By Terence Dooley (photo by Pavel Terekhov)

Lennox Lewis’ retirement in 2004 hit heavyweight boxing hard.  Lewis, now enshrined in the IBHOF, left behind a division in disarray, his nearest rival, Vitali Klitschko, tried to step into the breech, only to be let down by his creaking limbs.  All the while the fragile Klitschko, younger brother Wladimir, 33, waited for his moment to come, recruiting Emanuel Steward [who turned Lewis into a rounded fighter] and gobbling up the belts Lewis had left behind. 

Wladimir’s moment arrived in Gelsenkirchen this Saturday night, within the cavernous Veltins Arena; as he chipped Ruslan Chagaev, 30, into defeat over nine one-sided rounds.  Wlad had hoped to take on Britain’s David Haye, only for Haye to pull out with a back injury. 

Chagaev, fight fit due to his preparations for an aborted rematch with Nikolay Valuev, stepped in, saving the promotion, and giving Wlad the chance to become "The Man" at heavyweight – the unbeaten Chagaev was the WBA title holder in recess going into this contest.

However, it is not enough to merely become the king, it is the manner of the coronation that lingers in the memory of boxing fans.  George Foreman is George Foreman by virtue of his hammering of Joe Frazier, no slouch himself.  Cassius Clay became Muhammed Ali by twice defeating the seemingly invincible Sonny Liston. 

Indeed, Lennox Lewis ascended to his throne by out-boxing, then out-fighting, ‘Commander’ Evander Holyfield over twenty-four rounds of boxing that were laced with controversy, but which, nonetheless, showed the best, and sometimes the worst, of two near-legends.  Kings are made in battle, stepping over the deposed sovereign in order to take their due

For his part Wladimir, in patiently defusing Chagaev, lived up to his safety-first reputation, the ending came at the end of round nine by virtue of a cut over Chagaev’s left eye, a conclusive finish, sure, but it was a missed opportunity.  Wlad could have stepped over the body of a conquered foe, and into the heavyweight annals, instead he has become the king by succession, quietly, and in his own way, following Lewis into the list of true heavyweight champions.

Chagaev has fought in Germany for the majority of his career, only having had nine bouts outside of the country, yet he came into this engagement cast in the role of opponent, the joyfully reserved 61,000 crowd were here for Wlad, and no one gave the Uzbekistan born southpaw a pre-fight prayer.

There was a party feeling as the sea of people swayed to sound of the ring entrances, Wlad would not let them down, he would do what he does best, stopping the other man from boxing his contest with a minimum of fuss, and fighting. 

Klitschko jabbed, jabbed, lowered the odd right hand, and then returned to the jab, softening Chagaev up, taking the other man’s resolve by scoring a knockdown at the end of round two.  Chagaev caught by a, you guessed it, jab and right hand combination.

The window of opportunity opened for Wlad, his chance to bomb his way into heavyweight history had come, Wlad, instead, continued to probe with his jab over the course of the next few rounds, hammering Chagaev with the right hand whenever it was required.

It quickly became apparent that Chagaev’s plan, rumble forward and force shots through the guard of Wlad, was not going to work, but there was nothing Ruslan could do to switch up his attacks.  The ‘White Mike Tyson’ was anything but.  Sure, the odd left hand got home; it was counter-productive, though, as Wlad would use these sporadic successes to hone his own concentration.

Pre-fight quibbles over Chagaev’s health, he had tested for Hepatitis B the day before the Valuev bout, were put to test when he started bleeding from the right eye in round eight, although Chagaev had been cleared to fight, there was a distinct sense that he would not be allowed to fight on for too long with any kind of a cut, and this one was quite bad.

Ruslan’s entire future was on the line by round nine, unfortunately there was no sense of urgency in his boxing, or, more likely, he was completely deflated by his inability to get to Wlad’s chin, the weak spot in Wlad’s arsenal.   

Klitschko teed off with some of his biggest shots in this round, landing straight punches through the guard of his opponent, where, though, were the uppercuts, the left hooks, the shots that would have rocked Chagaev’s head back and ended this fight in a concussive manner?  The answers lie within the mind of the new king, who has been stopped three times, floored eleven times, and is loath to throw the risky shots, the uppercuts and hooks needed to conclusively finish a fight.

Therein lies the rub, last night’s victory took Wlad to the title, but there are still doubts, may always be doubts, over his commitment to the level of controlled carnage needed to truly dominate the heavyweight division.  The heavyweight king needs to be both stylish boxer and despotic killer; this is what draws people to the division.  Wlad, to his credit in the boxing ring, closes the door to that sense of inherent danger, he did it superbly to Chagaev, but it leaves us asking if he has truly stepped into heavyweight Valhalla. 

In all honesty Chagaev, 25-1-1 (17), was ripe for the taking between rounds four and nine.  Wlad could have stepped in with his shots, taken a risk, and taken Chagaev out, it is not in his nature to do this, and although the same could be said of Larry Holmes, Muhammed Ali and Lennox Lewis, this writer’s heavyweight holy trinity, those men would have put Chagaev to the sword. 

