The Hauser Report:  Wladimir Klitschko vs. Bryant Jennings

There was a time when the public at large stopped to watch, read, and listen whenever the heavyweight champion of the world entered the ring. Those days are long gone. But it’s still worthy of note when the man presumed able to beat anyone else on the planet in a boxing match defends his crown.

At Madison Square Garden on April 25, Wladimir Klitschko put his championship on the line against Bryant Jennings.

Klitschko, age 39, is an anomaly among fighters. A highly-educated man, he transitions easily from Russian (learned in his native Ukraine) to German (the language of the country where his professional career bloomed) to English (he now lives in the United States with actress Hayden Panettiere).

Klitschko’s ring ledger shows 64 wins, 3 losses, and 54 knockouts. He has won 22 consecutive fights over the past eleven years. At present, he’s the longest-reigning of three champions from the old Soviet Union who stand atop three of boxing’s traditional glamour divisions. Sergey Kovalev (175 pounds) and Gennady Golovkin (160) are the others.

In a different era, Klitschko would have been regarded as a living legend by the American public. But boxing in the United States has been in decline for a long time. And on top of that, Wladimir plies his trade mostly in Europe.

“For our business model,” Bernd Boente (Klitschko’s primary business advisor) states, “America is not the center of the world.”

Prior to facing Jennings, Klitschko had fought at Madison Square Garden three times. The first was a second-round knockout of David Bostice on the undercard of Lennox Lewis’s April 29, 2000, annihilation of Michael Grant. That was followed by a seventh-round stoppage of Calvin Brock on November 11, 2006, and a desultory twelve-round decision over Sultan Ibragimov on February 23, 2008.

One of the problems that Klitschko has faced in seeking to prove his greatness since then (and erase the memory of knockout defeats at the hands of Ross Puritty, Corrie Sanders, and Lamon Brewster earlier in his career) has been a lack of inquisitors.

Dominance is one thing. Greatness is another. Since last appearing in New York, Wladimir had defeated the likes of Alex Leapai, Francesco Pianeta, Marius Wach, and Jean-Marc Mormeck. His most recent opponent, Kubart Pulev, evinced the skill and finesse of a Bulgarian circus strongman.

Jennings (a 15-to-1 underdog) wasn’t expected to pose much of a threat. His team kept referring to Buster Douglas’s monumental upset of Mike Tyson, which occurred almost twenty-five years to the day before the February 4 Klitschko-Jennings kick-off press conference. But Douglas was a well-schooled fighter with victories over Oliver McCall, Trevor Berbick, and Greg Page to his credit when he dethroned Tyson. Jennings had a meager amateur background. And his 19-and-0 (10 KOs) pro record had been compiled against pedestrian opposition.

At the kick-off press conference, Jennings had the look of a man who would be happier once the fight was over. And not because he thought that he’d be champion when the fighting was done.

Klitschko, by contrast, seemed happy and relaxed as the festivities unfolded.

“Let us, Bryant and me, entertain you,” Wladimir told the media. “He has the quality of Rocky Balboa. From Philadelphia.”

Nothing on Jennings’ resume suggested that he was a credible opponent for Klitschko. The bout shaped up as a performance rather than a competitive fight.

Team Klitschko controls its environment as completely as possible. In the case of Klitschko-Jennings, that included a contract clause mandating a smaller-than-usual eighteen-by-eighteen-foot ring.

When fight night arrived, a crowd of 17,056 sat in relative silence through an abbreviated undercard. But it came alive with Ukrainian flags waving when Wladimir entered the ring.

At 6-feet-6-inches, 242 pounds, Klitschko was three inches taller and fifteen pounds heavier than his opponent.

Jennings retreated in the early going, looking to survive rounds rather than win them. That allowed the Klitschko to dictate when and where there was violence. On the few occasions when Bryant came forward, he found it hard to work his way past Wladimir’s jab and the right hand that lay in wait behind it.

Then, in round four, Jennings became more aggressive, lunging forward with punches (which seemed to be asking for a counter) and pumping his free hand to the body when Klitschko tied him up on the inside.

In round six, the performance turned into a fight with hints of Klitschko’s 2004 loss to Lamon Brewster wafting through the air. In that long-ago encounter, Wladimir scored multiple knockdowns in the first few stanzas before collapsing from exhaustion at the end of round five. But this is a different Klitschko, stronger and far more confident than the Klitschko of eleven years ago.

Jennings won the sixth round. But in round seven, Wladimir recalibrated the distance between them and regained control, moving around the ring as though he were playing chess; fighting a patient, cerebral, methodical fight.

