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In defense of Wladimir Klitschko: His legacy & status are better than you think

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Credit: Michael Sterling Eaton

Over the course of the last 5 years, few boxers have been analyzed with the kind of scrutiny that Wladimir Klitschko has. Questions are constantly raised about his standard of opponent and his style of fighting. Wlad’s current record stands at 62-3-0 with 52 knockouts. That in itself is an incredibly impressive feat for someone who had their first world title fight in their 36th fight. Wlad gets a hard time from a lot of people, so I’m going to look his record and achievements to try and defend Dr. Steelhammer.

It’s no secret that the heavyweight division hasn’t been blessed with a plethora of virtuoso talent over the last decade, or is simply that Wlad and Vitali  have dominated the division to such a great degree?

When there’s one (or in this case two) boxers ruling a weight so consistently then it’s almost impossible for someone new to impose themselves upon the scene with any real impact. Chris Byrd, Samuel Peter, Eddie Chambers, Ruslan Chagaev and Alexander Povetkin were all highly ranked and beaten by Wlad, amongst other notable contenders. You can only fight who is out there and unfortunately there isn’t a weight division for him to move up to.

Would any of those previously mentioned be considered in anyone’s all-time list? Not at all, but think we romanticize how skilled a lot of fighters ‘back in the day’ actually were. Don’t forget that they called the string of no-hopers whom Joe Louis faced “The Bum Of the Month Club”, either.

The other major mark against Wladimir is the setbacks he suffered earlier in this career, so let’s look at his losses and see if we can uncover anything more from that.

In 1998, Wlad suffered his first defeat to the journeyman Ross Purrity. It was an upset which saw him lose his unbeaten record to the American, but this was relatively early in his career and no doubt proved a learning experience for the Ukrainian. This was his 25th fight and to put that into perspective, Marvin Hagler lost his 27th career fight and I would not dream of using that to tarnish the man’s impeccable record.

Wlad’s next loss was to Corrie Sanders in a 2nd round TKO which no one expected. Simply put, Wlad got caught and clearly underestimated what the southpaw was capable of doing to an exposed chin. All credit to Sanders — it was a terrific victory and would be a career highlight for any heavyweight of recent times. It was this loss and then the (later avenged) loss to Lamon Brewster which carved the Wlad we see today.

Wlad lost to Brewster a decade ago but has looked entirely different ever since, with a more methodical and meticulous fighting style from Klitschko. It’s been safer, but also more successful. To borrow the wonderful observation from Carl Froch, the best kind of chin is the one which doesn’t get hit.

Wladimir went down several times in his fight against Peter, but this would prove to be – to this date – the last time he has hit the canvas. That’s nine years of staying on his feet, and that’s a long time in boxing, particularly in the heavyweight division.

The dominance which ensued has come down to Wlad’s style. He has the most powerful and efficient jab in boxing today, once knocking out Ray Austin in the second round without actually using his right hand at all. The beauty that is his jab is clearly made possible by Klitschko’s size and reach advantage over pretty much all of his opposition. There’s nothing wrong with that though; not using your physical advantages in boxing is something many an otherwise great fighter has been impugned for historically.

Klitschko’s boxing is one of the most textbook styles you’ll see. The mantra of ‘hit and don’t get hit’ is generally employed by the most accomplished boxers, from Guillermo Rigondeaux to Floyd Mayweather and Andrew Ward, our top three pound for pound, and is simply boxing in its purest form. While Klitschko isn’t as mobile as some of the aforementioned fighter, given his size obviously, the principle and ideology is the same.

As for the ‘cherry-picking’, Klitschko has 3 belts to fight mandatory challengers for, which he has been doing for some time. You can’t hold it against him that some of the challengers were not of high-quality. His next bout is against Kubrat Pulev which is expected to be his toughest test for some time, though I seem recall an awful lot of these fights over the last few years supposing to be Klitschko’s toughest test to date.

If we’re honest, can we think of anyone – other than perhaps Vitali – who Wlad hasn’t fought? He’s one of the few guys around where you struggle to come up with a name of someone he has ducked. Wladimir Klitschko is the best heavyweight of the last decade and looks like he has another strong few years left in the tank. If he retires unscathed after another handful of victories over the next generation, I’d struggle to see how anyone can call his legacy into question.

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