Boxing has missed a golden opportunity to capitalize on Wladimir Klitschko. While it is belittling to reduce a boxer to either a finely tuned fighting machine or a marketable commodity, logic dictates that Klitschko (57-3, 50 KOs), 36, should be a crossover star who captivates both boxing and casual sports fans.
Instead, Klitschko’s current reign as the lineal heavyweight champion is seen as a nuisance.
Since Wladimir Klitschko regained the IBF and IBO heavyweight titles with a seventh-round TKO over Chris Byrd in 2006, his adding of the WBO, WBA (Super) and, most importantly, The Ring titles has been viewed as an imperialistic coup of what he, for reasons that outrun coherence, inherently should not possess.
No rational person would deny that both Klitschko brothers are the clear class of the heavyweight division. In that regard, it is evident that they are, in terms of boxing ability, the rightful owners of all of the division’s major titles.
However, there seems to be an underlying disdain for this era of Klitschko dominance, and the disgust often has as much to do with the champions as with their oft-ridiculed opponents.
In the most recent issue of The Ring, Don Stradley’s article on Tony Thompson, who is, for the second time, Klitschko’s mandatory challenger, sheds light on some fundamental attitude issues the boxing public has towards the current crop of heavyweights.
Thompson, as quoted in The Ring from an interview through boxinginsider.com, blames American arrogance for the current disrespect leveled at boxing’s glamour division:
I just think that we’re so used to dominating the heavy part of the sport, that we just found reasons to, you know, put the contenders down, and not give the Klitschkos full credit.
It is fashionable and, to a certain extent, reasonable to criticize the lack of depth in the heavyweight division, but Thompson’s pinpointing of arrogance (not necessarily American) as a public attitude that detracts from the Klitschkos accomplishments reinforces this idea that Wladimir, for instance, is not inherently likeable as a lineal title holder.
Given how incessantly boxing writers and fans clamor for championship clarity and lineal champions, it is perplexing how the younger Klitschko’s reign as undisputed champion is already being overlooked in favor of who can finally emerge and restore the heavyweight division to its former glory.
It seems especially erroneous to think that the heavyweight division will drastically improve or move towards an era of excitement once the Klitschkos retire.
In fact, boxing fans should cherish Wladimir’s reign as champion because once he retires (yes, I am assuming no one will beat him from here on out), his alphabet titles will inevitably be dispersed throughout a division lacking depth, and his firm status as lineal champion will be but a distant memory.
Despite everything that is wrong with the heavyweights, having Wladimir Klitschko as its undisputed champion is something the division has consistently had going for it. Klitschko is a wonderful ambassador for the sport, and his integrity and dedication is admirable.
In terms of boxing ability, Klitschko is a tremendous athlete for his size, and his footwork and balance deftly allow him to control almost all of his fights from start to finish. Yes, he can be mechanical, but rather than viewing this negatively, his craftsmanship and punching precision is something that should be celebrated for its technical brilliance.
Klitschko’s sledgehammer right hand is an omnipresent threat to end a fight any time it connects, and his title reign has seen its share of spectacular knockouts.
Still, Klitschko is begrudged for not taking more risks. Despite his almost unparalleled ability to excel at the old adage of hit-and-not-get-hit, Klitschko suffers because he doesn’t evade punches like Floyd Mayweather.
The undermining of Klitschko’s defensive abilities is unfortunate because, in many ways, he harks back to the image of classic and fundamentally sound boxer who works a powerful straight right hand off of a piston-like jab. It might seem simple, but there is some beauty to it.
Outside of the ring, Klitschko’s humble upbringing with a father who served in the military is reflected in his profound respect for the sport of boxing and the understanding of his status as an athlete of tremendous influence (at least in Europe). In fact, much of his personal history is better displayed in the 2011 documentary, Klitschko, which happens to be excellent viewing.
Klitschko is highly intelligent, good looking and charismatic in his own thoughtful way. What he lacks in pomp he makes up for in depth, and the unfortunate reality is that we just haven’t taken the time and energy required to know and understand him properly.
As Klitschko gets set to face Tony Thompson this Saturday in Berne, Switzerland, North American boxing fans should pay close attention. But if they choose not to, Klitschko won’t mind. He will likely win impressively, collect his millions through the adoration of nearly all of Europe and go back to enjoying contemplative games of chess against his older brother.
The fact that Klitschko is more of a sportsman than a fighter has never sat well with North American boxing fans. But it is this depth, this idea of a sportsman as an ambassador who excels in diverse disciplines, that makes Wladimir Klitschko special—whether we realize it or not.