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A Fight to Stay Awake: It's Hard to Love Heavyweight Champion Wladimir Klitschko

Nov 10, 2012; Hamburg, GERMANY; Wladimir Klitschko during his fight against Mariusz Wach at O2 World Arena.  Mandatory Credit: Tim Groothuis/Witters Sport via USA TODAY Sports
Witters Sport-USA TODAY Sports
Jonathan SnowdenCombat Sports Senior WriterDecember 27, 2016

The numbers say Wladimir Klitschko is a great champion. In fact, a Bill James disciple could one day look at his Wikipedia entry and declare, context be damned, that the Ukrainian star was among the very best heavyweight boxers of all time.

His record, right there in plain black and white, speaks for itself. Klitschko is 61-3 in his storied career, with 51 wins by way of knockout. He hasn't lost a bout in nearly 10 years.

His reign has lasted seven years and five months. Only Joe Louis sat the throne longer. Klitschko has made 15 consecutive defenses of his title and won 22 overall title fights. Only Louis and Muhammad Ali can match that.

On paper, he's a stellar champion. In a still photograph too—he's all chiseled muscle and masculine vitality. But any of us who have sat through the Klitschko era know the numbers to be inveterate liars and manipulators of the worst kind.

Against Alexander Povetkin, Klitschko was a boxing robot with two settings—jab and clinch. The result was a horrendous fight. His best work came when he pressed his immense bulk directly down onto Povetkin's neck every time they came into contact, which was early and often.

A solid technician like Povetkin threw him into a defensive shell that, while easy to respect, is hard to love. Povetkin was never really in the fight because Klitschkoand lenient officiating that let him lean and hold to his heart's contentdidn't allow it.

In the end, the fight showed why he hadn't appeared on HBO in more than two years. No real challenger has emerged in his absence from American television, and with work like this, you can see why he's hardly been missed.

Feb 18, 2012; Munich, GERMANY; Vitali Klitschko (front) hugs brother Wladimir Klitschko (rear) after defeating Dereck Chisora (not pictured) in the WBC world championship heavyweight bout at the Olympic hall in Munich.  Mandatory Credit: Matthias Hangst/W
Witters Sport-USA TODAY Sports

The result here was a dominant win—but not the kind of win that leads to sonnet and song. Almost 17 years into his professional career, the 37-year-old Klitschko still doesn't have the signature win he needs to define his place in history.

He's ruled over a diminished crop of fighters with an iron fist. But what, really, does that mean?

His best test remains his own brother Vitali, a fight that can't and won't happen. That leaves a hole in his resume where a big win belongs. Without it, no matter what the numbers say, Klitschko can never be considered among history's best.

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