KLITSCHKO vs. JOSHUA -- No matter what happens when he faces Anthony Joshua this spring, expect Wladimir Klitschko to one day be immortalized in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. In his twenty-plus-year career, Wladimir has scored 64 wins and won enough belts bearing enough initials to fill a Scrabble board. Those “stats” are enough to satisfy the growing trend among electors who are increasingly relying on alphabet matches to validate a fighter’s greatness. However, when you look beyond the numbers and take a closer look at his opponents, one fact stands out. Wladimir Klitschko might become the only heavyweight inductee who has not faced a fellow Hall-of-Famer.
The most common critiques regarding Wladimir have been a robotic style, excessive holding, and weak opposition. The first two criticisms are, for the most part, based on aesthetics. His wide stance and straight movements look rigid but they are effective. If you remove the color from his highlight reel and about 10 frames every second, you might think you’re watching footage from a Bob Fitzsimmons fight. Along with the robotic moves, you’ll also see a fighter who was always in shape, and who - like Ruby Robert - won most of his fights by knockout. Unlike the heavily freckled Fitzsimmons, however, none of the fighters Wladimir faced appear headed for the Hall of Fame.
Wladimir’s record reveals very few of those record-padding fights against foes who may as well have entered the ring with a brown paper bag over their heads since they were about as unknown and their skills about as comical as that 1970’s comedian. From the start, he fought fringe contenders. And he’s been fighting contenders since 1999. Unfortunately for Wladimir, much of his title reign was spent fighting against the second-best opponent available. For nearly a decade, he and his brother Vitali were the top-two heavyweights in the world. Ironically, Vitali is considered by some to be less of a shoe-in for the Hall though he was probably the better of the two. If the big brother does get in, because he fought Lennox Lewis, he is spared from becoming the answer to an unfortunate trivia question.
Browsing through Wladimir’s previous opponents doesn’t turn up a single fighter who is a lock for the Hall. Chris Byrd has an outside chance, though he seems to be more Jimmy Young than Joe Frazier. Hasim Rahman has that big win over Lennox Lewis and a nice KO over the quick-and-dangerous-handed Corrie Sanders but his career mirrors that of Ron Lyle’s more so than that of George Foreman’s. Ray Mercer and Lamon Brewster are probably longshots to get in and while Alexander Povetkin looks to be the real deal, if he gets in his repeated positive tests for banned substances might necessitate putting a picture not of him on the plaque, but of a syringe.
If Tyson Fury and David Haye wind up their careers without another great win or two, Anthony Joshua might be Wladimir’s last chance at a great rival. Thus far, Wladimir has done his part. He’s bounced back from losses, climbed off the deck to win, corrected his mistakes, and taken on whatever challenges existed. Outside of the ring he has been a good role model, kept his Hollywood marriage out of the gossip pages, and has generally carried himself with as much dignity as any past legend. The only thing his career lacks is a dance partner -- the great adversary.
Ali had Frazier and Foreman and Liston and Norton.
Louis had Schmeling and Conn and Walcott and John Henry.
Holyfield had Qawi and Foreman and Holmes and Tyson.
Lewis had Holyfield and Tyson and possibly Vitali.
Fitzsimmons had Johnson and Corbett and Jeffries.
Rocky Marciano had Louis, Moore, Walcott, and Charles.
If a script for the perfect career start were ever needed, one could base it on Anthony Joshua’s career so far. From winning Olympic gold to stopping 18 straight opponents, he is off to quite possibly the best start ever of any heavyweight in history. By taking on Wladimir Klitschko in his 19th bout, he’s ahead of the pace set by Joe Louis, who took on Primo Carnera in fight number 20. Muhammad Ali was struggling with Doug Jones in his 18th bout and Larry Holmes was still fighting on Roberto Duran undercards at that point of his career. Lennox Lewis was an opening act for Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson was still fighting in college hockey rinks in Upstate New York.
Joshua, on the other hand, was fighting for a belt and selling out the 20,000 seat O2 Arena in 90 seconds in his 16th fight. He’s still a work in progress but the only two former heavyweight champions to get off to a similar start in recent years – albeit at a lower weight - were Michael Spinks and Evander Holyfield. Klitschko is, by far, Joshua’s best opponent and, Joshua might be Klitschko’s.
Even the mainstream media is aware of Wladimir’s lack of a nemesis. When he sat down with CNN just before his defense against Bryant Jennings, he was asked if he ever fought his brother. “We sparred,” Wladimir responded.
He wasn’t asked about his fights against Sam Peter or Jean Marc Mormeck, or his fights against Alex Leapai or Mariusz Wach. He wasn’t asked about those fights because the CNN reporter knew what every comic book fan knows.
Being faster than a speeding bullet is not what made a hero out of Superman.
Editor’s note: Jose Corpas’ second book, a biography of Panama Al Brown, titled “BLACK INK: A Story of Boxing, Betrayal, Homophobia, and the First Latino Champion,” is available now via Amazon and other leading online booksellers. Jose’s next book, tentatively titled “THE RIVALRY; Mexico vs. Puerto Rico,” will be released in 2017.