In Defense of Wladimir Klitschko
By Lucas White: Last Saturday, Wladimir Klitschko unified the IBF and WBO heavyweight titles in Madison Square Garden with a near shut out unanimous decision victory over southpaw Sultan Ibragimov..
Article posted on 28.02.2008
Even before the final bell sounded, Wladimir was taking criticism for not dispatching his opponent by KO earlier in the fight. Since then, boxing writers on nearly every website and newspaper have continued to blast his performance. In my opinion, these criticisms are baseless when examining this situation on two fronts: an in-depth analysis of the actual fight and Klitschko’s career, namely his title defenses.
I agree with the pundits that Klitschko vs. Ibragimov will not win fight of the year honors. It was a strategic fight with both fighters looking for openings and only Klitschko being marginally successful.
Wladimir had a game plan from the onset. Initially, he wanted to negate Sultan’s right jab by slapping it down, and this would pave the way to throw a right hand down the center. From the 8th round on, more than half the time, Wladimir follows this down jab motion with a straight right hand, and was landing effectively with it. Many claim that Wlad was not looking for the knockout, but was just simply coasting on his jab. This is ridiculous. We all know, that he threw the right hand sparingly, but when Klitschko throws the right hand its not to score points, but to score a knockout. And when pundits criticize this fight because of Klitschko’s lack of killer instinct, no one remembers that moment in the 9th round when Wladimir landed consecutive 1-2 combinations sending Sultan into the ropes.
This should have been scored a knockdown because the ropes saved Sultan from the canvas. He was trying to finish him by KO. Late in the 11th, Wlad caught Sultan napping, and with 30 more seconds in the round, he would have finished him. He tried to knock Ibragimov out, but stylistically, it was actually a more difficult task than it appeared.
Sultan’s game plan was simple. Wear Wlad down, counter the right cross with an overhand left, and score a late fight knockout. Any number of us could have verbatim sited this plan before the fight given Sultan’s strategy against other big men. Certainly, Stewart and Klitschko both had this in mind. No one gives them credit for agreeing to fight a southpaw after Wlad’s devastating knockout loss to Corrie Sanders. Their plan was perfectly calculated to combat Sultan’s strategy and Wladimir’s past difficulties with the southpaw stance. The only thing they didn’t realize is, if Wlad doesn’t throw the right hand, or even lead with it, Sultan will not be able to counter as this is his style, this will create a boring chess match. The fight’s lack of action and a KO finish is unfairly being solely saddled on Wladimir Klitschko.
Sultan never really stood in front of Wladimir, and never forced the fight. From the late rounds on, Sultan effectively quit trying to get inside the jab, and fought to finish the fight on his feet. Wladimir did the best he could to beat this man in a dramatic fashion, but when your opponent does not have that same mentality, it makes the task nearly impossible. Wladimir Klitschko dominated undefeated Sultan Ibragimov, and he deserves to be recognized for that.
There has been a lot of dramatic rhetoric on the internet about what heavyweight champions are supposed to do and how they are supposed to fight. Dramatic one sided knockouts and guts and glory finishes are said to be the trademark of a transcendent heavyweight champion. Coupled with these descriptions is an assault on Wladimir Klitschko and his lack of these attributes. While I agree that great heavyweights posses these characteristics, I also submit, that so does Wladimir Klitschko.
When in the context of his most recent fight, the significant accomplishments of Klitschko have been forgotten by most of the boxing media. No one seems to remember that Wladimir ducks no one. After losing to Lamon Brewster, he picked up his career and made the greatest heavyweight resurgence of his era.
Two fights removed from that brutal loss he took on Sam Peter, the man generally regarded as the hardest puncher in the division. Klitschko, the man with the glass jaw, the man with man with no stamina, the man with no heart, accepted a fight with the most devastating puncher since Mike Tyson. He could have ducked Peter, fought a lesser contender, and easily landed another title shot. Instead, he went through the “Nigerian Nightmare,” not around him.
He stood with Peter and won exciting rounds. Just when we all thought he could not get up if knocked down, he does. Two more knockdowns were on the way, and both times the man with no jaw rose from the canvas and fought on. He won every round except the ones he was downed by blows behind the head. During the rest period before the 12th round Stewart told his fighter not to worry about power, just go out there and execute the plan. This would be the best round of the fight for Wlad and he nearly ended Peter’s night. How is that for guts and glory? Peter is lucky it was not a 15 round fight as he was the one gassed, not Wladimir.
Following this performance, Klitschko then secured a rematch with IBF Champion Chris Byrd and handily knocked him out in 7 rounds. It was a dominant performance. Many have asked why Klitschko could not dominate Ibragimov in the same fashion since they were both southpaws. The answer simply lies in the fact that Byrd fought to win whereas Ibragimov fought to survive. Byrd engaged Wladimir because he knew this was his only shot to win in Germany, and therefore was more susceptible to being knocked out. Had Ibragimov fought in a similar manner, Klitschko would now be receiving praise instead of scorn.
Following the thorough dismantlement of Byrd, Klitschko fought the highest regarded American heavyweight in Calvin Brock. All other titlists were unavailable or unwilling, so Wlad took the next best option. Early in the fight, Brock seemed to be getting at Klitschko and blood from a head butt seemed to rattle “The Steel Hammer.” Yet again, Wladimir would preserve and show the heart many said he didn’t have. He defended his title by leaving Brock on his face at Madison Square Garden.
His forgettable defense against Ray Austin would follow. Mandated by the IBF, Wladimir would face another American heavyweight in a 2 round debacle that would expose the IBF lunacy more than anything else. Wladimir sized up his timid opponent in the first round and exploded with a barrage of left hooks in the second, leaving the second American in as many fights face down on the canvas.
Last summer, with all other belt holders out of consideration for one reason or another, Wlad would defend his title for the 3rd time against the last man to beat him. A thorough shellacking would take place and Brewster would be forced to retire in the 6 round interssion. This would be the fourth American in a row to fall to “The Steel Hammer.”
The detail of his past may seem unwarranted, but it is necessary. Wladimir Klitschko is being unfairly assaulted, for handily beating a man who wanted no part of a fight. Let’s not forget, he defeated Ibragimov, and undefeated fighter, very easily. He unified the WBO and IBF titles, an effort no other heavyweight has made. He left 4 Americans either facedown, on their back, or on their stool and he has defended his IBF title now 4 times. No one has defended a heavyweight title four times with victories this century (Byrd did, but drew with Andrew Golota). He deserves credit for these achievements.
Great champions like Foreman, Ali, Holyfield, and Lewis all came back from disappointing and demoralizing losses. So too has Wladimir Klitschko. By his own admission, Wladmir Klitschko is not the Heavyweight Champion of the World. However, he is doing what Heavyweight Champions are supposed to do.
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