Wladimir Klitschko – 10 Best Wins
By Michael Malaszczyk: It’s very rare that a champion is appreciated more in defeat than during their time at the top. But in the case of former unified WBO, WBA, IBF, and lineal heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, that is very much the story. Wladimir had a nearly decade-long reign of dominance as the number one boxer in the heavyweight division before being eventually dethroned by Tyson Fury. That historically long reign of Klitschko is not likely to be repeated any time soon, and it has given Klitschko a deserved position as one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time.
Much credit was afforded to Klitschko after he ended his career like a true warrior, fighting and losing to the young champions of the next generation in Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua. This credit is much deserved; Klitschko could have retired on top as many others have done but chose to take the most difficult fights.
Fury credited Klitschko, then 39, immediately after their fight for putting up a good fight and being awkward to land on. Fury has also noted that Klitschko did land some good punches on him and came close to a fight-changing right hand at several points. Considering how Fury opponents typically get tagged often and have trouble landing on him, it speaks to Klitschko’s boxing skills that he was able to do that at 39, even if the fight wasn’t all that close. Against Joshua, Klitschko, at 41 years of age, managed to drop his much younger opponent. Performing like this against younger, stronger champions in the twilight of your career should certainly enhance your legacy.
In remembering and valuing the heart Klitschko showed at the end of his career, though, perhaps boxing fans have forgotten how good Klitschko was at the height of his career. This article is going to be focusing on Klitschko’s ten best wins rather than his valiant losses. This is, of course, opinion-based, and you may feel free to disagree and/or share your own views on Klitschko’s best wins in the comments below.
Let’s rank the ten best wins of the long and illustrious career of Wladimir Klitschko:
10.) Hasim Rahman (TKO7): This win was not particularly impressive in real time, given that Rahman looked visibly aged in their fight. Nevertheless, it is a good win for Klitschko to have on his record. Rahman was a former two time champion; his most notable win was a one-punch knockout of the great Lennox Lewis. Rahman also had two wins over Klitschko conquerors in Ross Puritty and Corrie Sanders. While Rahman had some downright bizarre fights in his career, he was not an easy night for anyone he fought, having brave efforts in losses (and draws) to Evander Holyfield, James Toney, David Tua, and Oleg Maskaev. Not the best win on Wladimir’s record, but worth noting.
9.) Ray Mercer (TKO6): This win holds similar weight to the Rahman victory, but is slightly more impressive. Mercer also appeared aged against Klitschko. However, Mercer had been a tough contender in the 90s, holding a brutal knockout over Tommy Morrison and giving Evander Holyfield a tough fight. Mercer had also been on a seven fight winning streak after a controversial loss to Lennox Lewis before he met Klitschko. He had also never been knocked out before. Given how tough Mercer was considered to be, this dominant knockout win was what put Wladimir Klitschko on the heavyweight radar to so many boxing fans.
8.) Axel Schulz (TKO8): Axel Schultz is perhaps the unluckiest fighter in the history of heavyweight boxing. He lost an extremely controversial decision to IBF and lineal heavyweight champion George Foreman. Following this loss, Foreman was stripped of the IBF title for refusing to rematch Schulz, and Schulz was given the opportunity to fight for it again. For a second time, Schultz lost a close and controversial decision; this time, it was to South African boxer Francois Botha. However, Botha tested positive for steroids afterwards, and the result was changed to a no-contest. Schulz got a third chance to fight for the IBF belt, and for a third time was unlucky, losing a close split decision to Michael Moorer. Had judges seen things differently, Axel Schulz would have been the IBF and lineal heavyweight champion. Schulz’s comeback trail from this unfortunate series of events ended against Wladimir Klitschko; for all the trouble he had given the other champions, the fight was not close, and Klitschko won by knockout. Many fans would not know Axel Schulz’s name if they heard it, but this remains a very impressive win on Klitschko’s record.
7.) Chris Byrd (TKO7): Chris Byrd and Wladimir Klitschko fought twice, and Wladimir won both times; however, this is specifically about the second fight. Byrd had racked up some impressive wins to get the IBF belt, defeating Evander Holyfield in 2002 for the vacant belt. Klitschko had some back luck after their first meeting, losing via knockout to both Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster. Many had written Klitschko off after those defeats, but his win over Byrd in the rematch re-established Klitschko’s place among the elites of the heavyweight division, handing him the IBF title in the process.
6.) Lamon Brewster (TKO6): Lamon Brewster had shockingly knocked Wladimir out in 2004. Since then, Klitschko had resurrected his career under the guidance of all-time great trainer Emmanuel Steward. The rematch went nothing like the original; Brewster could do almost nothing against Klitschko, who had since mastered using his height and pacing himself behind his ramrod jab. Brewster’s corner threw in the towel after Round 6. This was the only defeat of Klitschko’s career that he was able to avenge, and it showed how much he had improved in a short span of three years.
