by Cliff Rold
It’s a fight with so many of the elements that have made boxing fun over the years.
Let’s start with the ethnic angle. Boxing, political correctness be damned, has never abandoned its willingness to embrace ethnic difference. Mexico vs. Puerto Rico and the Philippines has been all the rage in recent years. In bygone eras, New York was alive with ethnic clashes between Italian, Jewish, and Irish fighters. This weekend we have a Ukrainian champion, Wladimir Klitschko, facing a Russian challenger, Alexander Povetkin, in Moscow.
The history between Ukraine and Russia has its share of acrimony and the fans will feel that as the rounds progress. It’s a 21st century neighborhood brawl, globalization style.
Then there is the Olympic uniqueness. Since the institution of the Super Heavyweight class at the 1984 Olympics, eight men have won Gold Medals in the clash. This is the first time two of them will square off for the professional Heavyweight crown. Klitschko won his medal in 1996; Povetkin in 2004.
Only one of them will exit with Gold this time around.
And of course there is the road traveled to get here. When he beat Chris Byrd and Eddie Chambers in consecutive fights in 2007 and 08, Povetkin looked like the contender of the future. He rose to the mandatory spot in the IBF and did it again in 2010. Both times he opted out of challenging for the crown, choosing to add more experience, more seasoning, and to bide his time. Many wondered if this fight would ever happen. Now it’s here.
Did Povetkin pick his moment well?
The Russian promoter who chipped in a purse bid of over $20 million for this fight might think so.
He can’t fight for Povetkin. Povetkin fights plenty well for himself.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is a fight for the Heavyweight Championship of the World (HBO, 3:30 PM EST/12:30 PM PST).
Let’s go to the report card.
Title: IBF Heavyweight (2006-Present, 14 Defenses); WBO Heavyweight (2008-Present, 10 Defenses); Lineal/Ring World Heavyweight (2009-Present, 7 Defenses); WBA ‘Super’ Heavyweight (2011-Present, 4 Defenses); IBO Heavyweight (2006-Present, 15 Defenses).
Previous Titles: WBO Heavyweight (2000-03, 5 Defenses)
Weight: 241.6 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 246.45 lbs.
Hails from: Kiev, Ukraine
Record: 60-3, 51 KO, 3 KOBY
Record in Major Title Fights: 21-2, 17 KO, 2 KOBY
Current/Former World Champions Faced: 10 (Chris Byrd UD12, TKO7; Ray Mercer TKO6; Corrie Sanders TKO by 2; Lamon Brewster TKO by 5, RTD6; Samuel Peter UD12, KO10; Sultan Ibragimov UD12; Hasim Rahman TKO7; Ruslan Chagaev RTD9; David Haye UD12; Jean Marc Mormeck KO4)
Title: WBA Heavyweight (2011-Present, 4 Defenses)
Previous Titles: None
Weight: 225.7 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 229.4 lbs.
Hails from: Chekhov, Russia
Record: 26-0, 18 KO
Rankings: #1 (BoxingScene, TBRB, Ring), #3 (ESPN), #5 (BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 5-0, 3 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 4 (Chris Byrd TKO11; Ruslan Chagaev UD12; Marco Huck MD12; Hasim Rahman TKO2)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Klitschko B+; Povetkin B
Pre-Fight: Power – Klitschko A+; Povetkin B
Pre-Fight: Defense – Klitschko B+; Povetkin B-
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Klitschko A; Povetkin B+
The first thing that jumps out after Friday’s weigh-in is that both men prepared like they are fighting for the biggest prize in the sport. Klitschko is at his lowest weight since 2009 for Chagaev. Povetkin is his lowest since a 2010 scrap with Javier Mora. Klitschko appears to have trained for more speed and Povetkin has done the same.
For Povetkin, the weight is more important. He has struggled at times to look consistently in his very best shape. He’s never going to win a body beautiful contest. He’s not built that way. However, for Povetkin, shifts in four or five pounds have shown in his performances. He’s simply not as good closer to 230 as he is in the mid 220s and it shows in how loose his body looks on given nights and his stamina.
In a controversial decision win over the still-reigning WBO Cruiserweight titlist Huck, Povetkin seemed gassed in spots. Part of that may also have been a pace issue. Huck is used to fighting smaller men at a quicker clip. His speed and shorter shots gave Povetkin the sort of look much of today’s lumbering Heavyweight class is incapable of.
Klitschko doesn’t set that sort of pace. He doesn’t have to. Possessing one of history’s great, long, hard left jabs, Klitschko has mastered controlling distance and mitigating threats in close by holding and leaning on foes. He hasn’t done as much holding in recent fights, but he hasn’t faced anyone seen as a genuine threat since David Haye either. He has explosive quickness for a man his size and his reach allows punches to get there first, often, and with pain behind them.
