Let me first just say it’s not their fault. I know this. Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko had nothing to do with the porous nature of their competition. They were simply born at the wrong time. Both of them are smart, skilled, and powerful fighters who do exactly what they are supposed to against inferior opponents. Methodically knock them around until they are on their backs.
They do it well.
However, I fear it will be nearly impossible to ever appropriately rate the two brothers, because for the better part of the last decade plus, the only decent fight the two could have made would have been against each other. No one can blame them for not wanting to play the feud.
Still, the thing is still the thing. Just take a look at the other alphabet champions outside of the Klitschkos since Lennox Lewis left the stage. Chris Byrd, Roy Jones Jr., Corrie Sanders, John Ruiz, Lamon Brewster, Hasim Rahman, Nikolai Valuev, Siarhei Liakhovich, Oleg Maskaev, Shannon Briggs, Ruslan Chagaev, Sultan Ibragimov, Samuel Peter, David Haye, Alexander Povetkin, and finally (whew) Berman Stiverne. That list reads like no one’s “who’s who” of anything.
Outside of Roy Jones Jr. and his carefully crafted successful challenge against the most unwatchable heavyweight champion of all time, John Ruiz, is there a single hall of famer in there? Seriously, take a look at that list again. The best of that crowd is probably—with apologies to Stiverne, who’s still building his resume—Rahman and Brewster. That’s not to say these guys aren’t or weren’t good fighters, but how many were particularly memorable beyond Jones, Rahman, and I suppose Brewster?
For all their dominance, the crowd of “contenders” they have been surrounded by has robbed the Klitschkos of what anyone would call a signature win. Neither fighter has lost a bout in over ten years (Vitali retired in 2012 after beating someone named Manuel Charr), but if you were going to make a list of their great wins, would you even need to sharpen your pencil?
To be fair to Vitali, he may have well been on his way to such a victory when his fight with Lennox Lewis was stopped in the 6th due to a nasty gash over his left eye. He was ahead on all three judge’s cards at the time, but because the injury was caused by a punch, the TKO loss fell on Klitschko. Lewis retired before giving Vitali a rematch. Vitali’s only other career loss was suffered in much the same fashion when he was forced to retire in the 9th after injuring his shoulder against Chris Byrd.
While many often viewed Vitali as a bit of an overachiever, his brother Wladimir went through a significant period where his heart, stamina, and most significantly, his chin, were challenged. It may be hard to believe now, but the more gifted Klitschko suffered a blow out 1st round KO to Ross Purity, a 2nd round TKO to Corrie Sanders, and 5th round TKO to Lamon Brewster. These are losses so stunning they rate up there with Lennox Lewis’ twin beatings from Rahman and Oliver McCall on the shock level.
Wladimir wisely hired Emanuel Steward as a trainer before the first Brewster fight. While that bout ended unceremoniously for the duo, the match would prove to be well made between boxer and guide. Steward not only improved Wladimir’s conditioning, but perhaps more importantly got him to take better advantage of his natural gifts, namely his size and reach. Standing at a towering 6 feet 6 inches tall and with arms to match, Steward taught the younger brother that he didn’t need to take so many chances. He could be patient, win and control rounds, and then when the opportunity presented itself, attack with his massive right hand.
It has served him brilliantly. Unfortunately, there has been no great resistance or challenge to his reign since. Oh sure, David Haye could certainly out-talk him, but he sure as hell couldn’t out fight him. Plus, the cautious style seldom made for crowd-pleasing fights.
Both brothers have often employed their long left arms against the craniums of their opponents in ways that almost remind you of the old comic strips where the muscle bound guy holds off the angry, furiously swinging pipsqueak by simply holding the palm of his outstretched arm against the smaller man’s forehead. That pretty much describes the entirety of the Klitschko reign. Underwhelming, overmatched opposition for more than ten years. It has not been fun to watch.
It has now gotten so bad that Wladimir—the active Klitschko—doesn’t even bother to fight in the States anymore. If you want to see his occasional fights live, they are likely to be on pay cable at 5PM in the afternoon. This is the heavyweight champion of the world and it feels like no one cares.
I know people around the fight game want us to get excited about Saturday’s tilt between Stiverne and KO artist Deontay Wilder, and while they may be a good match for each other, I feel like I’ve already seen this movie before. Chris Arreola, anyone? Wilder does have one solid win over former champion Liakhovich, but the rest of his record consists largely of beat downs over moonlighting postal worker types. Stiverne dusted Arreola twice, but also owns a draw against Charles Davis and a 4th round TKO loss against Demetrice King. Are these guys supposed to make Wladimir quake?
Maybe I’m wrong about these two. I certainly hope I am. Nothing would make me happier than to see a Klitschko taking on an opponent of consequence. The heavyweight division desperately needs such a fight. It sure wouldn’t hurt Wladimir’s legacy either. Until that is proven though, Wladimir’s ledger for all its dominance is just as opaque as his brother’s. It’s not fair to them, but it’s the truth.
Even inside the realm of the hardcore fight fan, who really talks about the heavyweight division with any excitement or sense of anticipation? It’s not that we don’t want to. It’s that we have no reason to. Not for a very long time anyway. I will certainly be among our number this Saturday night when Stiverne and Wilder exchange pleasantries. How could I not be? I do live in hope. I also reside in reality too. Klitschkos aside, heavyweights may have gotten bigger, but they sure as hell haven’t gotten better.
We are a long way removed the last golden age of heavyweight boxing. This, when creatures like Lewis, Tyson, Holyfield, and Bowe walked the earth, and the 2nd tier included fighters like Moorer, Foreman, and Douglas. Once there were giants in the heavyweight division. Now there’s just a Klitschko and bunch of tall guys. You’re up Stiverne and Wilder. Prove me wrong. Please.