It's rare, but interesting to watch what happens when the balance of power shifts over to fighters, away from the networks or promoters. And that's what has happened over the last decade in regards to the way Wladimir and Vitali Klitscho have navigated their careers.
It's no secret to anyone who follows professional boxing, especially the heavyweight division, that Wladimir 55-3 (49) and Vitali Klitschko 41-2 (38) have dominated the heavyweight division since former champ Lennox Lewis announced his retirement one year after he defeated Vitali in his last fight. And if you're honest and shed your bias, Wladimir hasn't been close to losing since he lost to Lamon Brewster back in April of 2004 (except for a brief scare versus Samuel Peter in their first fight), and Vitali has virtually won every round he's fought since he lost to Lewis in 2003.
Yet for some reason it's hard to find their fights broadcast when they defend their titles. Why is that? Is it because they're usually one sided? Or, is it because they're usually not that exciting and the network of champions can't control them and who they fight. If title bouts involving Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko aren't shown on HBO because they don't make for very exciting fights, many have short memories.
Muhammad Ali was a great showman and fighter, but how many of his bouts excluding the ones against Joe Frazier and George Foreman were actually exciting? Ali's athleticism was a thing of beauty to watch, but in reality he only showed up in great shape and fought like he had an interest in the outcome of the fight when he was confronted by a fighter who was a legitimate threat to beat him. How many of those fighters were around in the sixties and seventies not named Liston, Frazier or Foreman?
Larry Holmes was a great and fundamentally sound boxer who fought everyone of his era. Again, I ask, how many of his fights were non-stop back and forth action excluding his bouts versus Ken Norton, Mike Weaver and Tim Witherspoon. Yet many of Holmes' title defenses were aired on HBO in the eighties. Personally, I'd also like to include Mike Tyson amongst this group, because to me his fights weren't exciting. Most of them were against over-matched foes who were has beens or journeymen. Mike either destroyed inferior opposition or struggled and lost to many of the fighters who weren't intimidated by him. However, I'm well aware that the public loves quick knockouts, regardless of who the mid-level fighter is getting knocked out. And Mike certainly provided many of those nights for boxing fans.
One of the big differences between the title reigns of Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes and the Klitschkos is, Wladimir and Vitali are challenged less during their bouts. And a lot of that is because the heavyweight division is more pedestrian today than it has been in years. In addition to that, the Klitschko brothers are extremely big and know how to use their size and fight tall. Other than that, there's not much difference. Ali and Holmes were dominant champions and a majority of their title defenses aired on American television, something that's not the case with the Klitschko's.
Why aren't the title defenses of either Wladimir or Vitali Klitschko broadcast by HBO anymore? Personally, I believe a lot of that has to do with the fact that they're not American. But even more than that I believe a lot of it has to do with the brothers having other options. Wladimir and Vitali are different than other fighters. They can fight in Germany against any contender and sell out a 50,000 seat venue. Therefore they don't have to beg and accept HBO's terms, and no doubt the non-boxing suits at HBO find fault with that.
The brothers have their own promotion company and can keep most of the money. Again, not many fighters in the history of boxing have held that latitude. In regards to the Klitschko brothers, HBO and Showtime aren't the only games in town. Everyone knows that the few networks who do broadcast boxing aren't used to fighters having that type of leverage.
Is there a morsel of a doubt in anyone's mind that if the Klitschkos were American and capitulated to HBO and their editorial decisions, that we'd be told by Lampley, Merchant and Kellerman just how great and dominant they were every time they fought? There's no doubt in my mind that that's what we'd be hearing.
In the United States, Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko are considered boring and safety first fighters. And because of that mindset, their fights don't create much, if any, buzz in America when they fight. But they just keep winning. Instead of them getting credit when they win, it's usually said afterward that it was more because of their opponents' ineptness as to why they won as opposed to their skill set and fighting ability. However, they've cleaned out the division and every other past champ who went through the division during their era got credit for that. During the eighties everyone said Holmes and Tyson often faced limited opposition. And did Rocky Marciano dominate a great heavyweight division during the early to mid fifties? No, he just beat everybody who was there like both Klitschkos have done.
The Klitschkos own Europe and aren't seen as boring at all. American fans should remember that, over there, fans are trained to watch differently. Which is why fighters like Henry Maske or Sven Ottke had enormous fan bases. In fact, until people started to figure out just how good he was, Joe Calzaghe was tarred with the same brush.
Regardless of how one views the Klitschkos, they've had an incredible run and have had the final say in the heavyweight division for seven plus years. On top of that they've had a big say over their careers and haven't had to acquiesce to any promoter or network. How many past heavyweight champs can say that?
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com