Even if he does feel the need to hold in this fight, how much will it be allowed? The selection of referee Luis Pabon is reason for pause. Pabon has shown an occasional tendency to forget his place. No one pays to see him. A good referee is one who can hardly be noticed. Pabon gets noticed often. He can be extremely officious (as was the case in Povetkin-Huck), and inconsistent in doing so. If he breaks too early, or not early enough, he can impact the flow of the fight.
Let’s assume he has a good night and return to the men in the ring.
When he pins a man down with the jab, Klitschko’s right hand and sometimes overlooked left hook are one-punch knockout threats at all times. His toughest fights have come against men who got inside the jab and made it count. Ross Purrity kept coming all night, chipping away and absorbing some tremendous shots until a young Klitschko ran out of steam. Sanders beat him to the punch and never allowed the jab to become a factor. Brewster absorbed a beating and weathered it until a left hook hurt Klitschko and exhaustion and perhaps panic undid the man who wasn’t ready to be king just yet.
All of that happened by 2004. Since coming off the floor against DaVarryl Williamson and Peter the first time (thrice over) to win, Klitschko has rarely been touched hard and never been in any real danger. There was a moment of threat in the Mariusz Wach fight, but it passed quickly and the overmatched challenger had nothing near the class to do it again.
He isn’t facing a Wach this time. Klitschko hasn’t faced a world-class fighter who presses like Povetkin in a long time.
Povetkin has some of the tools necessary to try and do what the successful men before him did. His deep amateur background gives him a solid fundamental base. He’s got great balance and knows how to put punches together. He’s not a Haye who looks for single spots. His game is play steady and press. It works for him for the most part.
Povetkin isn’t super fast, but he is good Heavyweight fast. His hand speed is underrated. More important, his feet have underrated quickness. When he finds the angle he wants, he gets forward suddenly and he doesn’t lob one at a time. This is where he may have some hope. Klitschko has never shown any real infighting ability and he’s not a natural counter puncher. He’s never had to be. The champion is an offensive machine.
That offense can’t work without room. It’s a tall task, literally. Povetkin gives up height, reach, and weight here but history has shown those to be surmountable obstacles in the Heavyweight divisions. If Povetkin can deceive with jabs to the chest and get close, his head and body output can pay off. He’s not a superior power puncher, but he’s not without pop either. He can chip away and any good work he does is going to be embraced by the audience. Moscow’s Olympic stadium will fill its 20,000-plus seats and they should be partisans. Crowds can influence judges sometimes and that is to Povetkin’s favor.
What Povetkin can’t do in this fight is land in series and then pull straight back. It could put him in range of Klitschko when the champion resets. Povetkin has shown a decent chin to date but he won’t want to test it often, if at all, against a full on Klitschko bomb.
The story of this fight will likely be told early. If Povetkin doesn’t get anything going in the first few rounds, if he isn’t giving Wlad anything to think about right away, this could be another methodical beating with the sort of finish the world has grown to expect.
Three things really stand out in this fight. 1) Referee Luis Pabon is an X-factor; 2) the fight is on Povetkin's turf in Moscow; and, 3) the styles of the fighters could mesh quite well. Assuming neither 1 nor 2 is any sort of factor, Povetkin's underrated hand and foot speed, and combination punching, could make for some entertaining rounds. There is a gnawing at the back of the brain that says an upset is a real possibility here. Klitschko is 37 and Povetkin has waited a long time for this. He isn’t going to get a better shot and he has some of the ingredients one would think could trouble the champion. However, the roll Klitschko has been on since overcoming adversity in the first Samuel Peter fight shows no signs of abating. In the end, the challenger lacks the firepower to keep the champion down even if he puts him there (and putting him there will be hard enough). As the fight progresses, Klitschko’s ability to put his weight on Povetkin, and the hammering jab at range, is too much. The power of Klitschko will play a role and, eventually, Povetkin should fall. Before that happens we might, just might, get a Heavyweight title fight worthy of the crown for the first time in a while.
Report Card Picks 2013: 37-22
After the live action in the afternoon, HBO will replay the Heavyweights along with two live evening bouts (9:45 PM EST)...In the second main event of the day, former three-division titlist Miguel Cotto continues his campaign at 154 lbs. after consecutive, but not bad, losses. Cotto (37-4, 30 KO) gave Floyd Mayweather as good a fight as anyone has found in years and his fight with Austin Trout, while a clear loss, was competitive. Delvin Rodriguez (28-6-3, 16 KO) has always been a guy who played on the fringe of contention but he's never shown capable of getting over the hump. Cotto is too schooled, too experienced, still to fall to the fringe. Cotto doesn't have much left, but he's got enough to win here, probably by decision…In the co-feature, Lightweight Terrence Crawford (21-0, 16 KO) will look to inch closer to a title shot. Russia’s Andrey Klimov (16-0, 8 KO) isn’t likely to make it easy. Crawford should have enough to win a decision here but Klimov is the sort of steady, fundamentally sound fighter who can make for a scare.
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]