He participated in 29 heavyweight title bouts compiling a record of 25-4. Yes, Wladimir Klitschko 64-5 (53) fought with a version of the title on the line more than any other champion who has yet lived. To put his title bout record in perspective, Joe Louis was 27-1, Muhammad Ali 22-3, Larry Holmes 21-5, Lennox Lewis 15-2-1 and Mike Tyson 12-4. On top of that, you can make the case without much trouble refuting an opposing point of view that Wladimir was the best heavyweight in the world for a decade, 2005-2015.
Wladimir Klitschko has been a lightning rod for many old school boxing fans and observers (including myself) since he was stopped by Ross Puritty in his 25th bout. Losing to a journeyman like Puritty seemed to shoot a hole in all the media hype that accompanied Wladimir as being the new breed of heavyweight fighter. Because at 6-6 and consistently in the 245 range, he was tall, well built, thought to be athletic with a full arsenal of punches and finishing power. And those scouting reports were ultimately proven correct, but not until he weathered the roughest terrain of his career circa 2003-2004 during which he was stopped by Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster, thus appearing to be another cartoon-like big palooka. After the setbacks to Sanders and Brewster, many insiders considered Wladimir a fighter who couldn’t take a big punch.
In 2004 with his career teetering on being regarded as all sizzle and no steak, Klitschko brought in Emanuel Steward to train him. Manny had a reputation for teaching taller fighters with a good reach how to fight big in the ring and fully utilize their size…..with his two best pupils being Thomas Hearns and Lennox Lewis. In a crossroads fight against then undefeated and hard punching Samuel Peter in September of 2005, Wladimir got up from three knockdowns to win a unanimous decision and resurrected his career. In April of 2006 Klitschko beat the southpaw and difficult to fight Chris Byrd for the second time and captured the IBF title. Over the next nine years and seven months, he successfully defended it 16 times and in the process won the WBA, WBO, and IBO titles along with The Ring magazine lineal title.
During that run Wladimir, in spite of entering the ring with what appeared to be trepidation when it came to engaging, met all comers, excluding his older brother Vitali who held the WBC title, and in one case defended his championship twice against American Tony Thompson who he stopped both times. During his reign as champ he faced punchers, boxers, fighters who were unorthodox, tall and short and even a few journeymen, and seldom lost rounds, let alone a fight. Then in November of 2015 Wladimir lost his titles to the 6-9 and undefeated Tyson Fury by unanimous decision, who he no doubt underestimated. Worse than underestimating him, Klitschko resorted to his old style and despite housing so much power, wouldn’t let his hands go freely and Fury won rounds against him by playing tag better.
It looked as if they were going to fight again but Fury’s weight ballooned and it was then revealed he had a substance abuse problem – fight canceled. During that interim, an undefeated fighter built as well as Klitschko and perhaps even more gifted emerged named Anthony Joshua, who was the closest to a great fighter that Klitschkowould ever meet. The hard punching Joshua won all his bouts by stoppage and gained the vacant IBF title as a result of Fury being stripped. Joshua represented everything Wladimir never confronted before…..an almost mirror image of himself.
For his entire career, Klitschko’s competition was berated by many fight observers including myself, but Joshua was different. He had Wladimir’s height and reach, put his punches together quicker and more succinctly, and carried knockout power in both hands. No,
Joshua didn’t carry the single shot power that Waldimir possessed, but he was clearly a bigger puncher than any opponent Wladimir had faced since Corrie Sanders. Seeing all the love and praise Joshua was getting, and how he, not Fury, was portrayed as being the fighter to usher in the next heavyweight era, Wladimir rightly perceived that a clear-cut win over Joshua would erase the stench of losing to Fury, and then he could retire from boxing having defeated the most formidable fighter he would ever touch gloves with.
Joshua boxed and took what Klitschko gave him in the early stages of the fight. In the 5th round Joshua got through and dropped Wladimir. Only he sold Klitschko short, thinking he was done. Klitschko beat the count and out-fought AJ for the remainder of the round and dropped and hurt Joshua real bad in the 6th. At the conclusion of the round, it looked as if Wladimir was gonna score the biggest and most thrilling win of his career. Only it wasn’t meant to be. Showing the poise of a veteran and the fortitude of an all-time great, Joshua, 27, dropped Klitschko, 41, twice in the 11th round and the fight was halted by the referee.
Last week Wladimir Klitschko announced he was going to retire from boxing instead of fighting a rematch against Joshua, and since then there hasn’t been a shortage of varying opinions regarding his place in heavyweight history.
During conversations with some of the keenest boxing guys I know, I’ve heard how terrible the era was that Klitschko dominated and how that’s the reason he was on top for so long, which no doubt slightly contributed to his longevity. Supposedly the 1970s and 1990s were the toughest era regarding heavyweight fighters, and that’s correct. However, I was around during both decades and nobody was saying that at the time. Granted, the years between 2005 and 2015 won’t be remembered as a tough era in the heavyweight division and Wladimir never faced a great fighter during that interim. But he did what was expected of a special fighter – he dominated it. Until fighting Tyson Fury he probably never lost two consecutive rounds in any fight.
Due to his size, strength, ability to jab and box along with his two-handed power, and ability to think in the moment, Wladimir would’ve been a very difficult fight for a majority of the greats who held the title during the gloved era. Sixty years ago the heavyweight champion was roughly 5’11” and weighed about 190, today he’s 6’5″ and 250, and that makes it hard to compare eras as to who wins fantasy match-ups regarding heavyweights…unlike 60 years ago when the middleweight champ weighed the same as today’s middleweight champ. As of this writing I don’t rank Wladimir Klitschko among the all-time top 10 heavyweights. That said…you think Jack Dempsey appears out of 1919, or Louis from 1938 or Ali of 1966 shows up in 2014 and walks through Wladimir Klitschko? I’m not sure that’s realistic.
Some questioned Wladimir’s heart and chin. Well, there’s a track record totaling 69 professional bouts. True, he was stopped in four of his five career losses but he never out- right quit in any bout. Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson, in the eyes of most historians, rank above Wladimir, yet they were both counted out twice; Wladimir never was. Neither Lewis nor Tyson ever got off the canvas to win a bout – Wlad did it three times during his first bout against Samuel Peter. So when it came to Klitschko’s durability, in actuality it was better than he got credit for.
For the entire duration of his career Wladimir Klitschko never entered the ring fat and out of shape or disrespected the sport of boxing. He never put down his opposition, and when he did get a little ornery, it was only after he was verbally attacked. Wladimir never ducked a single opponent, was gracious towards those he defeated and never showed sour grapes towards those who beat him, other than after the Brewster loss when he claimed that something he consumed before the bout must have been tampered with, causing him to run out of gas, but that was it.
Outside of boxing Klitschko holds a doctorate in sports science and has varied interests. Just a class guy all the way around, who had plenty of reasons not to be because the press wasn’t always kind to him…actually they were brutal after his defeats to Sanders and Brewster. But like champions do, he persevered, believed in himself and for the most part proved many wrong.
After Wladimir announced his retirement he tweeted something that I think captures everything that’s good about him.
“My HEART is at PEACE as I pass the torch to @anthonyfjoshua – the next generation. Good luck little bro, I’m proud of you!”
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com
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