By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Given the sentimentality that retirements can bring, some folks out there may be thinking it.
But we'll go ahead and say it.
When it comes to career-long bodies of work, Wladimir Klitschko was the most physically daunting heavyweight champion who ever lived.
Klitschko, for those who missed it, abruptly stepped away last week – scuttling plans for a Las Vegas rematch of what’ll now go down as his swan song, an 11th-round TKO loss to Anthony Joshua in London that’ll no doubt get some late-2017 love when fight and round of the year voting commences.
And even though got beat, his legacy changed for the better thanks to the resolve he showed.
“I deliberately took a few weeks to make my decision, to make sure I had enough distance from the fight at Wembley Stadium,” he said. “As an amateur and a professional boxer, I have achieved everything I dreamed of, and now I want to start my second career after sports.”
Indeed, when you blend undeniable athletic ability with a 78-inch, 245-pound frame, it's hard to imagine any non-relative who ever appeared in boxing's marquee division stepping into a 20 x 20 square and having their way with him in his prime years.
Oh sure, we know he lost some fights in particularly ugly fashion.
Ross Puritty and Lamon Brewster hung around until his leaky 20-something gas tank ran dry, and Corrie Sanders cold-cocked him a few weeks before early-spring birthday No. 27 with the sorts of shots that ultimately doomed 31 of the South African’s own 42 pro victims.
But the most recent of those youthful misfires happened in the olden days, when Brett Favre had still never left Green Bay, LeBron James had still never left Cleveland and Donald Trump was still identifying himself as more a Democratic blowhard than a Republican one.
In other words, it had been awhile.
Of course, we’re aware that the 39- and 41-year-old versions of Klitschko were more recently bested by the bookend likes of Tyson Fury and Joshua, too.
Ironically, the former’s reign may eventually be lined up alongside the inglorious run of Buster Douglas, while the latter shows signs of ultimately eclipsing even the Ukrainian’s signature accomplishments.
Stay tuned for that opinion piece in 2029 or so, by which time even Trump will be a mouthy memory.
Meanwhile, though, it’s difficult to deny that the version of Klitschko whose belt-collecting patrol began with a vaporization of Chris Byrd in 2006 and stretched through 2015 was every bit as close to unbeatable as popular he-men Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis or Sonny Liston – each of whom also lost multiple fights to significant underdogs before the final bell – ever dreamed of being.
He dismissed 18 challengers across 19 title defenses across those nine incomparable years, and got himself to a point where if an opponent won a single round for every three he lost it somehow indicated the champion’s vulnerability.
It was always logic-bereft nonsense, of course, like suggesting a 42-14 margin on a football field wouldn't pass one-sided NFL muster.
And the closer Klitschko is compared to those before him, the clearer his prowess is to see.
Of the four men most often deemed worthy of the division's Mount Rushmore – Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes – only Ali and Holmes would be within four inches and 35 pounds of the mammoth Ukrainian, while Louis and Marciano, on their title-winning nights, were closer in weight to Canelo Alvarez.
Size doesn't always matter. But when it comes to the biggest men, it certainly helps.
Upon realizing the heaviest top-shelf opponent either one ever fought was cruiserweight-sized Joe Walcott, it's easy to imagine both Louis and Marciano bouncing off the canvas like Joe Frazier in Jamaica when being bludgeoned by a guy outweighing them by 48 and 60 pounds, respectively.
Meanwhile, with Ali and Holmes, it's no less simple to envision the same bigger man controlling space with jabs from tree-limb-like 17-inch forearms, while the supremely talented smaller men struggle to stand their ground on a consistent basis.
Klitschko, by the way, is three inches taller and 25 pounds heavier than "Big" George Foreman was the night he fought Ali in 1974, and he's light years more skilled by every measure than the biggest challenge Holmes ever encountered as champion – a 6-foot-5, 225-pound Gerry Cooney – in 1982.
All things equal, does that mean Klitschko beats a similarly-sized version of every past kingpin?
He's not as elegant as “The Greatest,” not as rugged as the “Real Deal” and not as excellent all-around as the “Easton Assassin.” Put them in all in equally equipped race cars and “Dr. Steelhammer” qualifies somewhere other than the pole position in a race for history's top spot.
But when you consider the horsepower that being both gigantic and capable brings – and you're interested in something more than esoteric resonance – there's no one else to be riding with when the light goes green.
Because when it comes to the biggest men, he's the best there's ever been.
This week’s title-fight schedule:
No fights scheduled.
Last week's picks: 1-0 (WIN: Lomachenko)
2017 picks record: 56-18 (75.6 percent)
Overall picks record: 878-292 (75.0 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.