Wladimir Klitschko vs. top 10 all-time great heavyweights

Credit: Public Address / Stefan Hoyer

How Would Wlad Klitschko fare against the 10 best heavyweights in boxing history?

If I know of one constant among true, die-hard fight fans, it is the propensity to draw up lists of the greatest heavyweights of all-time. Proboxing-fans has two such lists, one from Scott Levinson and another from Mike Boehm. The allure is understandable, as the big men of boxing are ostensibly the most physically dangerous men on the planet, so the all-time great heavyweights are therefore some of the toughest hombres who ever lived.

The problem with most of the lists I’ve seen on fan forums, starting in the mid-1990s with and the popularization of the internet, is the lack of historical perspective. Fans who have never watched archival footage of Joe Louis or Jack Dempsey lack a clear idea of how these men fought and what they were like, so the tendency is to focus on more modern fighter with whom said fans are more familiar. In no case is this distortion more telling than now, since fans of Wladimir Klitschko regard him as invincible, a stance that disregards both Klitschko’s own career and those of the all-time greats.

Analyzing Dr. Steelhammer

Credit: Public Address / Stefan Hoyer

This is not to say Wladimir Klitschko became the reigning top dog of the heavyweight division by accident. The man has many strengths to his credit. The most obvious is his size, but Klitschko has fast hands and reasonably nimble feet for such a big man, truly a rare combination. I can count the number of heavyweights standing 6’5″ or taller who combined size and grace on one hand. The man is also a master of the stand-up, Continental style of boxing.

Most importantly, Klitschko has the mind of a champion. Despite early career setbacks, his powerful self-belief and a professional’s discipline drove him to the success he now enjoys.

Against this, Klitschko has a merely average chin, and any heavyweight with good power could dent it. He also has limited recuperative powers, so when he gets gassed he tends to stay that way. Finally, Klitschko’s style is at least as noted for its caution and inflexibility as for its technical prowess. Dr. Steelhammer has only one game plan and he sticks to it as if his life depended on it (and his early career losses indicate that it does).

Klitschko has done as well as he has because he doggedly hung on until the heavyweight division sank into a miasma of weakness, and he is not the first man to prosper under such circumstances. Both Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson shot to the top years before the other fighters of their generation, exploding onto a heavyweight scene made up mostly of the tired old remnants of the previous generation. Klitschko out-lasted everyone in his rather average generation of heavyweights, which was followed by a generation of thoroughly mediocre heavyweights.

Klitschko vs. The Top 10 Heavyweight Greats

  1. Muhammad Ali: In some ways, Wladimir Klitschko is tailor-made for Muhammad Ali. The Greatest is faster, more mobile, has the power to dent Klitschko’s chin, a smarter fighter and was always at his best when guys came to him in a predictable fashion. He is also no stranger to tackling giants, having delivered a vicious, one-sided beating to Earnie Terrell (“What’s my name!? What’s my name!?”), who is really only one step behind Klitschko in terms of overall talent. This is not to say the fight would be easy for Ali, especially not in the opening rounds. Starting out slow, it is easy to see Ali letting Klitschko come on and bag rounds as he times the big Ukrainian. I usually imagine Klitschko tagging Ali hard in Round 2 or 3, but like a fox the hurt Ali makes a show of how hurt he was (he played possum like that often), fooling Klitschko into thinking he was faking it and not pressing the issue. Little brother Wladimir is so cautious he would fall for such a ploy easily. After that, Ali takes Klitschko’s main weapon — his jab — away from him with well-timed, lightning fast counter rights. Eventually, one of those rights staggers Klitschko, and Ali never lets him find his legs. Muhammad Ali TKO9 Wladimir Klitschko
  2. Joe Louis: Two things undo Joe Louis in this scenario. Joe Louis has the sheer power, offensive skills and murderous finishing prowess to make mincemeat of Klitschko given the chance, but he would almost certainly never get that chance. The Brown Bomber’s shuffling footwork and small stature would combine to make him a target for long range Klitschko pot shots all night. If Klitschko’s cautious style would hurt him against Ali, it would clinch victory for him over Louis. Wladimir Klitschko TKO11 Joe Louis.
  3. Jack Johnson: Jack Johnson was a pioneer in more than just race relations. He is one of those boxers experts point to as having invented and/or perfected many of the techniques we associate with modern boxing. That gave him enormous advantages over the men he faced in his day, advantages he would not enjoy against Dr. Steelhammer. Wladimir Klitschko KO20 Jack Johnson (you read that right – remember in Johnson’s era, fights could be scheduled for several dozen rounds!)
  4. Larry Holmes: Given how much Klitschko’s style is contingent upon establishing the jab for both offensive and defensive purposes, I have a hard time seeing him beat one of boxing’s all-time great master jabbers, the Easton Assassin. Holmes would need to struggle to retain his ascendancy every minute of every round, but I can’t see Klitschko out-jabbing the man with the Golden Jab, and without that jab Klitschko’s entire style of boxing is disrupted. Larry Holmes SD12 Wladimir Klitschko
  5. Evander Holyfield: Holyfield’s record shows he struggled badly with talented fighters of Klitschko’s size, but Wladimir Klitschko is no Lennox Lewis or prime Riddick Bowe. Wladimir Klitschko SD12 Evander Holyfield
  6. George Foreman: Like Louis, Foreman has all the deadly capabilities to demolish Klitschko if given the chance, but I can’t see even a prime Foreman pulling it off. I don’t see Big George’s footwork and jab being up to penetrating Klitschko’s jab, and Foreman were able to do that, his big, looping power shots would give Klitschko innumerable opportunities for counter-rights. Wladimir Klitschko KO5 George Foreman
  7. Rocky Marciano: Part of me thinks Marciano, the juggernaut swarmer who showed no pain even when his nose was half-knocked off, would press Klitschko so hard that the big guy would tire and become vulnerable in the later rounds. However, Marciano is so much smaller than Klitschko that I suspect it wouldn’t take that much energy to keep him back or move away from him. Assuming a 20-sq. foot or 22-sq. foot ring, Klitschko busts Marciano up until the Brockton Brawler is gushing blood. Wladimir Klitschko TKO7 Rocky Marciano
  8. Jack Dempsey: Dempsey is too small and too crude to pose a threat to Wladimir Klitschko. You can only get so far on bloody-mindedness and sheer power in an all-time greats fantasy fight list. Wladimir Klitschko TKO11 Jack Dempsey
  9. Lennox Lewis: A prime, fit Lennox Lewis would pitch in on Wladimir Klitschko and rip him apart. While their mutual trainer, Emmanuel Steward, has never commented on this subject directly, comparing what he says about Lewis and Klitschko separately makes this outcome very, very clear. Lennox Lewis KO7 Wladimir Klitschko
  10. Joe Frazier: Frazier was a much more polished swarmer than either Marciano or Dempsey, and was bigger than those men to boot. However, I still think he was too small to pose a serious threat to Klitschko. Wladimir Klitschko UD15 Joe Frazier

