On Saturday, May 4, in Mannheim, Germany, World Heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko will defend his Ring, lineal, IBF, WBO and WBA super titles against unbeaten Francesco Pianeta, an Italian native who has lived in Germany since age six.
I am in my early 40s, so just old enough to remember when the world heavyweight boxing title was known as the "the greatest championship in all of sports." The men who wore the belt were among the biggest sports stars of their day. When the belt was on the line, it was the top sports story of the week.
Well, the Klitschko-Pianeta fight will be a big deal in Germany. But on this side of the Atlantic, it won't even be the biggest story of the week in boxing. It will be greatly overshadowed by the Floyd Mayweather-Robert Guerrero pay-per-view and won't even be broadcast in the U.S.
I've faulted American fans in the past for not appreciating the Klitschko brothers, but this time around, Wladimir must take a big share of the blame for the apathy he is encountering from the U.S. market. In Pianeta, he's picked an opponent that few fans in the U.S. have ever heard of, and even fewer care about.
|Wladimir Klitschko Francesco Pianeta|
Height: 6'6" 6'5"
Weight: About 245 About 240
Reach: 81" Unlisted
Age: 37 28
Record: 59-3, 50 KOs 28-0-1, 15 KOs
Rounds: 307 163
Stance: Orthodox Southpaw
Residence: Kiev, Ukraine Gelsenkirchen,
On paper, this looks like a fairly even physical matchup, but in reality, Pianeta has shown no signs that he is anywhere near Klitschko's level as an athlete. Although the champion is nine years older, he should enjoy considerable advantages in speed and power.
Anytime an orthodox and southpaw fighter square off, there is the potential for awkward entanglements and headbutts, and for the orthodox fighter especially to find himself at an unfamiliar and vulnerable angle.
But Klitschko didn't have any trouble ending the night early against lefty Tony Thompson, a far more experienced and skilled fighter than Pianeta.
With almost twice as many professional rounds, Klitschko holds a tremendous edge in experience. His 50 stoppages in 62 fights gives him one of the best KO percentages in heavyweight history, and power is another huge advantage for him.
Pianeta's 15 KOs in 28 fights doesn't sound terrible, but those stoppages were recorded against vastly inferior talent. He has never knocked out a recognizable, quality opponent.
The primary storyline here probably depends a little bit upon which country you are in. Wladimir Klitschko launched his career from Germany, lived there many years and remains extremely popular with German fans. The Klitschko brothers' fights in Germany are sell-out shows, with an atmosphere like a rock concert.
Pianeta was picked because he is an undefeated Italian native and German resident. The storyline in Germany and Italy is of a wildly popular, aging champion facing a much younger, undefeated challenger.
In the U.S. the storyline is, "Wladimir Klitschko is fighting a chump nobody has ever heard of." Pianeta has to be viewed as a definite step down in competition from Klitschko's last opponent, Mariusz Wach. He's probably a step down from the opponent Klitschko fought before that, former cruiserweight champion Jean-Marc Mormeck.
The single most impressive thing on Pianeta's resume is a 2009 draw with former Vitali Klitschko victim Albert Sosnowski. His two biggest wins came last year when he beat Frans Botha and Oliver McCall, both by unanimous decision.
There was a time when two wins in one year over Botha and McCall would have been viewed as a respectable accomplishment. That time occurred during Bill Clinton's second term.
Wladimir Klitschko is a near-perfect fighter technically. He employs brilliant lateral movement and footwork to control distance and move out of danger against advancing opponents. You will almost never see Klitschko maneuvered into a bad position.
He has one of the finest jabs in the history of the division. He uses it as a range finder at times but more often deploys it as a punishing weapon, a battering ram that snaps opponents' heads back violently.
He will frequently start to throw a jab and then adjust mid-punch, turning it into a long, sweeping hook. For this reason, it is a very difficult punch to slide outside on.
As punishing as Klitschko is with his lead left, it's the straight right which earned him his nickname, Dr. Steelhammer. It is a fight-ending punch.
