Ranking the Best Options for Wladimir Klitschko's Next Fight

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistApril 26, 2014

Ranking the Best Options for Wladimir Klitschko's Next Fight

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    When it comes to Wladimir Klitschko, the rankings no longer matter.

    He has been a champion since 2006, hasn't lost since two years earlier and has done a violent number on a recurring series of top contenders from each of the organizations whose belts he now holds, namely the IBF, IBO, WBA and WBO.

    So now that he's dispatched the latest in that series—Samoan-born WBO top man Alex Leapai—via fifth-round TKO on Saturday in Oberhausen, Germany, figuring the options for his next go-round might require a little more creativity.

    Not to the extent where we'd suggest he meet fellow pound-for-pounders Floyd Mayweather Jr. or Gennady Golovkin to prove his worth but certainly more than simply listing the new man that each sanctioning body lists as its mandatory next in line.

    It's going to take novelty to revive interest in the land of the big men, where Klitschko's dominance and a dearth of compelling competition—particularly in the United States—have sapped much of the significance from the phrase "heavyweight championship of the world."

    At least these five challengers, in our view, might do a little something to change that.

5. Kubrat Pulev

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    OK, we'll concede that this one goes by the books.

    Thirty-two-year-old Kubrat Pulev is unbeaten in 20 fights as a pro in a career that began five years ago and has included 11 wins by stoppage. He's positioned as the top contender for both the IBF and IBO, which means he's as likely as anyone to join the list of relatively anonymous overseas fighters whom Klitschko has vanquished in eight years on the throne.

    A unanimous-decision win over Tony Thompson—whom Klitschko has beaten twice, incidentally—gave Pulev the prime position, and consecutive defeats of Joel Abell and Ivica Perkovic have kept the seat safe, while the champion has handled other business.

    The problem? Unless Pulev takes out WWE stud John Cena in the meantime, this one is not going to move the interest needle.

4. Antonio Tarver

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    In terms of heavyweight accomplishment, Antonio Tarver is a 45-year-old man with a flabby belly.

    But when you factor in the rest of his resume—two-weight champion, motion picture co-star and incendiary chatterbox—he brings a lot more to the table than the garden-variety pretender to the Ukrainian's throne.

    Few would contend that having Nagy Aquilera and Mike Sheppard on an in-division resume warrants pushing a middle-aged southpaw to the front of the line. Still, the fact that he has a recognizable name and at least some evidence of actual in-ring conquest in his career makes him a more interesting proposition than an endless run of Alex Leapais.

3. Tyson Fury

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    Now we're talking...literally.

    The mere prospect of pairing mammoth English loudmouth Tyson Fury with Klitschko gets the microphone-toting juices flowing more so than any other suggestion this side of Tarver. And in the case of the 6'9" slugger, the big man may actually have the punch to back up his trash talk.

    Fury has an admittedly sizable test in front of him this July—when he'll face countryman Dereck Chisora for the British Boxing Board of Control's championship—but it's a safe bet that a summertime win would kick off a propaganda burst unlike any that's accompanied a Klitschko fight since he became a multi-belt champion in 2006.

2. Bermane Stiverne or Chris Arreola

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    For practical purposes, it's been 15 years. When Lennox Lewis defeated Evander Holyfield in Las Vegas in 1999 to unify his WBC heavyweight title with Holyfield's IBF and WBA belts (the IBO and WBO crowns were far less recognized at that point), he became the last of the breed known as "undisputed heavyweight champions."

    But now that Wlad's older brother Vitali has retired, the WBC title that he had held since 2008 is up for grabs when Bermane Stiverne and Chris Arreola meet in a May 10 rematch. And if the powers-that-be can manage to get the winner in the same ring as the guy who holds all the other significant belts, we just might be onto something.

    The fight might not be all that different than what we've seen from Klitschko since he routed Chris Byrd to claim IBF and IBO hardware, but the word "undisputed" on the marquee would generate a giant's share of nostalgia from those who would otherwise not be so inclined. 

1. Deontay Wilder

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    Go ahead, admit it.

    Every time that former U.S. Olympic medalist Deontay Wilder lays out a hapless opponent, flexes into the camera and begins rattling off the names on his hit list, the blood pressure ticks up a few quick points.

    And even though the most recent of his 31 consecutive stoppage victories—a 96-second erasure of Malik Scott in March—was met with as many cringes as commendations, there's no shortage of observers who would be intrigued to see how the shots from this 6'7", 225-pound power plant would resonate on Klitschko's thrice-conquered chin.

    The two sparred together when Klitschko prepared for his defense against Mariusz Wach in 2012.

    Wilder sounded the part of a would-be opponent last summer, telling Tris Dixon of BoxingNewsOnline.net that he'd be happy to answer the phone if the champion were to place a call.

    "I train everyday like it's a title shot, I think about it all the time," he said. "When my opportunity comes I want to be ready. Mentally my mind is already set to fight. I just need the opportunity."

    If instant front-page status for the heavyweights is the objective, Wilder is the foe to pick...whether he's ready or not.