Wlad Klitschko vs. the top 10 heavyweights of all-time:

7 wins (5 by stoppage, 2 by decision) ; 3 losses (2 by stoppage, 1 decision)

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  1. Haye is a lot better boxer than he showed against Klitschko, but he simply is not big enough to be a top heavyweight champ. IMO the greatest of all time is Lewis. He retired with his brain intact. took less head punches than any other champion in the history of boxing,He was never outboxed but ko’d twice, and ducked nobody. The old time champions were great, but way way too small for the giants around today. Its almost unfair to compare due to the weight difference. Mormek ain’t a bad fighter, but was like a boy against klitschko, once again he’s no heavyweight.
    ps Lewis looked slow and unfit in his last ever fight against Klitschko, he won but I don’t want to ever see him fight again in that condition.

    • did you.see.the.fight Lewis VS vitali. vitali easily outboxed Lewis and he.Will.always do so. not a.good sign. its clear that any.version of.Lewis Will struggle against vitali. Lewis dug deep and.rely on a big punch in that.fight. very untypical and hes outboxed

  2. Excellent analysis, but I must disagree on one match-up. Klitschko KO 5 Foreman? No chance at all. Considering Big George’s hammer of a jab,sturdy chin and sheer power, china-chin Wlad Klitschko gets chilled in 5 rounds or less.

    • While a agree that Wald couldn’t ko Big George I don’t see him losing to him either. In terms of punching power both men belong in the top 10 in heavyweight history, both had bricks for fists, but I think George was still the harder hitter. In terms of technical skills there is no comparison, Klitscho can box circles around Foreman, although Foreman did have some good skills they don’t compare to a ring master like Klitscho. I see the fight going the distance and give Klitscho the UD. George had amazing power and a good chin but he couldn’t use that power against Klitscho and Wald’s iron jab would just wear Forman down over 15 rounds for the wide decision victory.

  3. are you kidding man Ko foreman and Joe Louis? You have obviously never boxed and only know the sport from an unintelligent spectators point of view. Especially after tonights fight I consider Wlad the worst of all the Heavyweight post ww2.

  4. Evander Holyfield would have made Wlad fight and not box. Knowing his suspect chin, and Evander loves to goto the body, would have posed alot of issues with Klitschko. And Wlad cannot stay on the outside forever and he would have to mix it up with Holyfield. Evander Holyfield by 11th round KO and for the record He nor his brother have fought a man who would not even attempt to run on them. Evander would tag him, and once he attempts to hold as he usually does, it’s a “KO” for the “Real Deal” Holyfield. Far too much heart, and fought far better competition that both brothers.

