Home Columns Wladimir Klitschko vs. top 10 all-time great heavyweights

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)