Jab . . . Straight right . . . An occasional hook up top . . . Minimal body punching (to avoid exposing his chin). Tie Jenning up when the smaller man got inside and push him back with superior strength.

In round nine, Klitschko suffered a small cut under his left eye. Referee Michael Griffin deducted a point from Wladimir in round ten for excessive holding. But not much else went in Jennings’ favor. Bryant fought as well as he could. But Klitschko was too big, too strong, and too good for him.

This writer scored the bout 118-109 in Klitschko’s favor. The judges saw it 118-109, 116-111, 116-111. Wladimir didn’t look as sharp as he has in recent outings. Perhaps age is creeping up on him. Or maybe Jennings is better than Kubrat Pulev and Alex Leapai.

One can (and should) argue that Lennox Lewis and Hasim Rahman were the legitimate heavyweight champions when Klitschko wore the WBO crown from October 2000 through March 2003. And brother Vitali was the more credible champion for part of Wladimir’s current reign, which began in 2006.

That said; Klitschko is now the best heavyweight in the world. His size and ring skills would have made him competitive in any era. The eighteen consecutive successful title defenses in his current run place him third in the heavyweight division behind Joe Louis (25) and Larry Holmes (20) in that category.

And there’s no end in sight. As Bernd Boente said recently, “As long as Wladimir is motivated and healthy, he will continue to fight. I know it is in the back of his mind that, if he is still champion on December 21, 2017, he will beat Joe Louis’s record [of 11 years, 8 months, and 8 days] for the longest reign by a heavyweight champion.”

So what comes next?

At present, the most interesting challengers Klitschko could face are Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder.

It’s unlikely that Wilder will fight Klitschko. More likely, Deontay will avoid Wladimir and try to move in after Klitschko has departed from the scene. Fury might take the fight. Contested in England, Klitschko-Fury would be a huge event. Beating Fury wouldn’t do much for Wladimir’s legacy. Losing to him would hurt it.

And then there’s the possibility of Klitschko versus Shannon Briggs.

“We are in the entertainment business,” Boente told this writer. “We have to sell tickets and get ratings. Shannon Briggs is not at the top of our list for future opponents. But if we can’t get Fury, if we can’t get Wilder, we would have to consider Briggs.”

Uh oh.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book – Thomas Hauser on Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press.

WATCH RELATED VIDEOS ON BOXINGCHANNEL.TV

COMMENTS

-Buzz Murdock :

Wladmir Klitschko is not an all-time great...He reminds me of Amir Khan when he desperately ties his opponent up in a a clinch rather than work the inside...I don't think I've ever seen him throw a body punch, or mix up his attack. He's got a glass jaw...And little Mike Tyson in his prime would have annihilated him. Mentioning this robot in the same breath as Larry Holmes or Joe Louis is a sacrilege to the history of the game. He's as predictable as his military team. Boxing is an art.and Wladimir's strokes don't stoke the imagination in the least...This guy wouldn't have been great in any era...


-Matthew :

It just goes to show you where heavyweight boxing falls in line on the American landscape. Klitschko is from Ukraine, is a former Olympic gold medalist, and fights mostly in Europe against largely average competition. His style is often not crowd-pleasing, but is very effective. He's by all accounts extremely educated and a good citizen. He even has an actress girlfriend. If he were American, the media here would LOVE him. But, he's from the former Soviet Union, so he's almost considered an afterthought. In contrast, Floyd Mayweather has a style that is often not crowd-pleasing, but is very effective. He is also an Olympic medalist. Mayweather is NOT extremely educated, acts like a jerk, and is a serial woman batterer. Yet, his is the first name mentioned by the American mainstream sports media when the subject of boxing comes up. Seems unjust to me. The bottom line is that while I won't mention Klitschko in the same breath as Ali, Louis, or Dempsey, he is a first-ballot hall of famer who would have been a handful for any heavyweight in any era because of his size, strength, skill, and athleticism. Enjoy him while he is around.


