By Rachel Aylett: Last night in Moscow, Russia, the heavyweight champion of the world, Wladimir Klitschko, successfully defended his championship belts against one of his top contenders, home fighter Alexander Povetkin.
There was something different about this defense for Wladimir, in that his own promotional company was not in charge of running the show. Hence, he had to fight in a smaller ring than he would have liked, away from his adoring German fans, and had the bulk of the crowd against him. None of this made the slightest difference as Wlad dominated his opponent from first bell to last, further enhancing his claim to be one of the most dominant champions in history.
For the first time since July 2011, when Klitschko defended against David Haye, there was a sense of excitement and intrigue in the lead up to this fight. There was real belief in some quarters that Povetkin could put forth a serious challenge to the champion. This led to a tension which lasted for about five rounds whilst Povetkin was still fresh and in the fight. That diminished somewhat as early as the second round when a short, sharp left hook to the side of the head took Povetkin’s legs away and sent him stumbling to the canvas. He recovered quickly but the writing was already on the wall.
During the early rounds Povetkin would rumble in, ducking low and throwing hooks from both hands in an effort to land a bingo punch. Like the aforementioned Haye, he found that Klitschko is an expert at keeping the distance between he and his opponent and stepping just out of range with perfect timing. Povetkin would then be at Klitschko’s mercy for him to push his opponent down and lean on his neck. Povetkin continued his tactics for the first five rounds but, coming out for the sixth, it was palpable that Klitschko’s holding and pushing had already taken a toll on Povetkin, as the Russian suddenly looked exhausted. The constant swinging and missing and the effect of Klitschko’s weight leaning on him had taken effect already.
It looked like the end in the seventh, when Povetkin was seriously hurt by a classic one-two combination. He hung on for dear life, but Klitschko shoved him off and he went spiraling to the canvas. The referee took up the count. Twice more in the round, whilst Povetkin was trying to regain his senses, he was half-punched, half-thrown to the canvas and on both occasions the referee counted over him. Somehow, Povetkin got through to the end of the round. He looked “gone” in his corner, gasping for air, and it was somewhat of a surprise to see him emerge for round eight. Inexplicably, Klitschko failed to lower the boom and, although as good as over, the fight continued to its conclusion with Povetkin never seriously hurt again, but constantly swallowing Klitschko’s left jab.
All three judges gave Klitschko every round, with scores of 119-104. Klitschko had a point deducted in round 11 for pushing Povetkin to the canvas, which seemed borne of frustration. I gave Povetkin a share of the last for a slightly more generous 119-105 score.
On the undercard, two world-class Russian cruiserweights, Grigory Drozd and Rakhim Chakhkiev, impressed the home support. Drozd caused an upset by taking the European title from defending champion Mateusz Masternak of Poland. This was the best fight on the card as the two were very well-matched. Drozd had only stepped up to top level once before, being stopped by tough guy Turkish-German Firat Arslan. On this occasion though, he showed that he was ready to challenge for major honours. He was always a step ahead of the previously unbeaten Masternak and scored an eleventh round stoppage when the referee jumped in as Drozd battered his opponent on the ropes. Despite always being ahead, Drozd was not able to subdue Masternak until the fatal eleventh and the Pole was always in the fight. At the end I had Drozd in a winning lead at 97-94 but it was never easy.
Chakhkiev also impressed, as he put his first career defeat, against WBC champion Krzysztof Wlodarczyk, behind him to score a stunning tenth and last round knockout over hard man Romanian Giulian Ilie. Chakhkiev is a good fighter, but was perhaps thrown in with Wlodarczyk too soon. With a couple more decent wins under his belt he will definitely challenge for a major belt again, sooner rather than later.
In what was effectively a heavyweight eliminator, veteran Ruslan Chagaev took a comfortable points win over 12 rounds against 42-year old Jovo Pudar, scoring two knockdowns along the way. As I had written in my preview, Pudar was inexplicably ranked in the world top-10 by the WBA prior to this fight. This victory will therefore put Chagaev back in major contention for another shot at Klitschko. However, to put this win into perspective, I would take David Haye, Deontay Wilder and, yes, David Price to blow out Pudar inside three rounds.
Back to the main event and there will be arguments that the referee aided Klitschko in never once warning him for his holding tactics. Luis Pabon is one of the weakest top line referees and regularly comes in for criticism of his performances, yet he keeps being handed control of these major world championship contests. It is hard to see why. Obviously, whilst Klitschko was able to get away with this tactic he was going to continue with it.
Out of all of of the 17 weight divisions in the sport, nobody dominates their division the way Klitschko does. As much as it might stick in the craw of many boxing fans, he has to be credited as being one of the great champions in the division. It is too easy to say that he has had nothing to beat, but as the saying goes, you can only beat what’s put in front of you. Look closely at Rocky Marciano’s record and you will see that his opposition wasn’t exactly stellar, he feasted on a selection of veterans and blown-up light-heavyweights. Yet no one denies his place in history. Perhaps it’s because Klitschko comes from unfashionable Ukraine and fights almost exclusively in Europe?
Along with the also grudgingly-respected Bernard Hopkins and Andre Ward, Klitschko has devised a style which has brought him almost unlimited success. There is much animosity aimed towards these three great fighters, but let’s remember, the sport is called boxing, not fighting. Boxing is the art of hitting your opponent without getting hit, and these three are masters of their craft. I, for one, love watching them all.
On the downside, for the second time in his last three fights, I was left with a sense of disappointment at the end that Klitschko had not effected the stoppage. As in his defence against Mariusz Wach, Klitschko had his opponent there for the taking but ended up going the full distance. This brings to mind his late trainer Emmanuel Steward, who in several of Klitschko’s earlier defences had to berate Wlad in the corner with words to the effect of “go out there and finish it!” I have no doubt that if Manny had been in Klitschko’s corner in the two above-mentioned fights, he would have got the job done inside the distance.
** Note to the WBA. Please, please, please remove Jovo Pudar from your world rankings. It isn’t funny anymore!!