By Lyle Fitzsimmons
When all eyes are trained on mid-ring at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas this weekend, what could be the most important fight in the sport this year will actually be three more weeks away.
On Oct. 5 in Moscow, consensus heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko gets another chance to prove himself more than a Ukrainian automaton when he faces consensus No. 1 challenger and dubious title claimant Alexander Povetkin at the stadium originally built for the 1980 Summer Olympics.
The fight will mark Klitschko’s 15th defenses of the IBF and IBO titles he won from Chris Byrd in 2006, the 11th defense of the WBO crown he grabbed from Sultan Ibragimov two years later and the fifth risk of the WBA “super” belt he captured from David Haye in 2011.
Povetkin will walk to the ring with the WBA’s suspect “regular” jewelry, which he acquired via 12-round decision over Ruslan Chagaev – exactly two years, two months and seven days after Klitschko had stopped the German-based Uzbekistan native in nine rounds.
Useless trinkets aside, the fight is the most important in years in a long moribund division, in which complete title unification has been rendered impossible by Klitschko’s insistence he won’t pursue the one major belt he doesn’t own – the WBC title that’s held by older brother Vitali.
Short of that, this one is as good as it gets.
With that in mind, we chased down Randy Gordon, the former New York State Athletic Commission chairman and ESPN/USA Network fight analyst, to discuss the importance of the fight and where the oft-criticized Klitschko fits among the recent heavyweight greats.
Q: It's been a while since a heavyweight fight was the fight in boxing. How important is it for this one to be memorable?
A: It would certainly be wonderful if the Klitschko-Povetkin fight turned into a fight we'd like to see more of. We haven't had much of that in the heavyweight division in recent years.
Q: What is your level of interest in this fight? More or less than other Wlad fights lately?
A: Personally, I am anxiously awaiting this fight. I have wanted to see it for a long time and now it's finally upon us. I, for one, anxiously await the opening bell.
Q: Is Wlad underrated compared to champs of the past?
A: I believe that, outside of the boxing media, many fans, despite knowing little about both of the Klitschkos, tend to vastly underrate them.
Q: How do you think he would have fared against the best from the 70s, 80s or 90s?
A: I often think of what the result would have been had Wladimir Klitschko faced the likes of Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Ken Norton, Michael Spinks, Evander Holyfield, Riddick Bowe, Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis. I can see Wladimir beating Norton, Spinks, Holyfield, Bowe, Tyson and Lewis, while losing to Ali, Frazier and Foreman. I find a matchup against Tyson intriguing, especially in the first four rounds, when Tyson was at his best. If Wladimir could get the fight into the fifth, I see him dominating Tyson and stopping him. I think Frazier would be able to get under Wladimir's long arms and hurt him early.
Q: Why hasn't he become a giant U.S. star? Because he's not American? Because he's not had great opposition? Because he's not an action fighter? After he's retired, do you think people will appreciate him anymore than they do now? Is this the defining fight for him, or is there another he could have that would elevate his stock?
A: Wladimir not being an American is not what has kept his popularity down in the U.S. What has hurt him has been his lack of visibility on U.S. television and the one-sidedness of his fights. Emanuel Steward told me a long time ago that Wladimir Klitschko is a great fighter. Steward said that Wladimir possesses more offensive tools than any fighter he has ever worked with. Wladimir wins and he wins easy and seemingly without much effort. I have a feeling he may finally have his defining match next year, against someone like Deontay Wilder, a big, strong puncher who actually out-sizes him. When he does, and if the fight becomes the first of a sequel, I think you'll see fans appreciate Wladimir even more. No matter what, his defining moment takes place soon against Alexander Povetkin. Even with his vast array of skills, I give Povetkin little chance of beating the younger Klitschko. Wladimir may just win so convincingly that we'll all come away shaking our heads, realizing that after all these years he wasn't just another heavyweight champion. We'll know he was a great heavyweight champion.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBA minimumweight title – Osaka, Japan
Ryo Miyazaki (champion) vs. Jesus Silvestre (No. 1 contender)
Miyazaki (19-0-3, 11 KO): Second title defense; Seventeenth fight in Osaka (13-0-3)
Silvestre (27-3, 20 KO): First title fight; Third fight outside Mexico (0-2)
Fitzbitz says: “Challenger has had limited success when venturing outside his own backyard, but a recent power surge has me thinking the third road time is the charm here.” Silvestre in 9
IBF junior middleweight title – Las Vegas, Nev.
Ishe Smith (champion) vs. Carlos Molina (No. 2 contender)
Smith (25-5, 11 KO): First title defense; Thirteenth fight in Las Vegas (12-0)
Molina (21-5-2, 6 KO): First title fight; Third fight in Las Vegas (1-0-1)
Fitzbitz says: “Hometown hero Smith is a sentimental favorite, while the rugged Molina has finally reached main stage after years of battling circumstance. The latter is due for a belt.” Molina by decision
WBA/WBC super welterweight titles – Las Vegas, Nev.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. (WBA champion) vs. Saul Alvarez (WBC champion)
Mayweather (44-0, 26 KO): First title defense; Twenty-second title fight in five divisions (21-0)
Alvarez (42-0-1, 30 KO): Seventh title defense; Third fight in Las Vegas (2-0)
Fitzbitz says: “Alvarez is a younger, bigger and stronger edition of the guy who’s been groomed to defeat Mayweather for years, but has always failed. The result doesn’t change here.” Mayweather in 10
WBA/WBC super lightweight titles – Las Vegas, Nev.
Danny Garcia (WBA/WBC champion) vs. Lucas Matthysse (unranked)
Garcia (26-0, 16 KO): Fourth WBC/third WBA defense; Tenth fight in Las Vegas (9-0)
Matthysse (34-2, 32 KO): First title fight; Eleven straight wins by stoppage
Fitzbitz says: “The early impression at the Peterson fight was that Garcia looked a little unnerved by Matthysse. It says here that he’s found a way to cope in the last four months.” Garcia by decision
Last week's picks: 1-0
2013 picks record: 50-30 (62.5 percent)
Overall picks record: 513-182 (73.8 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.