5.) Samuel Peter (UD12): Sandwiched in between the loss to Brewster and the rematch win over Chris Byrd, Klitschko’s first fight with Samuel Peter was a hard-fought war that saw Klitschko get knocked down three times before dominating Peter over the second half of the fight and winning a comfortable unanimous decision. Given his blowout losses to Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster, the knock on Klitschko was that he had a glass jaw and was out of any fight as soon as he was hit cleanly. This fight, in addition to lining him up for a title shot against Chris Byrd, put those claims to rest as Klitschko showed heart and determination to overcome Peter.
4.) Kubrat Pulev (KO5): The penultimate victory of his career, what makes this win remarkable is that it has aged well. By the time Klitschko fought Pulev, he was 38 years old and had been champion for eight years. From the opening bell, it was a complete mismatch, as Klitschko hammered Pulev from pillar to post. The second it looked like Pulev might begin to have some success in round 5, it was all over courtesy of a Klitschko left hook. After this blowout loss, Pulev would go on to be a perennial top 10 heavyweight in the next era, beating the likes of Dereck Chisora, Samuel Peter, and Hughie Fury to earn that distinction. Pulev also gave a good effort despite being once again overmatched against Anthony Joshua in 2020. Worth noting is that it took Joshua nine rounds to knock Pulev out while it only took Klitschko five. An aging Klitschko beat a younger Pulev more impressively than Anthony Joshua beat an older Pulev, making this a notable win for Wladimir.
3.) Ruslan Chagaev (TKO9): The lineal championship, a.k.a. “The man who beat the man,” is perhaps valued more in the heavyweight division than any other division. Of course, it cannot always be pinpointed perfectly because sometimes champions retire at the top, therefore ending their “lineage.” That is what happened when the legendary Lennox Lewis retired in 2004. Typically, when this happens, the “lineal championship” is marked by The Ring Magazine title. Since ‘the man’ had retired, the only way for a fighter to become the lineal champion was to win The Ring Magazine heavyweight championship. That is what happened for Wladimir Klitschko in his fight against Ruslan Chagaev; he won The Ring belt and was widely regarded as the best in the division, making him the lineal heavyweight champion and establishing a new lineage. This win made Klitschko ‘the man’. Wladimir’s heavyweight lineage continues with Tyson Fury today, and unless Fury retires on top, will continue when someone is able to defeat Fury.
2.) Alexander Povetkin (UD12): This win, like the Pulev win, has aged well. In fact, it has aged much better than the Pulev win. Klitschko dominated the young Alexander Povetkin, knocking him down four times (three in one round) and winning almost every round. Povetkin went on to have success, even as an older fighter, in the next era of the heavyweight division. He was, like Pulev, a perennial top 10 heavyweight and scored notable wins over contenders Carlos Takam, Mariusz Wach, David Price, and Hughie Fury. Povetkin also gave Anthony Joshua everything he could handle in their 2018 title fight, nearly pulling off the upset before Joshua’s size and power prevailed. Povetkin’s most notable post-Klitschko success came via a one punch knockout of Dillian Whyte in 2020. Both the Pulev and Povetkin wins show that Klitschko at his best would still be at the elite level of heavyweight boxing today, even as the current era is generally regarded as stronger than Klitschko’s. It’s worth noting that this fight was marred by excessive holding from Klitschko; however, even if the referee had been stricter, it’s hard to imagine the result being any different.
1.) David Haye (UD12): Only three cruiserweight champions have moved up to the heavyweight division and won titles: Evander Holyfield, David Haye, and Oleksandr Usyk. Unlike Holyfield and Usyk, David Haye was unable to unify any titles at heavyweight courtesy of Wladimir Klitschko. Haye had an impressive stint at cruiserweight, beating Jean-Marc Mormeck and Enzo Macarinelli to unify titles before moving up to heavyweight. At heavyweight, he squared off against Nikolai Valuev in a quite literal David vs. Goliath matchup, and was, impressively, able to pull off the win via majority decision to win the WBA heavyweight title. Haye made two title defenses, showcasing his explosive speed and power against John Ruiz and Audley Harrison before facing Wladimir Klitschko in a unification match. Haye had the type of speed and power that had given Klitschko problems in the past, and he had the supreme confidence that he would pull off the win via knockout. Klitschko crushed Haye’s heavyweight unification dreams via a twelve round unanimous decision; to give Haye three rounds in this fight would be generous. The Haye fight is perhaps the best example of Klitschko’s underrated, underappreciated boxing skills; Haye had been a fast and strong fighter for his entire career, yet he was unable to get inside and land anything of note against Wladimir Klitschko. Klitschko was truly at his best in this fight, showing supreme footwork and upper body movement, and fantastic boxing fundamentals. Place the Klitschko of the Haye fight in today’s heavyweight division, and it’s hard to favor any fighter not named Tyson Fury over him.
Wladimir Klitschko might not have been the most exciting fighter for fans to watch, and the era that he dominated is considered weak. But these wins propose an alternative theory: perhaps the era wasn’t weak so much as Wladimir was just that good. While it’s hard to imagine Wladimir having a decade-long reign of dominance in the 90s or today, it’s also hard to imagine him not becoming a champion in either era, and he has quite a few notable wins (as well as losing efforts) to make that case.
Klitschko was and still is a legend in the sport of boxing. How would you rank his ten best wins, and why?
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