Wlad won’t complain, he is now 53-3 (47), and he is proud to be heavyweight champion. It is nice for me to be able to write words without dragging out an ABC list of titles (for the record Wlad now holds the WBO, IBF and IBO titles, Chagaev’s WBA title in recess was not on the line).  Wlad told the assembled press that he had done what he always does in the big fights, negating his opponent, sticking to a gameplan, and taking whatever type of win came his way.

The build-up had been frustrating, for his part Wlad told us that.  “The experience I have gained from fighting southpaws helped me with the change in opponent.  I sparred with (middleweight) Andy Lee for speed.  There is a criticism made when I don’t (get into a) fight, my chin is made from glass, so I take care of it, no matter who is in front of me.” 

Wlad was joking, clearly, but he is right, he has faced up to the weaknesses that saw him lose to the likes of Ross Purrity, Cory Sanders and Lamon Brewster, opting to protect his chin from heavy artillery using his massive physical gifts.

Someone pointed out to Wlad that the win had sealed his legacy; he was now the genuine heavyweight champion.  Wlad shrugged the claim off by saying.  “The best heavyweight boxer is Vitali Klitschko.”  Another joke, but Wlad did get serious when asked about David Haye. 

“I am very upset about David Haye,” he explained.  “He could not deliver Stamford Bridge (as a venue) but I delivered the Veltins Stadium for him.  I have never worked with such unprofessional people as David Haye and his team, he has a big, dirty mouth, if he wants to fight me he can get in the frigging line.”

It was stern talk from Wlad, and generated the frisson of excitement that may be needed to bring out the vicious side of his nature; unfortunately, Haye may have to wait.  “David wants to fight me?” the champion asked.  “Then get some fights in the heavyweight division, if you can make it without going to the floor first.  He (Haye) is not mature as a man, and as a fighter.”

Wlad is angered by Haye’s conduct, and that may be good news for us, and the heavyweight division.  There is truth to Wlad’s claim that Haye must wait in line, but the division itself would benefit greatly from this grudge match, it may also help seal Wlad’s legacy, and reign.

Rewind nine years, newly crowned champion Lennox Lewis still has his doubters, there was not enough devil in his fights with Evander Holyfield, people want more, HBO bring in, and heavily hype, the unbeaten, and favoured, Michael Grant.  Lewis strides onto the battlefield and puts his rival to the sword, growing into his role as heavyweight king in the process. 

Haye has been mouthy towards Wlad, but he can also punch, and, importantly, brings some speed to the table, should Wlad face, and overcome, the cocky Brit he will be able to draw a line under the current division.  Haye is low on heavyweight pedigree, high on danger, overcoming a man like Haye would good for Wlad’s ledger, it would erase doubts over his ability to take on, and beat, a truly dynamic puncher.  The fight should be made.

Wlad’s thoughts on the subject, well the new king has his own agenda, telling the world that he will give Alexander Povetkin, who has been quietly honing his skills, a chance at the title, it is good to be king.


You cannot blame Wlad for his insistence that Haye ‘Gets in line’; Wlad may be coquettishly luring Haye in, teasing him for all the verbal insults Haye chucked during the build up to their contest. 

Haye also has to shoulder some blame, if his back is up to it, as this weekend saw him doubly lose out.  Firstly, the injury withdrawal prevented him from fighting on Saturday.  Secondly, and crucially, Haye’s fight night no-show makes him look like he is full of hot air. 

Sure, Haye may have been booed by over 60,000 Germans had he arrived at ringside, yet he would have reminded them who he is, and set out his ‘bad guy’ stall even further, making a Wlad-Haye fight an outrageously sexy contest. 

Hell, Haye should have barged into the post-fight presser.  You may say that this would have been classless, but Haye had riled Wlad into the anticipated fight by showing little or no class, and David is clearly needling Wlad, had he barged into the bowels of the Veltins Arena, Haye may have prompted Wlad to get into it right on the spot, Wlad had plenty of energy left after the Chagaev win.

Haye, instead, went AWOL, and then called Wlad out from afar, telling Sky Sports that, “For me he’s Wladimir ‘the cure for insomnia’ Klitschko”, harsh words, hollow when uttered from afar.  One cannot help but feel that Haye has fluffed his chance, the projected contest has been jacked in, and Wlad can make Haye pay by refusing to grant him a fight, Haye insulted Wlad, so the champion could wound Haye by not granting him a shot, and would have every right to do so.

Still, there is a definite feeling that Haye is a major threat to Wlad, who does not cope well with speed, power and pressure; Haye can show Wlad something a little bit different.  Instead, Haye’s bad back, which may have been brought about by Setanta’s back being broken by ridiculous football commitments, may also have blown the whole package asunder, and the lack of an immediate fight on the horizon hurts Haye, not Wlad.

If Wlad’s post-fight report card reads ‘Can try harder’ then Haye’s must go ‘Should really turn up for class’.  On the night itself Haye’s no-show was a crucial home goal in his Wlad baiting campaign.