Home Columns Wladimir Klitschko’s road to a golden retirement

Wladimir Klitschko’s road to a golden retirement

Credit: Michael Sterling Eaton

How Wladimir Klitschko Can Retire as One of the Best Heavyweights of All-Time:

Although just where Wladimir Klitschko might stand among history’s greatest heavyweight champions is a popular debate subject, that the Ukrainian boxer has enjoyed a marvelous second-half to his career is beyond dispute. Yet Dr. Steelhammer will turn 38 in March 2014, and retirement must be on his mind.

Big Wlad’s career might last two more years or only until his next fight, but he is without question in the final act. The question that should be foremost on his mind is how to use his last fights so as to give his legacy its golden capstone.

[Also See: Wladimir Klitschko vs. the top 10 heavyweights in history]

The Foundation of the Klitschko Legacy

The Wladimir Klitschko we know today began in 2005, with a thumping TKO over fringe contender Eliseo Castillo and a rocky win over Nigerian slugger Samuel Peter. From there, he has gone from victory to victory, usually by knockout. Over the course of those several years, Klitschko the Younger cleaned out the survivors of his own generation of big men (Chris Byrd, Hasim Rahman, Lamon Brewster, Tony Thompson, etc.) and the contenders of the next generation (Eddie Chambers, Ruslan Chagaev, David Haye, Alexander Povetkin, etc.).

It’s not just that Klitschko keeps on winning that makes him look good, but the simple fact that he has out-lasted both his own class and the succeeding class of heavyweight fighters. What could set Klitschko apart is taking down the cream of the rising, new crop of big guys before he retires, for it would put him in the same multi-generation category as Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, and Lennox Lewis.

Note to Wlad: Don’t Repeat 2012-2013

Where Big Wlad slid off the rails was the year and a half before his long overdue showdown with Alexander Povetkin. This period saw him fight an aged cruiserweight in Jean Marc Mormeck, two paper contenders in Mariusz Wach and Francesco Pianeta, and a pointless rematch with Tony Thompson. While not entirely Klitschko’s fault, four “gimme” fights in a row isn’t the stuff enduring legends are built on. If Dr. Klitschko closes his career in this fashion, his critics will be provided with plenty of armor piercing ammunition.

Klitschko needs to focus his next fights squarely on getting the new, rising lions into the ring. For example, his legacy does not need a unification fight with the winner of Bermane Stiverne vs. Chris Arreola (for the WBC title vacated by big brother Vitali), however glittering the prospect of going out as the Undisputed World Heavyweight Champion might be. God forbid he should be lured into a big, but pointless payday against a comebacking David Tua!

Instead, Klitschko needs to beat two or three of the following: Kubrat Pulev, Tyson Fury, Bryant Jennings, Alex Leapai, Robert Helenius, and/or Deontay Wilder. I say he needs to beat at least two and preferably three of those guys to increase his odds of having defeated one of the true coming heavyweights of the future.

If he beats only one of these young lions, and that prospect then folds up and amounts to nothing of lasting consequence, the victory doesn’t add much to Klitschko’s enduring reputation. On the other hand, if Klitschko were to retire at the end of this year by beating the guy who goes on to reign as IBF-WBO champion from 2015 to 2018… well, you get the idea.

Bottom line: Klitschko needs more fights like Povetkin, and none at all like Thompson II or Wach or Mormeck. He can silence most of his critics if he goes out as the man who cleaned out three distinct generations of heavyweights, for that accomplishment puts him in truly rarefied territory.

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Richard Thomas has been in and out of boxing gyms in Kentucky, Ohio, the District of Columbia and Thailand and for a quarter century, and writing about boxing since 1997. A passionate devotee of the sport, he is as keenly interested in boxing history as he is in the latest bout. He currently lives in Europe, and is also the owner and Managing Editor of The Whiskey Reviewer.