Now and Then (Part I): The Heavyweights
This is the beginning of a short series of articles looking at hypothetical matchups between top current fighters and all-time greats at their weight class. Fighters will be chosen from the BoxRec.com computer rankings.
When people talk about how boxing isn't what it used to be, the heavyweight division is usually the first one to come up.
Years ago, the Heavyweight Champion of the World was possibly the most prestigious title in all of sports. Today, the division is ruled by Eastern European fighters who, despite great skill, have not been able to win over mainstream fans in the "Mecca of boxing" that is the United States.
The level of talent of homegrown American heavyweights, meanwhile, has diminished greatly as top American athletes tend to take better career opportunities in football or basketball.
The matchup of the day is going to be:
Wladimir "Dr. Steelhammer" Klitschko (53-3-0, 47 KO) vs. "The Greatest of All-Time" Muhammed Ali (56-5-0, 37 KO)
Klitschko (and his brother Vitali) are head and shoulders above the rest of the heavyweight field today. The Ukrainian giant is 6'7'' and surprisingly athletic for a man of that size. His technical skill is strong and shows evidence of his strong amateur background (1996 Olympic gold medalist.)
The negatives for Wlad all boil down to a dubious chin that has betrayed him more than once. His three losses have all been by stoppage and none of them were to world-beater opponents.
Ali, on the other hand, was only stopped once, and it was at age 38 to a prime Larry Holmes. Ali also had great technical skill, but was a much better all-around athlete, had superb conditioning in his prime, and possibly was just as hard of a puncher.
Ali's long arms would also be huge assets in trying to get to the bigger man. Despite the height difference, the reach difference is a single inch.
None of today's heavyweights without the last name Klitschko would even deserve a discussion about a fight with Ali, and even though you would have to give Wladimir some chance, the smart money would be on Ali.
A reasonably close fight early turns south for the current champ as Ali is just too much down the stretch, landing something big as Klitschko wears down and winning by late knockout.
Unfortunately, while Ali got to test himself against other great fighters, Klitschko will likely never face this type of challenge, as he has reportedly made a promise to his mother not to fight the other top heavyweight of his day.
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