-The Good Doctor :

Wladmir Klitschko is not an all-time great...He reminds me of Amir Khan when he desperately ties his opponent up in a a clinch rather than work the inside...I don't think I've ever seen him throw a body punch, or mix up his attack. He's got a glass jaw...And little Mike Tyson in his prime would have annihilated him. Mentioning this robot in the same breath as Larry Holmes or Joe Louis is a sacrilege to the history of the game. He's as predictable as his military team. Boxing is an art.and Wladimir's strokes don't stoke the imagination in the least...This guy wouldn't have been great in any era...
Ouch Buzz.....Tell'em how you really feel. I don't think Wlad is an all-time great either but he is a good fighter that came along in a bad era. The clinching is not artistically pleasing but it works and is a handy tool, ask Floyd Mayweather. Throwing a body punch or mixing up your attack for a 6" 6" 250+ pound fighter with mediocre speed and arms as along as Mighty Joe Young's is not a good idea as the sheer timing and direction of the punches leaves you waaaaaaaaaaaay to open for a counter. Emmanuel Steward once told him, if "I ever see you throw a hook again, I'll kill ya" Anything outside of a jab, and a straight almost makes you too easy to hit. You actually kind of have to respect him for being able to beat so many people with a pretty predictable arsenal. Your right, he is not Holmes or Joe Louis but that really isn't saying much. A whole lot of fighters are not those guys. As for being a great in an era, he would have been pretty good in the Tyson era right after Holmes's prime and right before the rise of Holyfield, Bowe, and Lewis. We often romance that time because of how dominant Tyson was but truth be told, there were a whole lot of average guys in that time. There were a whole lot of Frank Bruno, Henry Tillman, Trevor Berbick, Pinklon Thomas type fighters during that time. He could have beaten many of those guys and think even given a decent fight to Tyson.


-Domenic :

Ouch Buzz.....Tell'em how you really feel. I don't think Wlad is an all-time great either but he is a good fighter that came along in a bad era. The clinching is not artistically pleasing but it works and is a handy tool, ask Floyd Mayweather. Throwing a body punch or mixing up your attack for a 6" 6" 250+ pound fighter with mediocre speed and arms as along as Mighty Joe Young's is not a good idea as the sheer timing and direction of the punches leaves you waaaaaaaaaaaay to open for a counter. Emmanuel Steward once told him, if "I ever see you throw a hook again, I'll kill ya" Anything outside of a jab, and a straight almost makes you too easy to hit. You actually kind of have to respect him for being able to beat so many people with a pretty predictable arsenal. Your right, he is not Holmes or Joe Louis but that really isn't saying much. A whole lot of fighters are not those guys. As for being a great in an era, he would have been pretty good in the Tyson era right after Holmes's prime and right before the rise of Holyfield, Bowe, and Lewis. We often romance that time because of how dominant Tyson was but truth be told, there were a whole lot of average guys in that time. There were a whole lot of Frank Bruno, Henry Tillman, Trevor Berbick, Pinklon Thomas type fighters during that time. He could have beaten many of those guys and think even given a decent fight to Tyson.
Nice analysis. I like Klitschko, I'm in a minority here for that, for sure. But I certainly didn't like his performance Saturday. It didn't take long to realize he was in his ultra protective/defensive mode, and I salute the 6-year pro Jennings for making it somewhat watchable for his effort. He rose several notches in my book. But for him, we could've seen an ugly Ibragimov redux. As for the era argument, I get it, but am not on board. He's fought everyone available to him - he's never ducked a soul, aside from Vitali by mutual agreement (please don't mention James Toney; that always comes up when the topic is Klitschko and that's the one fight where WK would have had carte blanche to throw as many hooks as he pleased, because Toney simply couldn't have dented him, even in Klit's chinny/anxiety/punch-himself-out period). The era is like the weather - can't control it. All he can do is fight and dispatch all comers, and do so for an extended period. He's done that. There's so much money at the highest levels of heavyweight prizefighting that if he was that bad, that pedestrian, that beatable, someone would've come along and said 'my turn, I'm gonna be the heavyweight champ, cash that 8 figure lotto ticket, then ride off into the sunset with a stable of women and an HBO side gig just to pass the time.' Hasn't happened. Next to Hagler, Tyson's my favorite fighter of all time. I remember those HBO nights so vividly in the 80's, Tyson's fighting and the sporting world would stop. But like The Good Doctor said, who did he really fight? I don't see a discernible difference between Pinklon Thomas and Trevor Berbick than David Haye or Hasim Rahman. Same ilk. Tubbs and Pulev are no different, we'd just had some exposure to Tubbs, heard of him. Tyson and Klitschko were just that much better than the opposition, thus it opens the door to opposition criticism. Tyson and Klitschko were the Kentucky hoops team this year up until the Final Four. WK will be treated more kindly by history, in my opinion. I'd put him on the all-time heavyweight list, somewhere near the top 12-15, behind his brother on the list. Vitali was much more a destroyer than Wladimir, better in almost every facet and completely dominant. He retired with 2 losses but you can almost count on one hand the amount of rounds he lost.


