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Is Wladimir Klitschko a top ten all-time great heavyweight?

Wladimir Klitschko


By Gerardo Granados: I was discussing about Wladimir Klitschko all-time great heavyweight status with a friend. He thinks that Wladimir Klitschko belongs to the tenth place in an all-time great heavyweight list, but I can’t see Wladimir as a top 20. Days after, I talked to another friend who also believes that Wladimir deserves to be considered as a top ten all-time great heavyweight. I told him that either I was missing something or I am being bias against Wladimir.

I think that Wladimir´s older brother Vitali was the better boxer and also had a better chin. When Wladimir lost to Ross Purrity and to Corrie Sanders it was Vitali who avenged his brother losses stopping both Purrity and Sanders without much trouble.

Against Lamon Brewster, Wladimir did avenge his loss winning by KO, but let us not forget that three years later Brewster wasn’t the same fighter that had previously beaten him. According to BOXREC site I quote “Brewster had not fought since losing the WBO heavyweight title to Siarhei Liakhovich fifteen months earlier. After the defeat, Brewster had surgery to repair a detached retina in his left eye. When he went to Germany for the Klitschko rematch, he was on medical suspension in the United States”.

I will add that Wladimir beat Samuel Peters by decision after being knocked down 3 times whilst Vitali stopped him coming off an almost four year injuries layoff. There was a time after Lennox Lewis retired that the man to beat at the heavyweight division was Vitali Klitschko but of course a fight against his brother was never going to materialize.

Wladimir has a seemingly impressive title fight record of 25 wins, 4 loses no draws; against former titlist a record of 12 wins, 4 loses and no draws. Ended his boxing career with a total 69 fights, 64 wins, 5 loses and no draws. But statistics can be deceiving as the WBO title defenses cannot weight the same as Joe Louis´s title defenses or Larry Holmes´s defenses. The WBO trinket was created back in 1989 and was the lesser belt for many years, so to try to say that Wladimir almost breaks Louis title fight record doesn’t make any sense to me.


Question is how good was the opposition he defeated? Klitschko statistical title fight record and total record appears to be impressive compared to many of his pears but let’s not forget that his record is padded with at least 30 wins against weak opposition he fought in his first three years as pro boxer. Also we must remember that back in the day there was only one Champion, later on two titles were available (WBA-WBC) but now a day the belt craziness makes it hard to know how many manufactured belts and promoted to champion status are around.

Would Wladimir have survived the fifteen rounds era? Would Klitschko have been able to dominate during the seventies, eighties or the nineties? I wonder what makes Wladimir so great. Is it solely his strength, physical conditioning, and the size, height and reach advantage?

Since October 2000 Wladimir was already a WBO belt holder, same time lapse that Lennox Lewis was the man to beat at the heavyweight division holding the Lineal-WBC-IBF-WBA titles. But it was Wladimir big brother Vitali who fought a war against the Lion losing by stoppage on cuts in an epic battle. Wladimir failed to fight against worthy available opponents; maybe it was because the money wasn’t right for him, but it couldn’t have been because he didn’t want to hurt them.

There were still good fighters left for Wladimir to fight, such as Lennox Lewis, David Tua, Ike Ibeabuchi, Michael Moorer, Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield; but instead Klitschko chose to fight against: Ross Purrity (journeyman that stopped him), Zoran Vujecic, Everett Martin, Tony LaRosa, Joseph Chingangu, Axel Schulz, Phil Jackson, Lajos Eros, Paea Wolfgramm, David Bostice, Monte Barret, Chris Byrd (Wladimir won the WBO strap that Byrd had won against his brother after Vitali was forced to retire due a shoulder injury).

Wladimir defended against: Derrick Jefferson, Charles Shufford, Frans Botha, way past prime Ray Mercer (in 1992 Merciless Ray Mercer lost to 43 years old Larry Holmes, Mercer brutally knocked out Tommy Morrison on his previous fight before facing Holmes, 10 years later he fought against Wladimir in 2002), and unknown Jameel McCline.

On March 2003 Wladimir lost his WBO title to Corrie Sanders by TKO in just 2 rounds (a year later his big brother Vitali avenged his loss stopping Sanders in 8 rounds), then Wladimir fought Fabio Eduardo Moli, Danell Nicholson, tried to regain the WBO belt against Lamon Brewster on April 2004 but lost by TKO in 5.

