By Andreas Hale
The announcement came out of nowhere although many of us expected it to come sooner than it did. And, frankly, there are more than enough people who are ecstatic that the end has finally come.
Rather than face Anthony Joshua in a rematch, Wladimir Klitschko has decided that it was time to walk away from boxing at the age of 41. The second-longest reigning heavyweight champion of all-time decided to end boxing before boxing ended him. It marked the end of an era that unofficially began with Klitschko’s losses to Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua and officially ended on August 3rd, 2017.
“At some point in our lives we need to, or just want to, switch our careers and get ourselves ready for the next chapter and chart a fresh course toward fresh challenges. Obviously, I’m not an exception to this. And now it’s my turn,” said Klitschko on his website.
And thus, a chapter has closed in boxing. But for others, the retirement of Wlad Klitschko is viewed as a new chapter opening. One that isn’t confined to the shackles of the era that Vitali and Wladimir ruled boxing with an iron fist from 2004 to 2015. For many, this era was likened to a dark age of the heavyweight division for American fight fans. No American heavyweight posed a threat to Vitali and Wladimir’s reign and the division faded into the background of boxing.
How the Klitschko Era will be remembered is challenging. Although it was during a time when heavyweight boxing in America suffered a extensive drought of talent, both Vitali and Wlad went out there and did what they had to do against whoever was put in front of them. In Wlad’s case, it can be argued that he sucked the life out of the division once he decided to become a student of the late Emanuel Steward, which saw his strategy shift from an aggressive knockout artist to a defensive minded giant. Although it was a successful strategy that saw him go undefeated from October of 2004 until November of 2015, it lacked the violent endings that other heavyweight greats from previous eras were known for. That, coupled with the fact that he fought and lived overseas, hurt the heavyweight division’s appeal in the United States.
Depending on what kind of boxing fan you are, Klitshcko’s retirement could be a day of celebration. Although he had already lost to Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua, his looming presence was a threat that he could come back and reign supreme with his long jab and straight right hand.
Ask Anthony Joshua how close he came to losing a fight that many assumed he had in his back pocket. As long as Wlad was present, he would always be a threat.
But with his retirement, the path is completely clear for the new era of heavyweights to begin their own era of dominance. And the current crop of heavyweights represents everything that the Klitschkos weren’t. They are destructive forces with vibrant personalities who can bring prestige back to the heavyweight division in America.
It’s important that “in America” is emphasized as heavyweight boxing thrived during the Klitschko Era overseas. Despite being stuck with overmatched opponents, Wladimir Klitschko sold out massive arenas overseas. But with a majority of his fights taking place in Europe, American boxing fans rarely saw or heard about a Klitschko fight. Because of this, popularity waned and the heavyweight division became a mere afterthought. It’s not necessarily the Klitschko Brothers’ fault for being too good. Rather, it was a division that was pretty bad. Unfortunately, that will affect how we remember the Klitschkos. Over a decade of dominance but you’ll be hard pressed to remember any of their opponents, much less see a Hall of Famer on their resume.
The division is wide open now and heavyweight boxing appears to be heading back to the United States. Before announcing his retirement, Klistchko was slated to square off against Anthony Joshua in Las Vegas. Prior to that, fighters such as Deontay Wilder were generating interest in heavyweight boxing with his bombastic personality and booming right hand. Although they aren’t from the States, Tyson Fury’s larger than life personality intrigued fight fans while Anthony Joshua’s superhuman physique and boxing ability screamed mainstream attraction. Sprinkle in the likes of Luis Ortiz and Joseph Parker and you have a division that could thrive once again.
Dominance is a troublesome thing in sports because it doesn’t always suggest that the sport that is being dominated is elevated because a certain individual or team reigns supreme year after year. There are those who will complain about the Golden State Warriors constructing a team that looks as if it will rule for the next 3-5 years and leave people uninterested in the regular season. Sometimes, dominance alone isn’t enough to make a sport appealing. Floyd Mayweather may not be the most exciting boxer to enter the ring, but he figured out how to create a character that people will pay to see lose.
The Klitschko Brothers didn’t need controversial personalities or wheeling and dealing during the off season to dominate the heavyweight division for nearly two decades. But you are only as good as your competition and that’s where we struggle with our memories of the Klitschko Brothers.
If Wladimir and Vitali weren’t around, what would the heavyweight division have been like? Would Samuel Peter or Chris Areola have ruled it? Would David Haye have become a bigger mainstream star if he held the lineal heavyweight titles? Unfortunately, none of the aforementioned names were good enough to peel away the heavyweight titles from the grip of Vitali and Wladimir.
Maybe we’ll look back on the era of the Klitschko Brothers years from now and appreciate what they brought to the sport. Or, perhaps we’ll always remember that era as the weakest in heavyweight division history and the Klitschkos’ success was a byproduct of that.
Either way, it’s over and a new chapter in heavyweight boxing is about to begin.