Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko: The Last of the Great Heavyweights?

Martin SaltCorrespondent IApril 29, 2011

When the Klitschko brothers retire, could the great days of the Heavyweight Division be over?
When the Klitschko brothers retire, could the great days of the Heavyweight Division be over?Theo Klein/Getty Images

On July 2nd, IBF, IBO, WBO and Ring Magazine Heavyweight Champion Wladimir Klitschko will take on WBA Heavyweight Champion David Haye in Hamburg. On September 10th, WBC Champion Vitali Klitscho will fight Tomasz Adamek in Poland. 

After these fights are over the Klitschko brothers could both retire in the coming year. The once proud heavyweight division will then be left in the boxing wilderness.

The heavyweight division was once the blue ribbon division of boxing. Many of the greatest fighters of all time were heavyweights. Marciano, Frazier, Foreman and—of course—Ali were names that even the general public knew. Even 20 years or so ago, the division was still healthy with the marquee fighters of Lewis, Holyfield and Tyson not far from the public eye.

But can you name a well known heavyweight boxer other than David Haye and the Klitchsko brothers from the last 10 years who has really stood out?

The Klitschko brothers are skilled and talented fighters but have come into heavyweight boxing 20 years too late. When the two brothers first came into professional boxing, the stars of the day were in decline. Tyson was no longer the force he was in the late 80s and Holyfield and Lewis were beginning the descent into retirement.

In the last decade there has been a lack of top quality boxers in the heavyweight ranks. There have been false dawns of hope. Samuel Peter and Odlanier Solis come to mind. Solis looked like he could have been the first fighter to seriously trouble Vitali. Solis lasted less than three minutes, his leg buckling underneath him from a light punch to the head.

The Klitschko vs. Solis fight highlights the main problem with the heavyweight division today—the poor conditioning and weight of the fighter.

Heavyweight does not mean overweight. In their prime, Ali, Foreman and Tyson were in fantastic physical condition with no weight issues whatsoever. They were quick, powerful and agile. Today, numerous fighters have enormous mid-rifts and are clearly obese.

What kind of example is this setting for the aspiring heavyweights of the next era? Solis in his fight with Vitali was clearly too big. In his amateur career, Solis was in trim condition. The extra weight in the Vitali Klitschko fight caused him serious problems and was no doubt the cause of his knee injury.

The other unfortunate problem has been the decision of many boxers to prolong their careers. Evander Holyfield is a prime example of a once great champion now fighting long after he should have retired. There is no need for Holyfield to continue and damage his exceptional record. But he does and it makes the division look even more tired and devoid of talent than it should.

The Klitschko brothers are excellent role models for the heavyweight fighter. They train hard and are always in excellent physical condition. They also have respect for the fighters they face. The brothers have received plenty of criticism over the years but they are not blame for the state of the division. They don't avoid fighters but what is available does not provide either of them with a substantial test.

Wladimir's fight with David Haye will bring life to the heavyweight division for a short time. Haye is a good fighter and in good physical shape. Haye provides sharpness and power to his punches along with good body movement. Neither brother has been given such a challenge in years and they must be relishing the opportunity.

When the two fights are over the dust will settle like all major encounters. But the dust will remain. It's likely that the great heavyweight division will then take its place as the sideshow of boxing. The welterweight division up to the super-middleweights will probably dominate boxing for the foreseeable future.

Have we seen the last of the great heavyweight boxers?