Wladimir Klitschko left well enough alone
While everyone was penciling in their November plans for a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada, for the highly anticipated rematch between IBF/WBA heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko, they forgot one not-so-small detail.
Klitschko – who held the rematch clause – had yet to actually enforce it.
To the surprise of many observers and pundits, Klitschko eschewed an opportunity to gain revenge on the hulking Joshua and pad his bank account with another eight-figure payday, by announcing his retirement last week. It’s rare in this business that a boxer leaves so much on the table and his decision drew plaudits across the board.
As usual, he kept it “klassy” and delivered this message via Twitter:
Wow! So many people interested in my statement. Server broke down. So look here…https://t.co/iZnjFtxHeT
— Klitschko (@Klitschko) August 3, 2017
But while many will focus in on his valiant effort, last April, what really sticks out to this scribe is the night of April 10, 2004, when Klitschko faced Lamon Brewster for the vacant WBO heavyweight title. Brewster was a heavy underdog and was thought to have nothing more than a slight “puncher’s chance” of defeating Klitschko, who was now under the tutelage of Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward.
After controlling the action early on and flooring Brewster, he inexplicably flatlined in the fifth round and was left crawling on all fours back to his corner afterward, when the fight was waved off by referee Robert Byrd. He had been sunk at the Mandalay Bay and, it was at that point that fistic obituaries were written for Klitschko, who, just 13 months earlier, was zapped in two rounds by South African southpaw Corrie Sanders, in Germany.
With these two defeats and a 1998 loss to journeyman Ross Purrity, Klitschko was regarded as nothing more than a front runner who, when the going got tough, got outta there.
But, since the loss to Brewster, Klitschko put together a 22-fight winning streak that spanned over a decade, in which he became the dominant force of the heavyweight division under the guidance of Steward, who, it can be argued, did his best to train and re-tool “Dr. Steelhammer.” Left for dead by the boxing establishment, Klitschko and “Mr Kronk” worked around his defiencies in punch resistance by relying on his jackhammer jab and straight right hand, with a heavy dose of clinching on the inside. It wasn’t always aesthetically pleasing but it was normally very sound in strategy and execution.
This is why, despite holding the crown jewel in boxing, HBO basically got out of the heavyweight business for years. Yes, he won but he didn’t necessarily entertain all the time. But Klitschko (who formed K2 Promotions, after he and his brother Vitali broke free from Universum) was that rare fighter who didn’t necessarily need license fees from American broadcasters to make a lucrative living.
Many of his title defenses took place in Europe (mostly in Germany, with the U.K. and Russia sprinkled in) and he was a legitimate attraction, drawing thousands to his fights and robust television ratings. He was the rare global star in boxing, who didn’t need Stateside support – yet he still drew sizable audiences anytime he fought at the Madison Square Garden.
For all the talk of Gennady Golovkin, Sergey Kovalev, Ruslan Provodnikov and now Vasyl Lomachenko leading this revolution of fighters from the region of the former Soviet Union, the Klitschko brothers were really the forerunners.
There will be a ton of debate on just where Klitschko ranks all-time among heavyweights. (There are some who believe he wasn’t even the best boxer in his own family.) Yes, he fought in a relatively weak era of big men (to paraphrase Rick Pitino: Ernie Shavers, Ron Lyle and Jerry Quarry weren’t walking through that door) but then you can only fight those who available to you and, for the most part, usually the heavyweight class is generally mediocre-to-bad. (Hey, the great Joe Louis fought what they called the “Bum of the Month Club.”)
What will really hold him down in discussions like this are his aforementioned losses, which came against a rather mediocre lot. Of course, there is something to be said about consistency and longevity but it also says here that his size (6-foot-6, 240-ish pounds), combined with his power, would be an issue in any period of time.
His long reign atop the heavyweight division came to an end in November of 2015 as he was flummoxed by Tyson Fury. The bout against Joshua was perhaps the most ironic of his career because it was in defeat that he earned the universal praise he never attained during all his past victories. Getting off the canvas and seemingly on the verge of getting blown out, Klitschko rallied to score his own knockdown and was “this close” to recapturing a heavyweight belt, in front of 90,000 patrons at Wembley Stadium and those watching on Showtime and HBO.
In losing, Klitschko won, to a large degree.
There have been various retirements in boxing recently ( Robert Guerrero, Tim Bradley and Juan Manuel Marquez) but Klitschko’s announcement has resonated the most worldwide. He comported himself with a certain dignity and grace that is oftentimes too rare, nowadays. He was a sportsman and gentleman.
It’s not often when a defeat can be considered the high point of a career. Perhaps Klitschko could have somehow defeated Joshua the second time around.
But to his credit, unlike many others before him, Wladimir Klitschko knew when to leave well enough alone.
Klitschko finishes up with a career record of 64-5 (53). So who was the better brother duo, the Klitschkos or the Marquez Brothers (Juan Manuel and Rafael)?…Finally saw last week’s “ShoBox.” I really like Jesse Hernandez…Uhhhh…so Floyd Mayweather Jr. -MMA guy tickets are now being offered on Costco?…”Insecure” has been re-upped for a third season by HBO? Alright!…Seriously, this “Dead Mall Series” on YouTube is addictive as it is depressing…Josh Rosen just doesn’t give a damn…Next stop (eventually) for Vince Wilfork is Canton, Ohio…I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.