From October 2004 on to his loss to Tyson Fury in November 2015, Wladimir built a long winning streak but just as his first years as WBO belt holder he did it against no one worth of mention of hall of fame nominee potential.

After his loss to Brewster, Wladimir came back with victories against journeyman DaVarryl Williamson and Eliseo Castillo, struggled to beat Samuel Peter, in April 2006 won the IBF strap against Chris Byrd II, defends the IBF title against Calvin Brock, Ray Austin, Lamon Brewster II, and in 2008 regained the WBO belt beating Sultan Ibragimov.

Wladimir continue his winning streak beating: Tony Thompson, in 2008 Hasim Rahman (back in 2001 when Lennox Lewis got cocky and disrespected Hasim power Rahman knocked him out but in the direct rematch Hasim was stopped by Lewis), Ruslan Chagaev (in 2009 Wladimir won a vacant lineage against Chagaev, he did not beat the lineal champion, yes lineal champion Lennox Lewis retired but it is not like Klitschko had beaten Lewis to become the lineal), Eddie Chambers, Samuel Peter II, in July 2011 beat David Haye to win WBA regular strap (after his win Klitschko was then promoted to super champion status by the WBA), Jean Mormeck, Tony Thompson II, Mariusz Wach, Francesco Pianeta, Alexander Povetkin, Alex Leapai, Kubrat Pulev and Bryant Jennings.

Wladimir never attempted to win the WBC title even if he did have the chance to do it twice when his brother Vitali retired. Lost all his titles and lineal to Tyson Fury and finally lost to Anthony Joshua. How many of the last mentioned could have a real chance to beat top ten all time heavyweight greats?

It is hard to see the name of straw weight Ricardo Finito Lopez (51-0-1) or super middle champion Joe Calzaghe (46-0-0) high on a top ten all-time great list, mainly due the opposition that they faced. Are we going to make an exception in Wladimir case? To be fair I must say that it was not Wladimir fault that there weren’t better boxers available during his almost ten years reign.

Size matters especially against smaller foes. The bigger good boxer often beats a smaller good boxer they say. But when the field is leveled we often get to see the boxing skills flaws on a bigger boxer. If you are big, you have an edge; if you are short you will have to work harder and must develop better boxing skills specially defense.

A prime Iron Mike Tyson gave considerable size, height and reach advantage, but still was able to dominate and to knockout most of his opponents. This is not an easy feat for a 215 pounds, 5´10” height and 73” reach boxer fighting against average 6´2” height and 81” reach 235 pounds opponents.

Mike Tyson is often being criticized for the opposition that he beat, but he did beat the lineal champions Michael Spinks and Larry Holmes and the rest available. If Tyson is criticized then why would Wladimir get a pass for fighting weaker opposition? I doubt that Wladimir at any time in his boxing career to have been able to beat Frank Bruno or Lennox Lewis.

Both Michael Spinks (32) and Larry Holmes (39) had a similar layoff when they fought Tyson and were younger than Klitschko when he fought both Fury and Joshua. A young Mike Tyson had a solid chin and great defense so he never was knocked out, but a young Wladimir was knocked out three times.

Klitschko first 30 opponents didn’t help him that much to get ready to fight on the next level of competition, and I don’t see him criticized for that. Many criticize Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. record “padded with taxi drivers” because early on his boxing career he build his career in Mexico, but Chavez was built as a professional boxer in the pro ranks as he didn’t have significant amateur experience. Whilst Wladimir is a former Olympic gold medalist so he should not have any excuse for fighting such weak opposition early on his pro boxing career.

Chavez had an impressive record of 37 title fights, 31 wins, 4 losses and 2 draws in three weight divisions; his total fight record no longer will be match as he ended his career with 115 fights, 107 wins, 6 loses and 2 draws. Whilst boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard only had a total of 40 fights in his entire boxing career thru five weight division, Leonard won 36, lost 3 with 1 draw, and 13 title fights with 10 wins, 2 loses and 1 draw. So, would it be correct to base our criteria to determine all-time great status based only on the cold statistics? I think not.

To be fair Wladimir did showed pride and heart during his long boxing career as he always tried to get up when flattened and in a couple of fights he did dig deep into his soul picking himself off the canvas more than once to retaliate and to beat his opponents (Samuel Peter put Wladimir thru hell but Klitschko kept his poise to beat the dangerous puncher).

