For all the disregard he engenders amongst American boxing fans, Wladimir Klitschko has become an increasingly historic figure in the sport's most celebrated weight class. Ever since he won the IBF belt from Chris Byrd in 2006, "Dr. Steelhammer" has put together a reign for the ages. Consider:
* His current reign is nearing its seventh year and if, as expected, he retains his belts Saturday against Francesco Pienta he will likely pass Larry Holmes for the second longest heavyweight title tenure.
* He is now 20-2 (16 KO) in title competition.
* He hasn't lost a fight in more than nine years and has gone 17-0 (12 KO) in that time.
* His 13 consecutive defenses thus far ranks only behind Joe Louis (25) and Holmes (20), and given the current crop it appears that he can rule for as long as he pleases.
Needless to say, a Pianeta victory over Klitschko will rank among the greatest upsets in boxing history -- and maybe sports history. Stranger things have happened in "The Sweet Science," however, but the stats indicate a tough road ahead for the Italian southpaw. Here's why:
Klitschko vs. Left-Handers: Including his stoppage of Chris Byrd in their 2006 rematch to begin his current title run, Klitschko has faced four southpaws in five fights -- Byrd, Ruslan Chagaev, Sultan Ibragimov and Tony Thompson (twice). His record: 5-0 (4 KO). If that isn't enough, Klitschko has defied conventional wisdom by performing better on offense, at least statistically, against southpaws than against right-handers.
Although Klitschko is more sparing with his punches against lefties (35.8 per round vs. 51 against righties), Klitschko is more accurate across the board (36.5% to 34.2% overall, 33.5% to 32.9% jabs and 40.9% to 37.2% power). But while he dishes out more punishment on left-handers, he does take a bit more from them. The left-handers landed 30.1% of their total punches vs. 23.4% for the righties, 21.5% of their jabs vs. 20% for the conventional fighters, and, perhaps most importantly, Klitschko took 39.4% of the left-handers' power punches while taking just 28.8% of the righties'.
If Pianeta can exceed the 27.3 punches per round that Klitschko faced against past southpaw opponents, he has a better chance of penetrating the champion's guard. His history, however, is mixed in this area.
Pianeta's Pacing: In polishing off the shorter and badly conditioned Nelson Dario Dominguez in 151 seconds, Dominguez fired 40 punches, which projects to nearly 47 punches per round -- slightly above the 45.8 heavyweight average. In that fight he had to generate his own pace but in bouts against 43-year-old Francois Botha and 47-year-old Oliver McCall -- both decision wins -- Pianeta tailored his attack based on what was coming back at him.
Although Botha presented a horrifically open target, Pianetta chose to fight with ultimate respect and caution. Botha threw just 35.1 punches per round because that's about all his aged body could generate but the 27-year-old Pianeta -- supposedly in the prime of his life -- threw only 35.2 punches per round. Yes, he out-landed Botha 130-50 (total), 40-14 (jabs) and 90-36 (power) and connected at a much higher percentage (37%-14% overall, 21%-7% jabs, 55%-24% power), but the phlegmatic temperament revealed a lot about his fistic character. Instead of proactive, he was reactive and he was hesitant to exploit what was in front of him. Also, his best punches not only failed to budge "The White Buffalo," they barely engendered a reaction.
McCall, to his credit, fought harder, and thus caused Pianeta to fight harder. Pianeta averaged 53.6 punches per round to McCall's 38.1 and the younger man out-landed the ex-champ 158-85 (total), 55-15 (jabs) and 103-70 (power). Pianeta's production peaked in round two when he threw 83 punches and in rounds five through 10 he fired 60, 57, 45, 67, 38 and 57 punches, an excellent heavyweight pace. On the minus side, McCall managed to badly stun Pianeta in round seven, the only round in which he didn't trail his foe in connects (they tied at 16).
The question must be asked: If Pianeta can be stunned by an ex-champ pushing 50, how badly will he react once he's hit by "Dr. Steelhammer's" signature right cross?
Prediction: The guess here is "not well." The fighter that beats Klitschko will have to seize the initiative and take the fight to him fearlessly. Pianeta simply isn't that kind of fighter; because he tends to react to his surroundings rather than shape them, he will succumb to the long-range tactics that have defined Klitschko's current reign. Also, Klitschko has fought more rounds in championship fights (169) than Pianeta has fought in his career (161). The gaping gulf in experience and talent will be too much for Pianeta to overcome. As a result, Klitschko will continue his march toward history by winning in the manner of his choosing.