If the reports leaking out are true, Wladimir Klitschko will activate his rematch clause with Anthony Joshua and the two will meet again in the fall. I didn’t want to see that happen, but I can’t say I blame Wladimir because it’s really hard to walk away from millions of dollars doing something you love and were great at.
I was hoping Klitschko 64-5 (53) would ride off into the sunset and hang up the gloves for good. In a losing effort, in which he was a punch or two away from scoring the signature win of his stellar career, he won over more fans than he ever had before in posting 64 wins. His effort forced Joshua 19-0 (19) to raise his game, testing him in ways that he had never been tested before. Klitschko made Joshua answer questions about his heart, stamina, chin, toughness and will to win – and AJ passed them in a way that showed for all to see that as the past decade belonged to Klitschko, it’s plausible the next just might belong to the 27-year-old boxer-puncher from the U.K.
And that’s why I’d rather Wladimir not fight him again. When they fought last month, Wladimir was so driven by two things. Foremost, he wanted to erase the stench hovering over him due to his half-hearted effort against Tyson Fury back in November of 2015. He couldn’t get up for Fury, likely believing that once he touched Tyson on the chin, he’d go down harder than he did when Steve Cunningham dropped him – only he wouldn’t get up.
Once he was in the ring with Fury, he found out, only too late, that Tyson is not an easy guy to box due to his awkward style along with his height and arm length. As it turned out, he only grazed Fury a few times with his big right hand during the 12 rounds they fought. He never hurt Fury or gave him anything to think about. Fury beat Wladimir, but not in a way that was close to signifying a changing of the guard. Actually, Klitschko was embarrassed more than anything else when he left the ring….and felt the result was more about what he didn’t do than anything that Fury actually did. Klitschko felt strongly that things would be different in a rematch. And had Tyson Fury not totally imploded psychologically, they would’ve fought a rematch.
The other thing motivating Klitschko was the persona and mystique that accompanied Anthony Joshua. In the eyes of many observers, Joshua had the look, physique, punching power and style to excite fans in a way that no fighter had since Mike Tyson was the powerhouse in the heavyweight division. He was a former gold medal winner, hadn’t lost a fight, and no opponent had gone the distance with him…..and he had the look of a special fighter to those with a high boxing aptitude. For Wladimir, interrupting AJ’s march to the top of the food chain would cleanse the memory of Fury and give him the career defining win he really never secured.
Here’s the problem for Wladimir if he forces a rematch: It’s doubtful — I mean highly doubtful — that he can get that up again for Anthony Joshua. He put so much into his mental and physical preparation the last time, it’s hard to believe he can duplicate that effort. Moreover, going into the fight Wladimir was confident that he could beat Joshua due to his overload of experience and maybe even the 25 rounds they had sparred a few years back. But that’s no longer in play. Now Klitschko knows beyond a doubt that if he held a physiological advantage the last time they fought, the roles are reversed this time. Wladimir witnessed up close and personal during their first confrontation that AJ can take his best, endure a pretty good going over, get up off the deck and still rally back to beat him by stoppage….things Joshua only thought he might be able to do before he actually did it.
Adding to Klitschko’s hurdle is that Joshua learned and grew so much during the first meeting. He probably altered his style at least three times during the bout. First, he fought on alert mode, only looking to jump on Wladimir if the opportunity presented itself, and when it did in the fifth round, he over-extended himself and tired. Then Klitschko put him down and had him hurt badly in the next round – thus he fought to survive hoping to get a second wind. Once he was out of trouble and clear headed, he sensed Klitschko was taking the play away and fighting more assertively and was on the verge of turning the fight his way.
With the fight up for grabs, Joshua came out for the 11th round rejuvenated and looking to resume command, and he started letting his hands go more and forced Klitschko to engage with him. By the time they got to the final two rounds, Joshua’s advantage in hand speed and ability to put his punches together in multiples, opened Wladimir up for a massive right uppercut that hurt him to the point of no return and led to the fight being stopped. With that, AJ was no longer pretty sure he could beat Klitschko; he did it and will carry that mindset into a rematch if it comes to fruition, which it apparently will.
The last time they met, Klitschko did everything needed to win the fight but still couldn’t quite pull it off after coming so close. If they meet again, it will be twice as hard for him to get Joshua’s will to bend, let alone finish what he just couldn’t do the last time. With Joshua coming in more confident along with the vast experience he gained in the first meeting, the odds are overwhelmingly against Klitschko pushing Joshua as much or making it to the 11th round again.
And for those reasons I hope Wladimir Klitschko never fights again and decides to get on with the next phase of his life. He’s had a remarkable career. He’ll go down in history having one of the longest title reigns of any heavyweight champ along with being one of the bigger punchers to ever claim the title. He didn’t fight during the greatest era, but other than his older brother Vitali, he fought the best the world had to offer and dominated. For a while it looked as if he’d never silence his staunchest critics, and though some still exist, many of them are long gone. If Anthony Joshua goes on to become a great champion, he’ll owe a lot to Wladimir Klitschko for pushing him to the limit. AJ had to dig down deeper than he ever had to in order to find out what he had inside. As it turned out, Joshua had a lot inside and needed all of it to turn back Klitschko’s gallant stand.
Prime-for-prime it may turn out that we realize Joshua might have had Klitschko’s number anyhow; that’s not a reach based on their style clash. So Joshua would always be a tough night for Wladimir. But like most heavyweight eras, the next one begins at the expense of the one that is just ending.
Maybe a prime Klitschko would get past Joshua, but not now. Wladimir is too old to mess with AJ a second time and a rematch would be a repeat of the first meeting, only shorter. It’s virtually impossible to build a case that Klitschko would fare better a second time, and that’s why he should leave the sport that’s been so good to him with the memory of April 29th unsullied. Nobody viewed Wladimir Klitschko as a loser when he left the ring that night.
Unfortunately, the money will most likely be too much for Wladimir to resist and after dedicating his life’s ambition to something, I really can’t blame him for wanting to get every last dollar out of it. But with so many fighters leaving boxing broken mentally, physically and financially, I was hoping that Klitschko, who certainly doesn’t need the money or recognition, would be different. I know that what drives a fighter to reach the level that Klitschko achieved is also the thing that ruins them, and that is that they are a fighter above everything else and the thought of not being successful isn’t in their DNA.
Wladimir Klitschko is a fighter first. Yes, he’s more than that and has many other things that define who he is, but boxing is what sets him free. If he decides not to go at it with Anthony Joshua again, his name will be added to the very short list of great fighters who exited boxing with their health, wealth and respect. And if he does go forth with the rematch, his exit will be a little more tattered when he closes the book. That’s a decision only he and those close to him can make, and it isn’t a bad thing if they decide the money is too much to forgo. Then we can add his name to another list with some real heavyweights on it — greats who came before Wladimir that really didn’t want to fight any longer, but were being paid too much money to leave on their own terms.
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Frank Lotierzo can be reached at GlovedFist@Gmail.com