    • You act like Holyfield is the only one to figure out that Wald had a weak chin. Wald has kept boxers like Holyfield on the outside multiple times and it always ends with them getting clinched until they get frustrated and get careless and leave an opportunity for Wald to end them

  5. are you fucking crazy , Wlad tailor made for Ali, its the other way around. Wlad would murder Ali, featherfisted Ali would not even land a punch let alone win a round. What a stupid article . MORE AMERICAN BIASED GARBAGE, AND PLS DONT REFER TO ALI AS THE GREAT ONE . GREAT AT WHAT , RUNNING HIS MOUTH OFF.
    lennox lewis is the only fighter here that would give Wlad problem s, and i did not say beat , i said give problems . Wlad is the most dominant, technically best , strongest , best natural athlete , biggest the HW division has ever seen and u say Ali would beat him , what a joke .

  6. frasier the one eyed midget beat Ali , and should have beaten him twice . that says it all . frasier and ali are the 2 most overated athletes in history . stupid fucking american biased idiots.
    Wlad would have toyed with Holyfield and eventually KOd him.
    its Laughable.
    Lennox and Wlad are the Goats to be fair but even lennox would lose to Wlad cause Wlad is the new breed of HW.

  7. ´

    Sure: Frazier, Marciano, and Dempsey were much smaller and lighter than Klitschko. Nonetheless, Marciano & Dempsey had more punching power than Klischko – that’s what all the international experts, historians & chroniclers from the Ring magazine etc. say.

    Furthermore, expecially Marciano has shown in his career that he was able to take serious punches from hard hitters without beeing much impressed. So I think Klitschko can’t avoid the infight with Rocky. And while he may hit Marciano several times and frequently – this won’t stop Rocky throwing in some dangerous hooks – and finally landing his deadly right called “Suzie Q” straight on Klitschko’s vulnerable chin.

    Marciano was tougher and had significantly more punching power than Klitschko. And Klitschko has a much more sensitive chin than Marciano. So sooner or later Klitschko would be knocked out by Rocky, no doubt….

  8. Very impressive picks, finally somebody who recognizes klitsckho’s true greatness. I agree with most of your picks and reasoning. You are very knowledgable. People don’t realized how big wladimir is and how good his jab is. I think Wladimir would beat holmes and would give him the edge against Lennox Lewis. Thanks

  9. Joe Louis was the most powerful and fastest punching heavyweight boxer in ring history. His great hand speed, especially in combination, was awesome to behold. He had a powerful jab, threw every punch perfectly and with wasteless accuracy. His right cross, thrown short and straight, was sheer dynamite. The “Brown Bomber” never ducked anyone as his record 25 title defenses attests to. Of those 25 successful defenses, 21 were won by knockout, 17 of those were ten counts! 5 in the first round! He also knocked out six men who held the Heavyweight Championship of the World. From 1934 to 1949, when he first retired as champion, his record was 60-1 with 51 knockouts. He held the Heavyweight Championship for a record of nearly 12 years. Louis absolutely feasted on large targets. This can be easily seen by anyone who seriously studies the films of his fights. In his first fight with the Lennox Lewis sized Buddy Baer he spun his foe to the canvas with a right hand that traveled about 6 inches. It looked much like the right hand that Mike Tyson hit Frans Botha with. While not a great fighter, Buddy was as big as modern heavyweights and he was a legit contender with a respectable 50-5 record at the time. Buddy was absolutely destroyed by Louis in two fights. Louis proved he had the power to not only knock out heavyweights of “modern” size but to utterly annihilate them. Abe Simon was as big as the old George Foreman, and he had a similar build about 260 pounds, with huge back and shoulder muscles and a square jaw made to absorb punishment. Simon held a knockout victory over Jersey Joe Walcott, yet Louis blazing punches, especially in their second fight, crushed him. Louis stands up well when compared to modern heavyweight hitters. Riddick Bowe, for example, did not throw a correct straight right cross and had a tendency to hook with his right hand. Bowe had power because of his size but it does not compare to Joe Louis perfectly straight, fast and explosive punches. Lennox Lewis was a powerful straight hitter but he lacked Joe’s hand speed and punching accuracy in combination, as well as his killer instinct as a finisher and therefore cannot rate ahead of Louis as a puncher. Mike Tyson had the speed, raw power, explosiveness and killer instinct, but lacked the punching accuracy of Joe Louis and Tyson’s combinations were far more predictable. None of the great heavyweight hitters rate ahead of Joe Louis in all around ability as a boxer or a puncher.

    Joe Louis had the speed, accuracy, power and explosiveness to take out bigger, slower, modern heavyweights, which is one reason Louis shines brightly in the eyes of boxing historians. Joe also was a superb technician who made opponent’s pay for mistakes and could dissect any opponent’s style once he understood them as his record of 10-0 in rematches demonstrates.

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