He’d be the last guy you’d think could wander unnoticed.
After all, there are only so many 6'6", 250-pound Kazakhstan-born Ukrainians in the world; and even fewer of them—one, in fact—has a suitcase full of belts declaring him its heavyweight boxing kingpin.
Yet, when Wladimir Klitschko clocks in for 36 or fewer minutes of labor at the SAP Arena in Mannheim, Germany this Saturday, it’ll register as barely more than a blip (outside of the fatherland, at least) on the sport’s hyper-focused radar screen.
Instead, the majority of eyes, ears and opinions will be locked for the weekend on the Las Vegas desert, where premium-cable cash machine Floyd Mayweather Jr. will complete his maiden voyage as a pricey contractual possession of the good ship Showtime Inc.
You know Floyd. He beams for the cameras, flashes uncivilized wads of cash and assumes the cloak of heroic training camp intermediary between a somehow-more-dysfunctional father and uncle.
What the Kardashians are to mainstream reality TV, the Mayweathers surely are to its bastard gloved stepchild.
Faced with those foes, it’s hard to imagine a modest Ph.D.-toting workhorse like Klitschko measuring up. Especially when he’s in with a guy—in the form of unbeaten 28-year-old Italian export Francesco Pianeta—that few beyond the home neighborhood could identify from a lineup.
Pianeta, for those not particularly proficient in boxrec.com, has been a pro for eight years, is 28-0-1 through 29 fights and has accumulated the scalps of Nelson Dario Dominguez, Ivica Perkavic and Mike Middleton as the three most recent of his 15 knockout victories.
He’s No. 13 in the IBO’s computerized rankings, has wins over two fighters who were in that organization’s top 50 at the time of their fight and, as his most accomplished conquest, lists a 10-round decision over former WBC champion Oliver McCall.
McCall, by the way, was a month past birthday No. 47.
From Wlad’s perspective, it’s hard to get traction when this is what you’re climbing on.
And in terms of challenger-centric storylines, it’s not even a fair fight.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Mayweather will be in with a gun-owning Christian talk-show guest with a suddenly mouthy persona and a cancer survivor for a wife.
Even the show’s main undercard fight, in which pals Abner Mares and Daniel Ponce De Leon will square off for an alphabet featherweight belt, gives off more heat than yet another Klitschko brother pounding on yet another anonymous Euro heavy bag.
But the lack of attention isn’t all the fault of Wladimir.
Though he’s admittedly faced his share of guys who’d not warranted a heavyweight title sniff—Pianeta this week, and both Mariusz Wach and Jean-Marc Mormeck before him—it’d be too large a reach to label Klitschko’s entire eight-year unbeaten run as a Joe Louis “Bum of the Month” redux.
Just two fights past a career-trashing loss to Lamon Brewster, Klitschko again became a mandatory title challenger in 2005 with a defeat of previously unbeaten Samuel Peter (UD 12). He went on to brutalize a respected champion in Chris Byrd in 2006 (TKO 7), then toppled unbeaten Calvin Brock (TKO 7), veteran Ray Austin (KO 2) and old friend Brewster (TKO 6) within his first 15 months on the job.
The subsequently spotty quarry has also included five incumbent/former division champions—Sultan Ibragimov, Hasim Rahman, Ruslan Chagaev, Peter in a rematch and David Haye—three of whom failed to last the distance as Klitschko assembled a gaggle of heavyweight hardware unmatched since Lennox Lewis’s final undisputed days shortly before the turn of the century.
Admittedly, whether Klitschko’s accomplishments are truly on a level with Lewis, with whom he briefly shared a ring in the 2001 film Ocean’s Eleven, is up for debate.
But what’s not arguable is the reality that he’s done everything that’s been asked of him—decisively beating everyone who’s been put in front of him—since first being labeled champion.
Does Wladimir Klitschko deserve more credit than he receives?
Only Louis (26) from 1937 to 1948 and Larry Holmes (20) between 1978 and 1985 have strung together as many defenses in the modern era, with Louis finishing 23 of his foes inside the distance and Holmes winning 15 of 20 of his fights by stoppage.
Of Klitschko’s 13 defenses, 10 have ended before the final bell.
Of his 59 career victories, exactly 50 (84.7 percent) have come by knockouts.
And whether you’re beating Mike Tyson or Tyson Beckford—that’s impressive stuff.
“I think it’s clear that Wladimir has accomplished more than most men who’ve ever reached the championship level,” said Ed Levine, president of the IBO.
“His level of dominance since becoming champion rivals anyone’s, and I think people will only develop a true appreciation for him after he’s no longer active.”
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.