Boxing


Wladimir Klitschko's Historical Standing

14.11.06 - By Hunter Breckenridge: On Saturday night, Wladimir Klitschko defended his IBF heavyweight title (And more importantly, his Ring Magazine number 1 rating) with an emphatic 7th round TKO of challenger Calvin Brock. After 4 relatively even rounds, Wladimir took over in the fifth, scoring at will with his jab, and eventually ended matters with a huge right hand in the 7th frame.

The win solidified his standing as the best heavyweight in the world. At this point, Klitschko has had 50 fights, and has fought against better opposition than any currently active heavyweight contender (can’t call Evander a true contender just yet).

At this point, I would argue that one can begin to take stock of Wladimir’s overall historical standing. Surely a record of 47-3(42) against some of the best the division has to offer over more than a decade is enough of a resume to rate a comparison against the best of the division historically. This would be an objective analysis, taking into account Wladimir’s accomplishments, his failures, his abilities, his quality of competition, and his potential.

First of all, we’ll cover the basics. Wladimir Klitschko is 6’6”, 245 lbs. He is a boxer/puncher with an excellent jab, a strong right hand, a solid left hook, and an underrated uppercut. He’s not much of a bodypuncher, partially owing to his height. Klitschko has good hand speed and huge power. His footwork is fairly good, and he is light on his feet, especially for someone of his size. Klitschko is undoubtedly one of the all-time greats when it comes to pure offensive performance. However, offense is only part of the game. For most of his career, Wlad’s defense has been his offense.

He uses his size, reach and offensive output to keep his opponents at bay and off-balance. But when an opponent punches back, especially with a great deal of aggression, he tends to lose focus and starts to panic. Klitschko reacted badly to adversity early on in his career. But adjustments made with trainer Emmanuel Steward seem to have helped. Against determined and strong Samuel Peter, he did a good job adapting to Peter’s all-out aggression, and managed a win over maybe the strongest man in the division.

Wlad also seems to have a less-than solid chin. When hit cleanly by a strong puncher, he has tendency to go down. However, his defense has improved in the past year, and he has not taken too many clean shots against his last 4 opponents. Overall, his boxing talent and physical attributes are an imposing mix.

Klitschko’s resume is something of a mixed bag. He holds wins over 15th – 40th ranked opponents such as Axel Schulz, Monte Barrett, Francois Botha, a 42 year old Ray Mercer (not completely shot at the time), Derrick Jefferson, Charles Shufford, DaVarryl Williamson, and Eliseo Castillo. He also has victories over top 10 opponents in Chris Byrd (twice), Jameel McCline (top 10 when they fought), Samuel Peter, and Calvin Brock. His losses were to journeyman Ross Purrity (Klitschko punched himself out), Corrie Sanders, and Lamon Brewster (also punched himself out). Overall, a decent resume.

The losses hurt, especially considering he never avenged any of his them. He was only dominated once, against a very fast and powerful Corrie Sanders. The other two losses were mostly a result of bad pacing against tough guys who didn’t wilt when Wladimir bombarded them with an all-out assault. His roster of opponents has been solid for most of his career. He has generally fought decent opposition, especially in the past year, in which he has fought 3 top-five opponents in a row (Peter, Byrd, and Brock). But except for Byrd, none were title-holders.

Klitschko’s overall strength of competition has not been all that high. But he has fought the best available opponents for the most part. It is difficult to compare him to past eras. Obviously, his quality of competition pales in comparison to the seventies and the nineties. There have been a few worse eras (the late 20’s and early 30’s between Tunney and Louis come to mind), but not many. Based on his overall body of work (so far), one can began to compare Klitschko to the heavyweights throughout history.

My all-time top 20 may not be exactly the same as everybody else’s, but it does contain all the usual suspects in a reasonable order. Based on the achievements of this group, clearly Klitschko has not yet earned a place in this group.

Muhammad Ali
Joe Louis
Jack Johnson
Larry Holmes
George Foreman
Rocky Marciano
Joe Frazier
Lennox Lewis
Sonny Liston
Jack Dempsey
Evander Holyfield
Mike Tyson
Ezzard Charles
Gene Tunney
Sam Langford
Floyd Patterson
Jim Jeffries
Joe Walcott
Max Schmeling
Ken Norton

What about the next tier, though? Fighters like Max Baer, Riddick Bowe, Ingemar Johansson, Michael Moorer, Ron Lyle, Jerry Quarry, Michael Spinks, Jimmy Ellis, Jack Sharkey, and their ilk? Good fighters all, many of them champions at one point, but not quite good enough to make the elite group. All of those I listed undoubtedly deserve a place in the top 50. What about Klitschko? How does he compare to that group? We can look at several of the fighters that I just listed. Many of the fighters ranked from 21 to 50 held titles of one sort or another, and several were long time contenders during top eras (Earnie Shavers, Oscar Bonavena, Ron Lyle, Joe Bugner, Jerry Quarry, Jimmy Young, and several others from the 70’s come to mind).

The fact that Klitschko has won two separate titles plays a role in his ranking, but in this era of fractured championships, winning an alphabet trinket does not necessarily indicate fighting top competition. However, we have established that Klitschko fought some of the top competition that has been available to him, especially in the past year.

There are heavyweight greats such as Johansson who deserve a top 50 spot but faced less than stellar competition. Ingo faced Eddie Machen, Henry Cooper, and Floyd Patterson three times in a fairly short career. None of his other opponents were all that special. Not bad, but not really any more impressive than Wlad’s resume. Most of the non-title holders of the late sixties through the late seventies faced superior competition to Wlad, as did some of the top contenders of the nineties. But there are enough top 50 fighters that one can see ranked below Klitschko in terms of competitive quality.

Michael Spinks won the title from Larry Holmes in controversial fashion, beat a faded and distracted Gerry Cooney, and was blown away by Mike Tyson. Hardly the greatest resume, but still maybe good enough to crack the top 50, considering he was a linear champ, and did win the title after moving up from light heavy (an achievement in itself).

After all of this, it could be argued that Wladimir Klitschko does deserve a spot in the top 50 at this point in his career. He probably won’t rank much above 40, but with time, he may move higher up the list. At this point, I would even put him above his brother Vitali, who seemed to be on his way to having a fairly decent run as champ, but couldn’t stay healthy long enough to build an impressive resume. Boxing fans seem to be obsessed with lists and rankings. And in the next few years, we will probably start seeing Wlad’s inclusion in some all-time lists.

It seems that when one examines Klitschko’s record in a calm and objective manner, he appears to warrant inclusion in the pantheon of greats, albeit not at the highest tier. Admittedly, boxing is one of those sports that seems to excite people and stir the emotions, so calm and objective analysis is not always expected. But part of the fun is arguing and debating lists and rankings. In the end, Wladimir Klitschko’s true and deserved ranking will probably always be considered subjective and a matter of debate and opinion. Let the arguments began!

Article posted on 15.11.2006



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