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Can Wladimir Klitschko still compete with the elite heavyweights?

Wladimir Klitschko

By Allan Fox:  Former heavyweight world champion Wladimir Klitschko still looks in fighting shape even at 44-years-old, and some fans wonder whether he’ll return to the ring in 2020 or later.

Many boxing fans believe that Wladimir (64-5, 53 KOs) retired way too soon after losing his last two fights against Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury. Both were winnable had Wladimir been more aggressive, but he was too timid and ruined his chances of winning.

Wladimir could have beaten Joshua and Fury

Klitschko could have easily beaten Fury if he’d attacked him, and let his hands go. Fury did nothing in the fight other than using feints and slapping punches. Wladimir followed Fury around looking like he wasn’t mentally there, and he let him win basically.

In Wladimir’s last fight three years ago against Joshua, he had him badly hurt and on the canvas in the 6th.  For some inexplicable reason, Wladimir backed off and decided to box after he had Joshua down.

Wladimir’s decision-making in that fight went against the common logic for a fighter. When you’ve got your opponent hurt, you finish them or at least try to. Wladimir did the opposite. He chose to box Joshua, and he let him recover.

It was one of the oddest things to see, and you wonder if things could have been different if he had Emanuel Steward in his corner. The great trainer passed away in 2012, leaving Wladimir rudderless for his final handful of fights.

Although Wladimir replaced Steward with the capable Johnathon Banks, he failed to follow his instructions in his fights against Joshua and Fury. Whether Wladimir felt he knew better than Banks or lacked the courage to do what he was asking of him is unknown.

Should Wladimir return to the ring?

“Wladimir Klitschko hasn’t been seen in a boxing ring since being knocked out by Anthony Joshua in 2017, but since then, Klitschko has made periodic noise about maybe making a comeback,” said Chris Mannix to DAZN. “Recently, he was on social media doing some indoor boxing workouts. Klitschko is 44-years-old now. Do you want to see him return?”

“Every great champion wants to return. That’s what makes them great, but we already seen his last great stand against Anthony Joshua,” said Sergio Mora. “What is a great fight and entertaining fight? Yes. Did it put you on the edge of your seat? Yes. Did he win? No. He got stopped by the younger, hungrier up and coming lion.

“Klitschko already dominated for so many years, and he’s a Hall of Famer. We know his name, and we know his legacy. Leave it at that. Every legend dies hard, and every legend thinks they have one more fight in them.

“That’s not the case anymore, especially at 44-years-old. The legs go, the passion is still there, the hunger is still there, but the young guys, they’ll eat you alive,” said Mora.

Given what we saw in Wladimir’s last contest against Joshua, if he returns to the ring, he’ll probably look for another big payday match. It makes sense for Wladimir to do that if money is his overriding reason for coming back.

Additionally, Wladimir will receive less of a backlash if he loses to Joshua or Fury than if he were beaten by a tune-up opponent. However, it’ll look too much like a cash grab if Wladimir returns without taking a tune-up.

Klitschko needs a tune-up fight

If Wladimir does return to the ring, he needs to do it the right way by taking some tune-up fights. Last time Wladimir fought against Joshua, it looked like a real 100% cash-out type situation. He came out off of a 1.5-year layoff to face Joshua in London, England, in 2017.

It was the worst possible thing Wladimir could do. If you come back from a long layoff, you don’t want to go straight into a dangerous fight right away.

Further, you also don’t want to give your opponent hometown advantage, which is what Wladimir did. It was as if Wladimir wanted to fail. Everything about the fight gave one the appearance that Wladimir didn’t care about winning.

Power is the last thing to go

“As you know, if there’s any weight class where guys can make a late-career comeback, it’s probably the heavyweight division because that power is the last thing to go,” said Mannix. “When I look at the last five years of Wladimir Klitschko’s career, he’s only fought three times since 2015.

“He beat Bryant Jennings, he lost to Tyson Fury, and he was knocked out by Anthony Joshua. Even though Chronologically he’s 44-years-old, I still think he’s got some miles on his tires. And I look at the heavyweight division, and there’s not someone out there that can really make him look terrible.

“If he has a rematch with Tyson Fury, that’s a close fight. If he fights Deontay Wilder, we all know Wilder has some issues with his chin, and Klitschko still has power.”

Wladimir would be a dangerous opponent for anyone in the heavyweight division, even at 44. However, with boxing having been brought to a standstill, it’s conceivable that Wladimir won’t get a chance to fight until 2021.

He’ll be turning 45 next March, and that won’t help his chances for success. Of course, if Wladimir’s sole purpose in coming back is just for the payday against Joshua or Fury, then it won’t matter that he’ll be 45. If his hair is gray, then he can always dye it or shave it off the way George Foreman did when he made his comeback in his 40s.

Wladimir had Joshua hurt

“When he fought Anthony Joshua, Klitschko had Joshua hurt badly,” said Mannix. “And when you ask Wladimir, one of the great regrets in his career is not going for the finish with Joshua when he had him down and hurt midway through that fight.

“So I’d like to see him come back for one fight at a time. Not a low-level fight, but come back against a Wilder, Fury, Joshua. And if he wins, he can keep continuing because Klitschko still has a big name, and is a big-time fighter,” said Mannix.

Wladimir had Joshua not only hurt but badly gassed out in the 6th. Joshua’s stamina was so weak that he didn’t get his second wind until the 10th. Wladimir could have quickly finished Joshua in rounds 6, 7, 8, and 9, but he chose not to.

He thought he could win a decision. It was a crazy thing to do. Wladimir was fighting Joshua in London, thinking he could win a decision. Mentally, Wladimir wasn’t there that night, and the same goes for his fight with Fury. He used poor decision-making in both of those fights, which ultimately cost him.

Wladimir Klitschko

Wilder the perfect opponent for Wladimir

“If that’s the case, I’d like to see Klitschko against Wilder because they’re both susceptible defensively, and they both have huge power to knock out your lights with one punch,” said Mora. “So if he is going to come back, then Wilder is the way to go.

“Stay away from Tyson Fury, and Joshua, he doesn’t deserve him yet. And Andy Ruiz, he needs to pick himself up and get some wins. So if he is coming back, bring in ‘The Bronze Bomber,'” said Mora.

“Andy Ruiz, how do you throw Andy Ruiz in that conversation?” said Mannix to Mora.

“He was just a world champion. You’ve got to throw him in the mix,” said Mora on Ruiz Jr., one of the top heavyweights in the division.

“Let’s go Charles Martin as well if we’re talking former world champions,” said Mannix.

Wladimir would have an excellent chance of beating Wilder if he jumped on him right away from round one. I can’t say that Wladimir would do that through, considering how timid he looked against Joshua and Fury. But if Wladimir unloaded on Wilder from the first round with everything in his toolkit, he likely would stop him.

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