by Cliff Rold
Every long reigning champion has their gimme’ or two. Bernard Hopkins had Morrade Hakkar. Larry Holmes had Marvis Frazier.
Wladimir Klitschko had Alex Leapai.
As expected, it sucked. Also as expected, Klitschko was more entertaining than he’d been against Alexander Povetkin. There is no Clinchko reference needed here. Being fair, it would have been hard not to top that fight and Povetkin was an anomaly of sorts. Klitschko might not always be thrilling, but that was a particularly ugly outing.
The bigger question now: what happens when real contenders get back to the front of the line? There might not be anyone on the horizon that could reasonably be favored over the Heavyweight king, but there are men who pose enough threat to at least give pause.
The Heavyweight Champion (lineal, WBA, IBF, and WBO) was in the ring last weekend but the title really wasn’t at risk. There will be risk ahead.
Let’s go to the report card.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Klitschko B+; Leapai B-/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Power – Klitschko A+; Leapai B/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Defense – Klitschko B+; Leapai C-/Post: A; D
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Klitschko A; Leapai B-/Post: A; D
Leapai stayed in the ring with Klitschko for six rounds. That’s about all the praise can be mustered. Klitschko remains tough to hit when he gets his jab going and that jab is one of the best in the history of the division. His right hand is up there too. Some people hate to acknowledge that.
It’s still the case.
The landscape of the division now presents him with three challengers to use those tools against. The first up is likely to be…
Kubrat Pulev (20-0, 11 KO): Pulev became the IBF mandatory for Klitschko last year when he became the only Heavyweight besides the champion to defeat Tony Thompson in the last decade. Pulev hasn’t faced murderer’s row to date, but most don’t through twenty fights. What he has done is make logical progressions on the road to a title shot and, at 32, he’s as ready as he is going to get. His two outings since Thompson have made clear: no risks until Klitschko. Wisely, unlike many who get to mandatory shots, he stayed active while he was waiting. Pulev doesn’t have the sort of power that would appear a threat but he’s technically sound and, at almost 6’5, can literally stand up to the champion. Klitschko-Pulev might be a chess match, but those are some big pieces set to square off. Pulev is a reasonable threat to wrest the throne.
The Winner of Tyson Fury-Dereck Chisora II: The next intriguing challenger after Pulev may be decided on July 26th. Fury (22-0, 16 KO) won his first fight against Chisora (20-4, 13 KO) in 2011. Maybe it plays that way again. Maybe not. In his last three starts, Chisora has been more than twenty pounds lighter than the first time. Chisora is already rated #2 by the WBO (he’s rated higher than Fury by every sanctioning body despite Fury defeating him and losing three more times since…no, seriously). A mandatory for the winner, sooner than later, would be no shock. Regardless of who that is, Klitschko would be a winner at the box office before the fight ever took place. He has history with Chisora (and having water spit in his face prior to Chisora-Vitali Klitschko would be on heavy rotation). Fury could sell water in a desert. Both challengers would come to fight or fall. Klitschko versus the winner of Fury-Chisora II has rabid stadium even written all over it.
And then there is the remaining strap to be won by the reigning champion. He can only get that from…
The Winner of Bermane Stiverne-Chris Arreola II: Remember the bit about Pulev wisely staying active? Stiverne (23-1-1, 20 KO) may wish he’d done that on May 10th. Since beating up Arreola (36-3, 31 KO) in their first fight a year ago, Stiverne has been stuck in a holding pattern. He was the mandatory for Vitali Klitschko. Vitali had more important priorities in politics at home an ultimately retired. Arreola has fought once since but at least he’s seen live fire and looks like he’s in better shape these days (relative to historical Arreola at least). Could Stiverne see his wait turn sour? One thing is sure: this isn’t just about Stiverne and Arreola. Before an all-chips-on-the table unification comes to pass, the winner of this bout for the WBC Heavyweight belt is looking at one, if not two, obstacles. Currently behind them in the WBC ratings is Deontay Wilder (31-0, 31 KO). The 2008 Olympic Bronze Medalist has the look. Does he have the chops? If so, he might be the biggest threat of them all. Also a factor is the winner of the May 24th clash between Bryant Jennings (18-0, 10 KO) and Mike Perez (20-0-1, 12 KO). They are the WBC #4 and #5 respectively and, on merit, would both have a stronger mandatory claim than Wilder after their fight is over. Sanctioning bodies are not meritocracies so Wilder might get first. The Jennings-Perez winner may still come before unification. And none of this considers the Al Haymon factor, something that hasn’t been an issue at Heavyweight yet. If Haymon gets a belt in the class, does he let it be risked against the only Champion that really counts? Stiverne-Arreola II might be about the road to Wlad. They just might not be the travelers.
Report Card Picks 2014: 19-6
So the weekend of sure things almost wasn’t…John Molina gave Lucas Matthysse everything he could ask for and thanks to both men for the show. In a, let’s say, warmer world, wouldn’t it be just perfect to see Matthysse and Ruslan Provodnikov pummel each other? Yes, yes it would…Juan Francisco Estrada got past Richie Mepranum and, barring boxing being stupid (and it often is), a mandatory against Giovani Segura should be coming. Matthysse-Molina has competition for Fight of the Year as soon as that is signed…Keith Thurman-Shawn Porter is just the sort of young crossroads fight boxing can never get enough of. Let’s hope we see it.
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]