By Cliff Rold
It was a fight with so many of the elements that have made boxing fun over the years…on paper. It was the first Heavyweight title fight between former Super Heavyweight Gold Medalists. It had some ethnic rivalry flavor. It presented what looked like an intriguing style clash.
Paper isn’t a ring canvas.
On Saturday night in Moscow, Wladimir Klitschko didn’t come to fight. He came to win. Alexander Povetkin didn’t have a clue how to deal with it.
Let’s go to the report cards
Pre-Fight: Speed – Klitschko B+; Povetkin B/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Power – Klitschko A+; Povetkin B/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Defense – Klitschko B+; Povetkin B-/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Klitschko A; Povetkin B+/Post: B; C
When Klitschko came out of the corner in the first round, he went right to work leaning on Povetkin, locking him up, and beginning the process of wearing down his legs. Referee Luis Pabon let it be known through his inaction that he had no beef with it.
In the pre-fight report card, it was noted that Pabon’s officiating could be a big influence on the pace of the fight. It was. One could make the case for Klitschko’s tactics meriting a disqualification. It’s more likely an early hard warning, or point deduction, versus waiting until round eleven to address the obvious, would have changed the flow of the fight.
That’s not saying Povetkin wins at all. Wlad hurt Povetkin any time he caught him flush. He didn’t have to fight the way he did to win. He just did so because it was there for him.
What we got was the most unwatchable, dreadful Heavyweight title contest in a long time; since at least Klitschko-Sultan Ibragimov. In that fight, the blame was almost entirely on an Ibragimov who played full body keep away most of the night. Klitschko gets much more blame here. His strategy was a marriage of the worst of Bernard Hopkins in one of his fouling moods and John Ruiz’s bearhug-then-punch years on the same night. Leading with clinches, throwing headlocks and punching underneath of them, even hopping back and falling forward in spots…
It was just ugly.
Povetkin deserves some blame as well.
He started some clinches too, if far fewer in a fight with what appeared to more than 100 of them. When a man fights you dirty and the referee is content to watch, you have two choices: take it or fight fire with fire. While it’s never a good thing to advocate foul tactics, Povetkin was within his fighting rights to throw a low blow or two being he was already being forced that direction. He could also have tried standing up hard with a shoulder.
He needed to do something other than what he did, something to draw a line and say “screw this, I’m not getting fouled all night without a price exacted for it.” He didn’t. Perhaps he didn’t know how.
A day after the fight, able to put aside the pain of enduring twelve rounds of viewing it, perspective settles in. Klitschko went Clinchko, but neither the official nor his foe was willing to do anything about it. Blame the champion for the strategy.
It still worked. He’s still got the IBF, WBO, IBO, WBA ‘Super,’ Ring Magazine, and lineal crowns. He’s now recognized as the champion by the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board as well.
He’s still the man at Heavyweight.
The first six rounds were closer than the scorecards read (it’s hard to score for someone trying not to fight) but they set the page perfectly for the rest of the night and Klitschko beat Povetkin up in spots down the stretch while only taking a few hard rights for his trouble.
Povetkin gets an A for endurance. He stood up to some big shots and didn’t quit. He gets an F for not doing anything to answer what was not unpredictable. It was noted in the pre-fight report card that Klitschko has clinched less in recent affairs, perhaps because the foes gave no reason to do so.
Povetkin was viewed as more of a threat and, well, there you go.
In the end, it’s just another night in a dominant reign and it doesn’t change the last eight years. Klitschko remains the best in the business and anyone would rather be him today than Povetkin. He’s the one with the title. His run, no matter the aftertaste of last night, is still one that barring a disastrous defeat will see him rated by some at least among the top fifteen Heavyweights of all time.
He’s the one with options.
Povetkin’s are few. He can hope that when the sub-title of the WBA becomes vacant again, he may have the chance to fight undefeated Cuban Luis Ortiz (19-0, 16 KO) or the winner of the rescheduled David Haye-Tyson Fury fight for that vacant bauble. Ortiz is the most talented Heavyweight no one has really heard of, a fighter with decent size, speed, and a deep Cuban amateur background. He’s an x-factor in the division who hasn’t fought anyone yet but who would be no surprise as an emergent force.
Haye and Ortiz are currently 1-2 in the WBA ratings.
What about Klitschko? Klitschko is eleven wins away from a sport and divisions record 26 consecutive title defenses. At 37, can he keep going and avoid the bumps in the road that may emerge?
He has two undefeated mandatory challengers looming. Denis Boytsov (33-0, 26 KO) is the WBO’s and should excite no one. His career has been carefully guided and risk managed. He does not appear to be any sort of threat to Klitschko. His best win might be Dominick Guinn and his mandatory status is purely about attrition over merit.
More intriguing is IBF mandatory Kubrat Pulev (18-0, 9 KO). Pulev isn’t a big puncher but he’s a sound boxer, has size, and is young. He came from behind early to outbox Tony Thompson and is a deserving challenger. Whether he has the overall game to beat Klitschko remains to be seen.
Beyond him, Fury (21-0, 15 KO) has the big punch and big personality to sell a big fight if he gets by Haye. That’s still a big if, but he’d make for a fun promotion and always comes to war. His size would make it hard to just tie him up.
And then there is the big wild card. 2008 US Olympic Bronze Medalist Deontay Wilder (29-0, 29 KO) has huge question marks about his chin. He’s never fought past six rounds. He’s never fought anyone with a pulse.
Wilder has size, outstanding speed, and the power to put down a wall. He’s also showing much better balance and fluidity. His amateur career was short and he’s been a project from jump. The athletic intrigue he provides can’t be ignored. The question marks can’t either.
If he emerges from now and through 2014 as a real contender, he might create enough excitement to merit HBO getting back into the Wladimir business they were out of for a couple years. Wilder’s ties to Golden Boy and Al Haymon could also entice Showtime into a Klitschko showing.
Wilder may prove to be a fraud. If he’s not, or if it just gets disguised long enough, Wilder-Klitschko could be the fight everyone wants to see in the next eighteen months. If he’s the real thing, we may finally have a fun fight both on paper and in the ring.
Report Card Picks 2013: 40-22
A couple quick notes on the rest of the HBO broadcast slate on Saturday…Miguel Cotto isn’t back. He never went anywhere in the first place. Delvin Rodriguez isn’t the same class of fighter as Floyd Mayweather and Austin Trout. This should make more people appreciate how good those two men’s wins over Cotto really were. Cotto has been one of the best of his time and it’s taken some damn good fighters to put 4 L’s on his ledger. That he showed he’s still got plenty left in the tank is a good thing for boxing…Terrence Crawford probably has some big wins ahead of him. Hopefully, he’s matched with foes that make it worth watching in the future.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]