by Cliff Rold
It felt like a fight.
We were watching a fight for the Heavyweight Championship of the World.
That’s all anyone can really ask for. That’s been the real complaint. Matches like Wladimir Klitschko-David Haye or Klitschko-Alexander Povetkin never got to that part. There was boxing. There were some big shots.
The fight never broke out.
Saturday in Germany, Klitschko wore an expression into the ring that underlined his annoyance with challenger Kubrat Pulev. At the opening bell, Pulev came out to back up his big talk. He hurt Klitschko with a jab moments into the fight.
Then Pulev got brave.
Wladimir Klitschko remains the best fighter in the world.
Let’s go to the report card.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Klitschko B+; Pulev B+/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Power – Klitschko A+; Pulev B/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Defense – Klitschko B+; Pulev B/Post: B+; C+
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Klitschko A; Pulev B+/Post: A; B
That brief wobble off the jab in round one was a reminder of what can make Klitschko compelling. He carries the same x-factor Terry Norris did a generation ago; that Amir Khan does now. There is always a feeling that he can be caught. If an opponent can bring the fight, and land some leather, they have a shot.
Klitschko hasn’t been on the floor since his first fight with Samuel Peter. That was almost a decade ago. The memories of that have never left the masses. Klitschko has been on the floor more than any of the great Heavyweight Champions since Joe Louis over the course of his career.
He hasn’t touched the deck in this increasingly historic reign and showed Pulev how far he’s come. When Pulev amped up the aggression, Klitschko leveled him with the left hook. He was awarded a second knockdown in round one (though replays didn’t show a punch landing to cause it) and added a third in round three.
Yes, there was clinching. Heavyweight fights always have clinches. Wlad started the fight with one. It was initiated both ways throughout. This was no Povetkin fight, no Clinchko clinic. The grappling was organic didn’t affect the flow of the fight. It was bookended by big shots.
In predicting a Wladimir victory here, one of the biggest factors against Pulev was his lack of finishing power. While the quick jab added instant drama, he’s never been a knockout guy against better foes. Pulev scores stoppages more through attrition. In order for that to work, he had to keep landing and limit punishment.
Klitschko wouldn’t let him. Pulev had shown a good chin as a pro. Even good chins can be cracked by Klitschko. When he shows up with as chip on his shoulder, that’s apparently worse news than usual. Every time Pulev landed hard, he landed harder. Every time Pulev started to gather steam and confidence, he knocked it out of him, responding so much better to fire with fire now than he did a decade ago.
Then, Wladimir Klitschko knocked him out.
Matched again in his at-least annual appearance against whoever the new leading contender is, Klitschko looked as good as he ever has. He took some shots, came to fight, and left no doubt who the king of the boxing jungle is.
Pound-for-pound debates are fun. Heavyweight boxing is real.
As Klitschko has amassed the run he’s on, now 17 consecutive IBF title defense, two more title belts, and a milestone 10 defenses of the lineal crown he assumed when he defeated Ruslan Chagaev in 2009, it was clear volume mattered. Losses to Ross Purrity, Lamon Brewster, and Corrie Sanders, all of them capable but average talents, were not the stuff of a great fighter.
This era didn’t have the depth of obvious talent the one before it did.
Klitschko would have to make his case with longevity, consistency, and concussive force. Volume would be his reply. Now 38, Pulev may one day be remembered as the point where the volume argument won. There are those who still think his brother was the better of the two. He never made the case for greatness that Wladimir has. He didn’t have as many chances.
Wladimir has, consistently turning back top contenders and beating some (like Jameel McCline when that mattered and Chris Byrd in their first of two fights) even before this run. He’s passed his brother. He’s starting to pass a lot of legends too.
Ten years without a loss.
Eight years with a title.
Five years and counting as the lineal king.
He’s in the midst of one of the greatest title reigns ever seen in the division. With one more belt, he stamps out every argument against his total claim.
Joe Louis’s title reign longevity mark is within range. Louis’s 25 consecutive titles defenses are farther off but not impossible.
Next year could see Bryant Jennings, the winner of Tyson Fury-Dereck Chisora II, or the winner of the WBC tilt between Bermane Stiverne and Deontay Wilder. Maybe it means all of the above. Klitschko has never been the Fighter of the Year. That’s a three-fight slate that could get him there. Just two of them might count too.
Saturday was a great performance from Klitschko. That should come as no surprise. We’ll be debating where he ranks with the greats for the rest of time.
Report Card Picks 2014: 53-22
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]