Wladimir Klitschko – Former world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko 64-4 (53) recently said that he’s “suffered like a dog” since he lost to Tyson Fury last year via 12-round unanimous decision in their title bout. But Wladimir has promised that he’ll “humble” the controversial Fury 25-0 (18) when they meet in a rematch on July 9th.
“I’m going to bash his face in for all his anti-Semitic, sexist and homophobic comments, which he regularly likes to come out with” said Klitschko earlier this week. Well, that’s not typical Wladimir speech and I’m sure it may be music to the ears of some of Klitschko’s biggest critics. And the reason for that is – we haven’t seen Wladimir step into the ring with a sense of urgency very often during his 20 year professional career or during the past decade in which he went undefeated. Personally, I would rather hear Klitschko speak of how much it bothers him that a fighter like Fury, who isn’t anything close to being a special fighter, relieved him of his title and status instead of him talking about how if he beats Fury he’ll be saving society.
I wonder if Wladimir realizes that if he looks bad and loses to Fury again, many boxing advocates will look back at his title reign as being a blip on the radar during a very forgettable time in heavyweight history. No, the 40 year old Klitschko will not get the pass that most champions get when they lose late in their career.
Muhammad Ali at age 36 lost his title to a fighter with eight pro fights and Mike Tyson was knocked out by a journeyman at age 38 in his last bout, but the legacies of Ali and Tyson were not the least bit dinged, even though Ali was totally used up when he lost to Spinks and Tyson had abused his body for years, barely trained, and was emotionally divorced from boxing. Despite being the older man, the Klitschko who lost to Fury was by no means depleted coming into the fight. If anything, he’d looked good in his most recent fights. And he had taken very little punishment in his career. However, Klitschko’s career body of work doesn’t command the same respect historically as Ali and Tyson and other universally recognized champs.
The sad part regarding Wladimir if he loses the rematch is that he’ll suddenly be relegated to a pretender. In future hypothetical match-ups with past champs down the road, he’ll never get the benefit of the doubt. And the reason is that more often than not he looked as if he was fighting not to get knocked out instead of trying to win. His risk-averse strategy turned off a lot of fans and they couldn’t digest how a big powerful guy fought so small in the ring. Unfortunately winning wasn’t enough for Klitschko because most perceive him as having dominated a weak era where he was the only big fish in a small pond. Yes, there is some truth to that, but I don’t care what era a fighter competed in, you have to be doing something right if you go unbeaten for 10 straight years fighting the best of the best. Somewhere along the line you had to cross paths with somebody who was pretty good.
Every time Wladimir stepped into the ring his opponent knew he was one punch away from stardom. Yet most of his opponents, once he touched them, reverted to fighting to survive. Sure, they talked a great fight before the first bell, but once they felt his presence in the ring they forgot about their boast and their promises and looked to survive instead of trying to win. Klitschko must get credit for that.
Others complained how his fights weren’t exciting, a lot like Floyd Mayweather’s big fights, with the difference being Floyd was prettier and flashier in the ring and he talked much better. Klitschko was punished for not being exciting, yet here’s a title holder who never once ducked a fighter who was qualified to fight him, not once. That’s something Mayweather can never say, at least not with a straight face.
“Continuous success,” said Wladimir, “is always boring. It is unsatisfying for the public.” And to a point he is right. However, he will be judged very harshly by his critics if he fights Fury the same way he did when they met this past December. In order for Klitschko to beat Fury, he must do something not many great fighters are good at – and that is reinvent himself stylistically. When they met the first time Fury was able to freeze and neutralize Wladimir with head and shoulder feints that were no more than muscle twitches. Practically every time Tyson feigned a punch Wladimir stopped what he was doing and looked not to get hit. That shut him down offensively and resulted in Fury landing a few touches here and there that ultimately won the fight for him.
Fury fought smart, tying Klitschko up after smacking him a few times, something Wladimir never once made him pay for. When they meet next month Klitschko, who has a monumental advantage in power, must go after Fury as if he’s a wounded lion. Everyone knows Fury doesn’t have the greatest chin and reports are that he’s been dropped more than once while in training for the rematch.
Wladimir may be the hardest single shot puncher in boxing. He needs to go after Fury the way Lennox Lewis went after Andrew Golota and Michael Grant. Wladimir has to forget about what will happen if he gets caught trying to put Fury away. He must come out from the onset and establish that he’s the boss and that his power is going to be the deciding factor. That won’t be easy because that is not who Wladimir is. But perhaps the sour taste of the loss in the first fight has changed him a little and is now driving him to want to really hurt Fury. If Klitschko fights like the outcome of the rematch really matters to him, he can easily win and gain favor with boxing fans. On the other hand, if the rematch is a rerun of the first meeting, Wladimir will be scorned forever. And worse than that, his title reign will be totally forgotten as if he almost never existed.
Klitschko is a good guy and has done everything right. But sometimes, for reasons unknown, some fighters never win the fans over. If Wladimir wants to be remembered as at least a formidable champion, he must separate himself from Tyson Fury and beat him convincingly next month. In order to do that he’ll have to be somebody that he’s not. He will have to go after Fury like he has no other fighter in his career — because that’s his only path to victory.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com