Pianeta has the physical size to at least avoid being dwarfed by Wladimir, not that it means much. Wach was bigger than Klitschko and still took a beating all night.
Pianeta is a southpaw and has a decent straight left. He throws it well as a counter to an orthodox opponent's jab. If he can manage to time the punch against Klitschko, he might be able to make the fight interesting.
There's no secret about this one. Wladimir Klitschko only really has one weakness as a fighter, but it has been a tragic one in the past. All three of his career losses have come by way of knockout, all three against seemingly inferior opponents who managed to catch him with a good shot on the chin.
Even though he hasn't lost since 2004, he still carries the rap of possessing a fragile chin. The thinking on him will always be that if you can manage to hit him on the jaw, you can beat him.
Good luck trying to hit him, though. Incredibly gifted to begin with, he spent years being tutored by the late, great trainer Emanuel Steward—and the result is a brilliant defensive fighter.
Still, Klitschko did get caught with a pretty hard shot by Wach at the end of Round 5. He reacted perfectly, clinching to survive the round and then resuming with his beat down of the Polish challenger in the very next round. It was particularly notable that he remained calm in the face of disaster.
So maybe even that weakness is a thing he has overcome.
Pianeta has slow, plodding footwork and limited power for such a large heavyweight. He has a tendency to get lazy behind his high guard, presenting himself as a shielded-up, stationary target. If he does that against Klitschko he'll be pounded down quickly.
Pianeta deserved to earn the decision against McCall, but it's not as if he blew the 47-year-old former champion out of the ring. McCall's jabs caused him problems. Klitschko's will rattle his skull.
I have seen video of Pianeta from several fights, and he consistently circles toward his opponent's right—a dangerous habit for a southpaw fighting an orthodox fighter. He attempts to do this from a safe distance on the outside, but Klitschko will close the gap quickly and drill him with the big right.
Klitschko doesn't have to do anything he hasn't done before time and again during his previous 59 professional victories. He has beaten far better fighters. He's knocked out better fighters.
He will win this fight by turning in a typical Klitschko performance. In terms of physical abilities and boxing experience, Pianeta is a vastly overmatched challenger.
Klitschko will win by establishing his power jab and mixing in his sweeping lead hook. He will hurt Pianeta and make it impossible for him to set his feet properly to counter with his own straight left.
As was the case against Wach, I expect Klitschko will look for opportunities to launch his dangerous right hand early and often. When Dr. Steelhammer starts to find a home for the right, the fight will be over, and probably in a hurry.
For Pianeta to win this fight, he's going to have to elevate every aspect of his game and deliver a performance far greater than anything he has ever done before. He is going to have to become a much better fighter overnight.
For starters, he is going to have to be much more disciplined with his footwork. Pianeta actually has a pretty nice straight left, and he uses it well as a counter to an orthodox fighter's jab. But if he is going to come back with that left against Klitschko, he better make sure he has his lead right foot properly positioned outside of Klitschko's lead left.
Otherwise, he is going to walk right into the champ's deadly right.
Klitschko is 37, and as 38-year-old Sergio Martinez demonstrated against Martin Murray last weekend, sometimes even a dominant champion can look surprisingly mortal once he hits his late 30s.
Still, I don't think Pianeta is anywhere near as technically solid a fighter as Murray is. To beat even a severely diminished Klitschko, he will need to show craft he hasn't previously displayed.
The only prediction that makes sense here is the most obvious one. Klitschko by KO. And I think it will come relatively early, by the fourth or fifth round.
In his last fight against Wach, Klitschko put on one of his most aggressive performances in recent memory. At times, he has been cautious about letting his right hand go, but he was launching it early in the first round against the giant Polish challenger.
Wach managed to absorb a lot of abuse and end the fight standing. I don't think Pianeta will fair so well.
Hopefully, Klitschko's next fight will be one we can get a little more excited about. Russian promoter Vladimir Hryunov has already offered a purse bid in excess of $23 million for a fight with Klitschko and WBA "regular" champion Alexander Povetkin, a bout some fans have been waiting years to see.