With the news of Wladimir Klitschko retiring I couldn’t miss the opportunity to write an article about the former heavyweight champion of the world, and where he stands in the history books.
A lot of people only watch boxing to see heavyweights fights, and you can’t really blame them. The heavyweight division has produced notable champions such as Muhammed Ali, Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, George Foreman, Michael Spinks, Joe Louis, Sonny Liston, Jack Johnson, Rocky Marciano, and that’s to just name a few. There’s been so many heavyweight fighters that have made us sit up and take notice over the years.
Klitschko first broke on to the amateur boxing scene by winning Gold at the 1993 Junior European Championships in the heavyweight division, the next year he took home Silver at the 1994 Junior World Championships held in Turkey. In 1996 he made the jump to super-heavyweight in time to take home Silver at the European Championships, before setting his sights on the Olympic games in Atlanta later that summer. Wladimir represented his native Ukraine in the Men’s super-heavyweight division and won an Olympic Gold medal. He turned professional in the November of 1996, he finished a commendable amateur career with a record of 134–6.
To say Wladimir’s career came without any bad losses would be wrong, he suffered a huge upset against the late Corrie Sanders back in 2003, when they met for the WBO heavyweight title. Sanders was a strong southpaw, and a good fighter in his own right, his 42-4 record speaks for itself, but he had no right to be beating Klitschko that night in Hannover. Sanders was in the twilight years of his career, the 37 year old challenger was coming up against his toughest opponent, at that point in his illustrious career Klitschko was 27 years old, an age that is considered for a boxer to be in their prime, physically at least. He boasted an excellent record of 41-1 at that stage in his career and was dispatching opponents left, right, and centre. When the fight took place it wasn’t a lucky swing that hurt Klitschko, Sanders came out of his corner quick and strong knocking Wladimir down twice in the first round and then twice again in the second round, before the referee decided the fight was over. Klitschko was coming off of 5 title defences, all of which he won by TKO, all things taken in to account this is considered one of the biggest upsets in heavyweight boxing. The Ring magazine named it the Upset of the Year for 2003.
In boxing a bad loss can have more influence on a career than a great victory can. For example, everyone remembers when Buster Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson at the Tokyo Dome in 1990, but not many people could tell you about when a 21 year old Mike Tyson beat Tyrell Biggs around the ring for 7 rounds in a punch-perfect performance before the referee decided that enough was enough.
One loss doesn’t define a career, Klitschko went on to win the WBA (Super heavyweight), IBF, WBO, IBO, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles and held them all at the same time. He held and defended all those belts for 9 fights before finally losing them to Tyson Fury by way of decision back in 2015. He’s the second-longest reigning heavyweight champion of all time, and has the second-most successful title defences total of any heavyweight boxer with 23, second only to the legendary Joe Louis who managed to defend his title a ridiculous 25 times. He has fought more title bouts than any heavyweight champion in the sport’s history, 29. He defeated 12 boxers who held undefeated records until they crossed paths with him which in itself is a record, he’s also defeated ten current or former world champions throughout his career. The tools that allowed him to be so successful were his excellent jab that would set up a straight right hand, as well as a devastating left hook. Most recently in his bout with Anthony Joshua, Wladimir found success fighting from behind his jab and waiting to unleash his powerful straight right, in the 6th round Klitschko finally found an opening and landed the one-two combination he’d been looking for and it sent Anthony Joshua to the canvas for the first time in his pro career. Klitschko didn’t win the fight but he won the hearts of those who weren’t already fans of his.
The biggest knock on Klitschko’s career is something that’s out of his control, it was the opponents he faced. There’s no doubt he was an exceptional fighter both offensively and defensively who dominated in his era, but when we rank the heavyweights of all-time it’s hard to credit someone who never had to fight one of the other all-time greats. Muhammed Ali was to boxing what Michael Jordan was for basketball, or Eddy Merckx was for cycling, the greatest. There’s always people who argue against his legacy, but often those opinions are met by a chorus of laughter. Ali had to fight Sonny Liston, Henry Cooper, Floyd Patterson, Joe Frazier, George Foreman. Holmes had to fight Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson, Michael Spinks, Ken Norton. Lewis had to fight Vitali Klitschko, Evander Holyfield, Frank Bruno, Oliver McCall. The most decorated opponent Wladimir fought is arguably David Haye, who we know is/was a good fighter who held multiple belts at heavyweight, as well as cruiserweight, but he’s not an all-time great.
My all-time heavyweight list;
- Muhammed Ali. 56-5
- Joe Louis. 66-3
- Larry Holmes. 69-3
- Jack Johnson. 73-13
- George Foreman. 76-5
- Lennox Lewis. 41-2
- Joe Frazier. 32-4
- Rocky Marciano. 49-0
- Mike Tyson. 50-6
- Evander Holyfield. 44-10
- Jack Dempsey. 54-6
- Gene Tunney. 65-1
- Wladimir Klitschko. 64-5
The Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko, today said “Wladimir’s triumphs will always stay in our memory as an example of iron will – Ukraine is proud of you, champion,”. It’s been a fantastic career for Wladimir, boxing will sorely miss him.
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