By Lyle Fitzsimmons
This just in: Wladimir Klitschko is pretty damned good.
And anyone who doesn’t believe that is, well… just wrong.
At the very least, it seems those late to the acknowledgement party will force the mammoth Ukrainian’s acclaim to wait until he’s either five years beyond his last punch for pay – and planning a summertime trip to the hall of fame in central New York – or six feet under terra firma in a pine box.
No matter when it comes, though, it’ll be far too late to celebrate a guy who’s done nothing less than reduce a series of musclebound gloved men, some admittedly more threatening than others, to so much concussed, red-faced top dress since he was last vanquished a few days more than a decade ago.
Then and only then will we all be aware of what we’ve been fortunate enough to witness.
Sure, he’s get neither the in-ring artistry nor the vocal stylings of Muhammad Ali. And when it comes to sheer can’t-turn-away train-wreck violence, he’s more than a few ladder rungs below Mike Tyson.
That said, though, his signature combination of size and skill is unlike any the world has known.
He towers over all but a few who’ve ever claimed even a tenuous connection to a world heavyweight championship belt, and the qualities he brings besides sheer size – speed, power and conditioning – quickly elevate him from the ranks of giant-sized pretender to all-time elite contender.
The loudest of the naysayers would be severely challenged in naming a fighter prior to the last 50 years who’d give him more than a midget-sized hiccup. In fact, in a series of eras where the heaviest of the heavyweight champions barely scraped 200 pounds, a 6-foot-6 behemoth with single-digit body fat at 245 pounds would be as unstoppable as Butterbean at an all you can eat.
Klitschko, in that sense, is not your father’s Primo Carnera.
And even in the stretch that began in 1964, it’s nearly as difficult to conceive of a championship-level fighter sturdy enough to stretch him to the late rounds, skilled enough to out-do him in a technical match or tough enough to withstand his shots to get close enough to land a go-home punch of his own.
Could all-timers like Ali and Holmes have done it? Potentially.
Could big men like Foreman, Lewis or Bowe managed on their best nights? Perhaps.
Should anyone else be legitimately considered as a threat? Not a chance.
Samoan-born wannabe Alex Leapai became the latest in a series of discarded challengers on Saturday in Germany, when he served as little more than a flabby speed bump en route to Klitschko’s 16th successful defense of the IBF and IBO belts he won by poleaxing Chris Byrd in 2006.
But for all you windmill-tilters out there, before you chastise the champion for engaging with a guy who seemed far more qualified to be a bouncer at the local watering hole, perhaps a few jabs at the WBO are warranted for making him a No. 1 contender based on a resume with exactly one recognizable name.
The Independent World Boxing Rankings, incidentally, had him 29th before the fight.
Meanwhile, while some choose to stubbornly deny Klitschko his historical due because of the limits of his challengers, they do so while conveniently ignoring the fact that the majority of Joe Louis’s divisional record of 25 successful defenses came against guys propped up as crash-test dummies for cameos in the champion’s “Bum of the Month” club.
And the only other man to enjoy as many consecutive successes as Klitschko—late ’70s to mid ’80s kingpin Holmes—had his share of breathers among 20 straight wins as well, melding no-hopers like Scott Frank, Lucien Rodriguez and Tex Cobb in with the Earnie Shavers and Carl Williams of the world.
You want to say the division is down? Fine. No one’s arguing.
But it’s through no fault of Klitschko, who’s done exactly what a champion is supposed to do – convincingly beat the guy in front of him – whether that guy is Leapai, Mariusz Wach or one of the eight reigning or former champions—seven heavyweight, one cruiserweight—he’s beaten since 2006.
Lest anyone forget, Louis was nearly dethroned by Billy Conn and received what most consider a gift in his first go-round with Jersey Joe Wolcott. Holmes, for his part, was dropped in a heap by both Shavers and the far lesser-heralded Renaldo Snipes. But Klitschko, since hammering then-champ Byrd into bloody submission in their rematch, has beaten each subsequent foe with a prolonged decisiveness heretofore unseen among the sport’s biggest men.
For an entire decade, he’s never lost a fight, he’s barely lost a round and he’s rarely lost an exchange.
“Every fighter finds someone whose style he cannot contend with,” HBO’s Jim Lampley said immediately following the overthrow of Byrd, who’d beaten all but one foe before Klitschko. “In 19 rounds against Wladimir Klitschko, Chris Byrd barely scratched in the box score. He’s never had that kind of difficulty against anybody else.”
Saluting Klitschko’s greatness before it’s gone would do the rest of us a lot good, too.
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
I like looking at a list of all the fighters in a given weight class top to bottom – regardless of who holds what belts. So from here forward, along with the slot given contenders by the sanctioning bodies, the positioning provided by the British-based Independent World Boxing Rankings will also be included.
IBF junior flyweight title – Cebu City, Philippines
John Riel Casimero (champion/No. 5 IWBR) vs. Mauricio Fuentes (No. 12 contender/No. 91 IWBR)
Casimero (19-2, 11 KO): Third title defense; Unbeaten in Philippines (15-0)
Fuentes (16-2, 10 KO): First title fight; In 18 fights, has fought one opponent coming off a win
Fitzbitz says: This one is sure to make year-end lists of worst title-level mismatches. Simply put, a guy who’s never sniffed a legitimate win has no business getting a championship fight. Casimero in 8
WBA/WBC welterweight titles – Las Vegas, Nev.
Marcos Maidana (WBA champion/No. 4 IWBR) vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr. (WBC champion/No. 1 IWBR)
Maidana (35-3, 31 KO): First title defense; Twentieth fight above 140 pounds (18-1)
Mayweather (45-0, 26 KO): Second title defense; Twelfth fight at MGM Grand (11-0)
Fitzbitz says: For anyone wondering about the true difference between Mayweather and Adrien Broner, watch on May 3. Maidana will have a moment or two, but they won’t last. Mayweather in 9
WBO super middleweight title – Berlin, Germany
Arthur Abraham (champion/No. 3 IWBR) vs. Nikola Sjekloca (No. 12 contender/No. 21 IWBR)
Abraham (39-4, 28 KO): First title defense; Second reign as WBO champion (2012-13, one defense)
Sjekloca (26-1, 8 KO): First title fight; Second fight in Germany (1-0)
Fitzbitz says: Welcome to the big time, Mr. Sjekloca. Graduating from the second tier to the top tier at 168 won’t be a pretty experience for the 35-year-old Serbian-born pretender. Abraham in 10
Last week's picks: 4-1
2014 picks record: 29-6 (82.8 percent)
Overall picks record: 576-200 (74.2 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
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.