This past weekend heavyweight contenders Tony Thompson 40-4 (26) and Odlanier Solis 20-2 (13) met for the WBC International title in Tekirdag, Turkey. Forget about the International title that was up for grabs, the real prize for the winner was the opportunity to face the Bermane Stiverne vs. Chris Arreola winner; they meet on May 10th for the vacated WBC title that came up for grabs when defending champ Vitali Klitschko recently retired.
Thompson, 42 has earned two shots at the title and was stopped both times by WBA/WBO/IBF title holder Wladimir Klitschko, the last time being in July of 2012. Solis, 33, fought for the title once and was stopped by Wladimir's older brother Vitali Klitschko in the first round, back in March of 2011.
The 6'5" Thompson defeated Solis via a 12-round split decision by the scores of 115-113, 115-114 and 112-116. Solis was a celebrated amateur and gold medal winner in the heavyweight division at the 2004 Olympic games in Athens, Greece. He was also known for beating fellow Cuban sensation Felix Savon twice in three fights. In December of 2006 he defected from the Cuban National team and turned pro in April of 2007. At the time of his pro debut he was viewed as a highly talented and skilled heavyweight and thought to perhaps be a legitimate threat to disrupt and possibly end the stranglehold over the heavyweight division employed by Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko that began with the retirement of Lennox Lewis in 2003. In his bout against Klitschko, Solis injured his right knee trying to catch his balance after being hit by a right to the temple with only seconds remaining in the first round. And some actually felt that he was hurt before the fight but didn't let anyone know because he didn't want to lose his shot at the title. Either way the fight didn't last long enough to truly gauge just how formidable a challenger Solis was.
Tony Thompson turned pro without much hype and fanfare in 2000 and already lost before the year was over, in his fifth bout. After the loss Thompson ran off 27 straight wins due to good timing and management along with his good work ethic. During his 27 bout win streak heading into his first title bout with Wladimir Klitschko, Thompson beat fringe contenders and journeymen Vaughn Bean, Dominick Guinn, Timur Ibragimov and Luan Krasniqi. Heading into the Klitschko bout, Thompson was viewed as a grinder, but there was a thought permeating out there that his long reach and southpaw style could possibly trouble Wladimir. As it turned out that wasn't the case, Wladimir was just too physically skilled and strong for Thompson and ultimately stopped him in the 11th round of a fight that he basically controlled from the onset. When they met again four years later, it was basically a rerun of their first fight only this time Klitschko needed just six rounds to turn back Thompson's second bid to take his title. Which brings us to why the heavyweight division is in the doldrums today.
Tony Thompson and Odlanier Solis represent both ends of the spectrum as to the reason why Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko have been so dominant and have rarely lost rounds let alone fights during the past 10 years. Think about it, Vitali hasn't lost since fighting Lennox Lewis back in June of 2003 and Wladimir hasn't been defeated since Lamon Brewster beat him back in April of 2004.
In the case of Solis, he represents how talent alone isn't enough and how unforgiving boxing can be to fighters who are lazy and won't get in shape. On the other hand, the 42 year old Thompson, who is not a gifted fighter, keeps upsetting peoples' apple carts and earning big fights, illustrating just how pedestrian the division is. For Solis it was another stinker in a big spot with his career on the line - whereas Thompson stretched the most out of his ability and once again beat a fighter who was both technically better and more gifted than him. Sure, Thompson isn't undefeated or aesthetically pleasing to watch, but three of his four loses were to Wladimir Klitschko twice and unbeaten Kubrat Pulev (who will soon challenge for the title) in his last fight before facing Solis, and only Klitschko has stopped him.
The reason that we've seen the Klitschkos dominate for the last decade is easy to see. For starters both brothers are very tall, long and strong. Winning and being successful is a very high priority to them, and we've never seen either Wladimir or Vitali show up on fight night out of shape or disinterested in the outcome. They can both punch and figured out early on in their careers how to use their size; yes, they're more than just big. They also view boxing as a respectful sport and an honorable way to make a living. Therefore they think it's disrespectful to show up for a fight out of shape and in the process cheat themselves and the fans. Something else that's never mentioned is this...they see boxing as a means to an end. In other words, work hard and sacrifice now in turn for the riches and glory that will come later. Basically, boxing is a vehicle to open doors for them down the road when they retire, as we've already seen with Vitali who is going to run for president of Ukraine if it isn't taken over by Russia in the meantime. However, for fighters to be respected in their post boxing life, they have to be seen as winners when they were active fighters, which of course applies to both Wladimir and Vitali.
During the past decade both brothers have faced all type of different styles and fighters during their title reign. Which again brings us back to Tony Thompson and Odlanier Solis. In Thompson you have a fighter who is not really gifted, and he represents one faction of fighters that both brothers have faced. Thompson has size and desire, but he's not really good at anything and has no identity as a fighter. He's not fast nor is he really a good boxer and he lacks finishing power. Sure, he gives 100% but just doesn't have the needed physical tools and skills to beat either Klitschko, who are his equal in size and desire in addition to being able to box and punch really well. Then there's the Solis faction of fighters they've faced, fighters who were gifted but lacked conditioning and desire. The fighters who had the physical tools to bother or possibly beat the Klitschkos lacked the initiative and boxing aptitude to really test them and apply it.
We can look at Floyd Mayweather's career and note that in most of his big fights there was a manufactured angle that he deliberately sought out in tilting the ring or field of play in his favor. The difference with the Klitschkos is, they fight whoever is out there and don't seek an edge in picking their opponents. The edge is by nature and already built in for them being that today's heavyweight division is a land of tweeners. You can go back and look over the last decade, not many of the brothers' opponents brought a single weapon to the ring that was a bigger concern to them than the formidable problem they presented their opponents. If they fought big guys like them, they held the advantage in boxing ability and power. If they were confronted with guys who could punch, they shut them down and made them afraid to even try and get off with anything consequential for a majority of the bout. The few fighters they had to fight who were better boxers than them were too small to box them and were held in check while they were looking to box and score.
The only way we were going to see either Klitschko get beat after Lennox Lewis retired circa 2003/2004, is if a Tony Thompson with Odlanier Solis' ability showed up one night. Sadly, a fighter like Thompson will never have nearly enough skill and ability to get the job done, and Solis will never fight to the best of his ability because he lacks the gumption and constitution needed to harvest it. And that's not either brothers' fault. They both trained hard and always were looking to improve as fighters. Couple that with their size and power it becomes crystal clear why we've seen Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko dominate and own the heavyweight division during the post Lennox Lewis era.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com