Is Vitali Klitschko the Worst Heavyweight Champion of All-Time?
09.06.05 - By Lee Hayes: For the past two weeks, I have been reading a book I purchased titled "The World Heavyweight Boxing Championship - A History" by John D. McCallum. It was written just over 30 years ago, when George Foreman had just finished destroying Joe Fraizer in Kingston, Jamaica. The book is well written and contains a chapter on every heavyweight champion from John L. Sullivan until Big George. This evening I was re-reading the chapter on Jess Willard, and it got me to thinking about Jess's place in history. I've often thought about who I believed were the greatest heavyweight champions.
Article posted on 09.06.2005
But never had I mulled over who the worlds worst heavyweight title holders were. I decided to give it some thought. My conclusion may not be well received by Vitali Klitschko fans, but I have decided that the big Ukrainian may be the worst man to ever claim the title of World Heavyweight Champion. Let me explain:.
First I would like to introduce the other contenders. The first would probably be Canadian title claimant, Tommy Burns. Burns was the smallest man to hold the title, only standing 5'7 and weighing 180lbs. The french Canadian slugger lucked in to the title by beating Jim J Jeffries appointed champion, Marvin Hart, and by winning against light-heavyweight king, Philadelphia Jack O'Brien. The second Burns signed to fight Jack Johnson, his title was as good as gone.
Poor "Tahmy," -as Johnson liked to call him- never stood a chance. The reason I don't rate Burns as the worst, is because nobody ever had high expectations of him. Nobody paraded him around like he was the second coming of Christ, the way Ukrainian boxing fans praise Vitali. Burns never tried to disillusion his fans by pretending to be something he wasn't. Klitschko has.
My next selection would probably be Primo Carnera. (Some people would have included Jess Willard, and perhaps Jack Sharkey in a compilation of the worlds worst heavyweight champs, but I personally feel that Willard and Sharkey were good enough fighters to not be included in such a category. Just barely.) Carnera on the other hand was one of the worst. He was a huge muscular man (like Vitali). Extremely tall at 6 foot 7 (the same height as Vitali). They both started their careers by racking up huge strings of KO's against the most dubious list of victims that one could find.
Both men fought a similar awkward style, by leaning on their back foot with their hands held low, using a jab and occasionally leaning their weight on their front foot behind a powerful right hand. Klitschko is a better boxer than Carnera was, but I suggest that Carnera had far more heart and courage than Klitschko has ever exhibited. I'll tell you why. Carnera fought the best around at his time. He ducked nobody. He fought the greatest heavyweight of all time, in Joe Louis in Louis' prime. He took on murderous punching Max Baer. He fought Jack Sharkey (twice), Tommy Loughran, King Levinsky, Young Stribling, and Larry Gains too.
These were simply the best fighters around at the time. Klitschko in contrast has been baby fed. When Carnera faced Jack Sharkey for the first time, he lost on points. When Vitali Klitschko suffered his first loss against current IBF Heavyweight Champion, Chris Byrd, by surrendering his title due to a shoulder injury, Klitschko avoided a rematch with Byrd at all costs. Carnera rematched Sharkey, and knocked him out in the 6th round. I think the Byrd fight showed an obvious character flaw in Vitali. He's a quitter, in my opinion. Carnera on the other hand, had to be knocked down by powerhouse Baer 11 times before he could be stopped. The "Ambling Alp," Carnera, had a ton of heart, where he obviously lacked skill.
There have been other weak champions since that time, I think Ingemar Johansson probably qualifies. There have been several other highly unqualified men to hold various alphabet belts too, since the demolition of the one belt per weight class system. I won't bother counting them, because they weren't lineal title holders. Shannon Briggs would be an exception. I think you could probably argue that Shannon Briggs was worse than Klitschko, but I'd still argue that there has never been any worse than Vitali. Briggs was definitely a hot prospect coming up the ranks, he certainly faced dubious opposition that rivaled that of Klitschko.
One difference is that Briggs didn't have the incessant Klitsko-maniacs, that never shut up about a guy that's lost to the only two A level fighters he's ever faced. The Klitschko fans that make up excuse after excuse after excuse as to why their favorite fighter has never defeated another champion he's faced. At least Briggs was a lineal champion, beating "the man who beat the man who beat the man" when he won a very questionable decision against Big George Forman. Klitschko has been practically handed his title, and has faced extremely weak opposition since winning it.