Is Wladimir´s lineage that important? What about Adonis Stevenson? He is the lineal light heavyweight titlist, but who has he beat during the time he has held the lineal title? Stevenson has 9 defenses over 5 years so far. Does being the lineal champion automatically secure a high spot at any all-time great list?

Early in his boxing career under trainer Fritz Sdunek (1996-2003), Wladimir was fun to watch, but the fighting style he practiced didn’t allow him to avoid getting hit flush and to end up in the canvas. Under trainer Sdunek, in 1998 Wladimir lost to journeyman Ross Purrity who held a poor record of 24 wins, 13 loses and 2 draws by the time he knocked Klitschko out, to speculate that Wladimir didn’t took Sanders or any other opponent seriously doesn’t makes any sense as Klitschko is known for his high work ethics.

Does Mike Tyson get a pass for taking Buster Douglas lightly? Yes, Tyson did take Douglas lightly. Wasn’t referee Octavio Meyran wrong when he picked the count for Douglas knockdown? If the reader doesn’t know the story behind this title fight then you better search for it before commenting.

I think that we can concur that so far in his boxing career from 1996 up to year 2005 Wladimir Klitschko lacked the merits to be considered as an all-time great heavyweight.

When trainer Emmanuel Steward took him under his wing since late 2004 we got to see how Steward transformed Wladimir into a different boxer, allowing Klitschko to avoid getting hit flush by taking all the advantages of his size, height and reach. But Wladimir fighting style became as robotic effective as it was boring, I guess we all can agree with this.

When trainer Johnathon Banks replaced the late Steward in 2012, Wladimir kept the same fighting style and tactics and only a few times it was evident that Klitschko was missing the savvy advice from Steward.

Wladimir´s discipline and professionalism inside and outside the ring were always exemplary as the 245 pounds 6´6 giant always kept and came into the ring in great shape. His work ethics might have allowed him longevity as a pro boxer. Klitschko also had a high ring IQ ring smarts, he was disciplined and followed the game plan always being able to adjust (mainly under Emmanuel Steward). I would describe Wladimir Klitschko as a modern day boxer-athlete rather than an old school fighter.

Was Wladimir winning during his long reign mostly thanks to the mix of his size, height and reach advantage and the compliance of the referees who often allowed him to endlessly clinch his shorter foes?

Did Wladimir become so dominant due the unimpressive opposition that he fought? Most of Wladimir opposition lacked the size, height and reach to match him. Also did most of the opposition he faced during his long reign were flat footed, one dimensional with no head-upper body movement?

When a veteran Wladimir lost his physical edge against Tyson Fury who was not only younger but also bigger, larger and rangier than him, Klitschko wasn’t able to bully Fury and end up hesitating to let his hands go due risking to be effectively countered by a rangier foe who also was a difficult unorthodox boxer, who also had quicker feet and faster hands than him. Against Anthony Joshua, the old dragon Klitschko fought a more orthodox boxer but once again Wladimir lacked the physical edge adding his age he was no longer able to bully Joshua and end up stopped.

For sure Klitschko was huge in Europe mainly in Germany but Wladimir never was a world boxing icon as Muhammad Ali or Mike Tyson was. But I must ask to the reader if is popularity and world boxing star status are really needed to be a top ten all time heavyweight great?

There is a select group of heavyweights, who could beat each other on a determined night, but I don’t see Wladimir beating them only with his giant size. Yes, for sure short or smaller heavyweights for today standards as Rocky Marciano, Floyd Patterson or Joe Frazier could have struggle against such big foe.

In his fight against Anthony Joshua we got to see a really good fight; but for sure that fight was not as good as the Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier Thrilla in Manila. So, the most significant fight in Wladimir boxing career was a loss against a young lion on the rise Anthony Joshua.

Maybe it is a matter of boxing taste, perhaps I am bias or just unable to appreciate the greatness in Wladimir´s long reign; but for sure I am not impressed with the opposition that he faced during his championship years or by his boxing skills.

I do believe that Wladimir is an historic heavyweight champion deserving of the boxing hall of fame as he dominated a decade in the heavyweight division.

I don’t believe that Wladimir Klitschko is deserving of the tenth spot in any all-time great heavyweight list based mainly only on his performance in the last 12 years as a prize fighter (wasted 1 year waiting for Tyson Fury rematch) because in the first 9 years of his boxing career he clearly lacks the merits to be a heavyweight all-time great nominee. But what about the reader, do you agree?


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