-Kid Blast :

He has beaten nine (9) undefeated challengers coming in. He has done whatever has been expected of him. But he is not an American so he must be less than great. Please stop the "hate" on this guy. Pulev was a very real challenger but Klit demolished him. Now Pulev is a "circus strongman." Once again, this writer captures the essence of what is the American consensus and runs with it instead of putting a refreshingly new angle to it.


-mortcola :

Know what I love, as a Klitschko fan but a realistic one? The opinions have almost all become more positive than negative. It has sunk in. I will add that Wlad BECAME an underachiever in order to become a better - more successful - fighter. If you pay attention to him when he's psyched, and early in his career, he was a mobile, slick-moving combination puncher, almost show-offy in his attitude. He let Steward whittle down his operational, tactical arsenal in order to bring to near-zero the chance of getting blitzed - it is INTENSITY in his opponent, not power hitting a glass jaw, that beat him back in the day. He has taken half a dozen solid power shots - not a lot, guys - in the last decade, and his knees never wobbled. He mostly got the anxiety under control. Even today, when he feel creative, he can throw a succession of accurate power hooks as easily as a boxer can snap off multiple jabs - he is just, by adaptation, now so patient, as well as faithful that the opponent will never sustain a points' winning rally, that he just goes back to the boring basics that happen to win fights whenever he has to make too much of an effort. And if an easy opening presents itself, he snaps FAST jabs and crosses and almost always, the opponent is finished. As an example, when he had Peter almost out, he went slightly nuts to get every punch in the book under and around Sam P's effort to grab and survive. But, if not, he is happy to just twiddle his boxing thumbs with confidence that the judges won't have anything to cheat him by, that the UD is definitely in the bag. It is that pattern that has made him both almost unbeatable, but, from a drama standpoint, arguably not "great". The best - and I rank Holmes in the top three - would eagerly try to hurt you bad in addition to box you into hopelessness. I've spent way too much time analyzing - like the shrink I am - someone who doesn't even know me, which is something we're not encouraged to do. But I've always mixed my loves in life. Psychology, boxing, and jazz. And, as a Ukrainian, I guess I have a little homeboy hero-love too. But I'm confident in my little "profile" of this strange champion and the strange reactions he engenders - the coolest of which is how my buds here have all s-l-o-w-l-y come around around Dr. Steelhammer. One day, the paradox of how the big brother, with a deeply incorrect, eel-like improvisational technique and an iron chin, became known as a better boxer than his technically superior but characterologically more fragile little brother. Hell of a story in that family.


-deepwater2 :

He has beaten nine (9) undefeated challengers coming in. He has done whatever has been expected of him. But he is not an American so he must be less than great. Please stop the "hate" on this guy. Pulev was a very real challenger but Klit demolished him. Now Pulev is a "circus strongman." Once again, this writer captures the essence of what is the American consensus and runs with it instead of putting a refreshingly new angle to it.
I was very impressed with the Pulev fight. I am usually hard on Klit but during that fight he used all his assets to whoop Pulev. If he fought like that more often he would be celebrated all over the world. Pulev is a top guy and would wipe the floor with 90% of the current division.


-Kid Blast :

Deepwater has the beat


-Kid Blast :

He stopped Chagaev and Lamon Brewster and even blinded Brewster. He sent Samuel Peter to Dreamland. He sedated a prime Fast Eddie Chambers and Calvin Brock. Most of his opponents have come in at their prime. What is frequently missed is that when Wlad fights, it? an event and the fight is the linchpin around which the event revolves. De La Hoya and Tyson were ?even fighters? and so is Mayweather. Everything from the walk-in to the stare down and the diminutive but oh-so gorgeous Pantiera screaming from her ringside seat. The expectation is a methodical break down by tiring clinches, heavy jabs, sneaky hooks, and the fight-ending long right. Once, the Ukrainian and German fans sense it, they begin a half whistle-half buzzing sound not unlike a swarm of locusts and chant ?Kleeeetchko, Kleeeetchko, Kleeeetchko,?and then when it comes and the expectation is satisfied, they go wild and waive hankies and flags. Wlad then goes from corner to corner to show his heartfelt appreciation to his adoring fans after which he says something meaningful about the dire situation in the Ukraine. The entire deal is an event and is what they enjoy in Eastern Europe. It?s refreshingly different from the sickening posturing that Wilder, Briggs, Joshua, Haye, Tyson and some others bring to the table. With Klit, what you see is what you get and what you get is 64-3. Jennings was smart enough to use a peek-a-boo defense and superb foot movement to avoid the inevitable, but 30 more seconds and it would have come.