Where Will Klitschko End up Historically?
Whenever someone wants to criticize Wladimir Klitschko, they inevitably start by saying however dominant the Ukrainian champion has been, it has been over a weak heavyweight division. I’m very familiar with that line of thinking because, once upon a time, I used it too. The idea even has a kernel of truth to it, because it aptly describes much of Dr. Steelhammer’s career.
One way I frequently describe Wladimir Klitschko is as the last man standing of his own generation of heavyweight fighters. He has outlasted (and often personally disposed of) rivals such as Chris Byrd, Corrie Sanders, Sam Peter and Hasim Rahman, and frankly a lot of those guys were underachievers or flawed in some way. As much as I always liked Chris Byrd, he was always fighting on an undersized body; Sanders was more interested in playing golf than boxing; Peter got lazy; Rahman was a knucklehead who couldn’t beat an old Evander Holyfield or James “Let’s Eat” Toney.
As the years passed and Klitschko’s continuing dominance began to carry him into a new era of challengers, it looked like the fresh faces would ultimately prove to be more of the same. Eddie Chambers was almost the second coming of Chris Byrd, while Ruslan Chagaev proved to be not as special as he seemed at first.
Then came the humiliation of David Haye. Tony Thompson destroyed David Price, rehabilitating the American’s reputation in the process after two very one-sided defeats to Klitschko. Finally, Alexander Povetkin was shut out in a huge decision loss.
What separates Haye, Thompson and Povetkin from the likes of Peter and Rahman is that they aren’t such wretched losers. Therein lies the point upon which Klitschko’s place in boxing history lies. Without one or more great rivals to duel with, whether or not Big Wlad’s career comes to be counted among those of the truly great heavyweight champions depends in large part upon what his defeated foes do in turn with their careers. Klitschko looks a lot better these days not so much because he kept on winning, but because some of the guys he beat went on to substantial victories of their own afterward.
If Kubrat Pulev goes on after Klitschko’s retirement (most likely in mid-2016, after his HBO contract expires) to grab a belt and beat a few Top 10 contenders to keep it, it confirms that Pulev was a serious character, and that makes Klitschko’s one-sided win over him that much better. The exact same thing can be said for Alexander Povetkin, or for Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder, Bermane Stiverne and/or Bryant Jennings, should Klitschko tangle with any of them in his remaining fights.
Never forget that back in 2003-04, boxing had almost written off Wladimir Klitschko following two knockout defeats at the hands of Sanders and Lamon Brewster. What mattered wasn’t that Klitschko got walloped, but what he did after that. That’s what makes many of Big Wlad’s wins prior to 2011 look so lackluster, because the guys he beat were either lackluster themselves or simply too small to compete. This same logic could also very well confirm him as a great heavyweight champion if more of his future opponents go on to bigger and better things.