11) attempted to beat the best heavyweight in the world, Wladimir Klitschko 63-3 (53), with this past weekend.
Pulev was every bit as crude stylistically as most perceived him to be. He was a sitting duck for Klitschko's right hands and left hooks. Pulev was dropped in the first round by a lead left-hook that Wladimir sneaked in around Kubrat's right hand. Pulev was visibly hurt, was dropped again and barely made it out of the first round. By the fifth round he was being battered and was stopped via a single lead left hook to the chin. But give Pulev credit for trying and not fighting just to survive. He was just out-gunned by a markedly better and more complete fighter.
Pulev is a very big man and attempted to manhandle and rough up Klitschko, however Wladimir answered back. In this fight we saw for one of the few times how athletic Wladimir is for such a big man. Starting in the second round, Klitschko sensed his superior advantage in hand-speed and laid back some and pot-shotted Pulev and usually beat him to the punch. It was painfully obvious early on that Klitschko did everything better in the ring than Pulev that one fighter can do over another. He had a better and more imaginative offense, he was quicker in getting off, and once he sensed Pulev had no defense for his lead left hook to the chin, he disguised it beautifully and nailed Pulev almost anytime he cut loose with it.
It was easy to glean that Klitschko was clearly a grade above not just Pulev, but any other heavyweight in the world. You can try all you want to make a case for Tyson Fury, Bermane Stiverne and Deontay Wilder but forget about it. Fury would get pummeled like Pulev, maybe even more so. Stiverne is just too short and would look like Eddie Chambers trying to out-box Klitschko a few years back, and if Wladimir fought Wilder, I wouldn't be the least bit shocked if he put him to sleep with the first big right hand or left-hook he landed.
It's been a decade since Klitschko last lost. You can rip his opposition all you want, but nobody dominates any era if they're not a pretty special or unique fighter. I see Wladimir as being more unique. It's suicide bringing the fight to him and if you try and beat him by waiting and reacting, he'll jab you silly and eventually put you away with a right hand. Wladimir is a lot like Lennox Lewis, the difference being Lewis fought with more confidence and had a much better uppercut. Lennox was also more willing to exchange anywhere in the ring and he could in-fight better. The problem fans and the boxing media have with Wladimir Klitschko is, he so often looks vulnerable and no more than one punch away from being stopped. And you know what, that's the same thing his opponents see when they watch him. Then they get in the ring with him and find out that getting to him and rattling him to where he's not fighting his fight is much tougher than it looks. All he's done is compile a record of 24-2 (19) in title bouts facing every fighter who was qualified to fight him.
To those who haven't seen enough to at least give him his due, face it, the only opponent he has to worry about is father time calling on him. There isn't one heavyweight walking the planet that is big enough, fast enough or good enough to out-box him. Sure, he could be stopped on any given night by a legitimate puncher. All you have to do is point out the fighter who has the power and the means to deliver it against him, and then I'll entertain him losing in 2015.
What's left to be said about the dominance of Wladimir Klitschko that hasn't been said? He just made the 17th consecutive defense of his heavyweight title and only trails Larry Holmes (20) and Joe Louis (25). I have both Louis (2) and Holmes (4) in my all-time top five heavyweight champs. No, I don't think Wladimir is amongst the top-10 all-time great heavyweight champs. But for argument sake, I ask – during Louis' and Holmes' title defenses, who did they defend their titles against who Klitschko wouldn't have beaten?
I've gone over the title record of Joe Louis and you know who I come up with? Max Schmeling. I'm not saying Schmeling would beat Klitschko, but he did beat Joe Louis in his prime. Yes, an unprepared Louis, but Joe scored his most impressive career victory over Max Baer a year before fighting Schmeling the first time. All that I'm saying is, the only fighter Louis defended the title against that wouldn't be considered a “no hope” against Klitschko is Max Schmeling. Conversely, you could say the same about Louis regarding the challengers Wladimir defended against in title bouts, and that is Louis would've beat every opponent Klitschko faced in a title bout, at least theoretically.
What about Holmes?
I've seen practically every fight of Larry's career and all of his title defenses, and the only fighters Holmes defended his title against that wouldn't be a “no hope” opponent against Wladimir are Earnie Shavers, Gerry Cooney and Tim Witherspoon. Yes, Klitschko would probably be favored over all three. But Shavers had the mindset and power to knock Wladimir out if he catches him first, and the undefeated Cooney who Holmes fought was every bit the killer that Wladimir is. Gerry had the style, size and power to blow Klitschko out, or get knocked out in the process. Either way, if you bet on Klitschko to beat Shavers or Cooney, I doubt if you're sitting ringside right before the first round that you're saying to yourself, “I wish I bet more.” And the Witherspoon who fought Holmes had the boxing skill, size and punch to beat Klitschko. Remember, I’m taking the challengers the night they fought Holmes and Klitschko. And like Louis, Holmes would’ve theoretically defeated every challenger Wladimir defended against.
The argument against Klitschko is everybody he fought is terrible so he gets no props for winning in the eyes of many fans and media. I remember thinking during the 1990s that the Lewis, Holyfield, Tyson and Bowe era paled in comparison to the Ali, Foreman, Frazier and Holmes era, and I wasn’t alone in holding that point of view. But you know what, how good do the 1990s heavyweights look to the lot Klitschko has defended his title against circa 2006-2014? In fact looking at today's heavyweight division, the Dokes, Page, Witherspoon, Tubbs, Cooney, Thomas and Berbick era doesn't look as bad as it did when we were living it.
Every era looks better looking back. In 15 years the opponents that Wladimir fought will probably look less pedestrian than they do now. I'm not saying Wladimir is among the top five all-time heavyweight greats, I'm only saying he would've been a handful for any past all-time great.
I'll wait five years after he’s retired before I attempt to rate Wladimir Klitschko. But I can tell you this, if we're taking him and bringing him back to the 1950s, 1960s or 1970s, or bringing those past greats up to 2014, he'll make my top 12 easily on a one-off head to head basis. His size, strength and ability to force his physicality on his opponent is just too much of a factor to discount or dismiss.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com