Now I'd like to make the case for Vitali, as to why I suggest he is the worst. Let me start by saying that I've never witnessed a "champion" as arrogant as he is. That's right, I'm including Muhammad Ali himself when I say that. At least Ali backed up his words by beating anyone and everyone around him. Traveling the globe and handing out fly-by a$$ whippings all the while. You got the impression when a young Cassius Clay shot off his mouth to the camera's, that behind that bright smile was a guy that was just having fun. He didn't take that stuff too seriously, and masterfully worked his hype to his advantage. Klitschko on the other hand appears to think that the world was created for his purpose alone. A fighter that is arrogant enough to think that a fight against Danny Williams was worthy of charging people a large Pay-Per-View fee. A boxer so arrogant that he thinks having his brother fight his rematches somehow justifies as "revenge."
Klitschko also lacks that one characteristic that Burns, Willard, Carnera, Johansson & Briggs all had. Class. Klitschko has none. All one has to do is watch replays of him challenging Corrie Sanders to a fight right after Sanders reached the highest point of his career, defeating Klitschko's brother, Wladimir Klitschko. Sander's came over to check and make sure Wladimir was okay, and do the tradition of thanking him for a good fight, when he was suddenly railroaded by a raging Vitali Klitschko, who uttered threats and challenged Sanders to a fight.
His lack of sportsmanship and candor made him look like a low class idiot, that probably harmed Wladimir's corner more than he helped, because of his inability to control his emotions. Klitschko reinforced my accusation of his classlessness, immediately after losing his chance at winning the lineal heavyweight championship against all-time great Lennox Lewis. Instead of calmly thanking Lewis for a great, exciting fight - that was sure to rise Klitschko's stock and value- Vitali lunged at Lewis complaining about the stoppage (as if Lewis had anything to do with it, and not the massive carnage of blood that Lewis' fists created on the big Ukrainian's face).
Again, for the second time in 2 months, Vitali challenged Lennox Lewis to a fight in the ring. (I guess Vitali has never been taught ring etiquette 101, because he sure acts like a first rank amateur when it comes to sportsmanship after a fight). He demanded a rematch on the spot, railroading Lewis, who himself was quite emotional after a hard fought battle. Catching Lewis off guard, he said "Rematch?" Then he and his brother (who had by this time surrounded Lewis) both said "Will you give me/him a rematch?" Lewis looked shocked (Who could blame him, this is not the way boxing negotiations are done. Everybody knows it's the promoters and managers that decide these things.)
Lennox caught unawares said what most proud champions would under those circumstances, thinking only of his wounded emotions, Lennox said "uhh, suuuuure" and immediately Vitali exposed his classless intentions by turning Lewis around to point at a video camera that Klitschko already knew was there. He said "see?" and Lennox immediately looked uncomfortable. He knew he had been had by what appeared to me to be dirty, calculating tactics of the 6 foot 7 giant. After the emotions had settled, and Lewis had time to think about it, he realized that his passion for the sport had dwindled.
He knew that to fight on would be only a needless risk to his health and legacy. He had pulled one out of the flames against Vitali. He'd be wise not to continue to press things. He retired. It was a classy ceremony that Lewis and his mother put on to announce his intentions to the world. If only Lennox knew what lied ahead. A two year verbal attack by the man he had defeated by stoppage in his last fight. A constant stalking at every turn by Klitschko, who immediately went about berating Lennox and challenging the retired champion at every chance. He attempted to ruin Lewis's graceful retirement from the sport he gave his all to, and he has continued to try to embarrass the Great Brit.
Anytime a microphone is near his lips, you know a slander of some sort against Lennox is only too near by. It's probably because all of Vitali's recent success is due to that night he fought Lewis. Before that point, he was simply known as Wladimir's less talented, heartless, big brother. Maybe he's afraid that if he becomes disassociated with Lewis, his fame will patter out. That night in the Staples Center, on June 21st, 2003, was the greatest of his life, and he has yet to replicate it since. Perhaps this is why he is clinging so dearly to Lennox.
Whatever the reason, I'll make no concessions for him, nor will I make any excuses. If he ever hopes to be considered amongst the great champions of the past, he'll need to face his number one mandatory Hassim Rahman, and quit hiding like a coward by challenging Lamon Brewster after pulling out of fights with Rahman on three straight occasions. He needs to rematch Chris Byrd, his first loss, and a guy who just happens to hold another piece of the title, and he needs to prove that he wont quit when he faces adversity.
He'll probably need to batter at least two of the young up and coming fighters such as Samuel Peter, Calvin Brock or Audley Harrison. Personally, I do not believe that any of that is in the Klitschko agenda, as from day one they have revealed their only goal in boxing is both hold titles (any titles will do) at the same time. Can you hear Joe Louis spinning in his grave? I know I can.
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