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It's about time the Klitschkos receive some credit
Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko are beginning to get credit for their dominance in the heavyweight division.Vitali Klitschko’s heavyweight title defense against Albert Sosnowski (left) on Saturday in Gelsenkirchen, Germany is expected to be another easy Klitschko victory. Photo / Marianne Müller
A curious thing is happening. The names of Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko are beginning to creep onto various pound-for-pound lists, which are reserved for the best fighters in the world regardless of their weight.
For example, Wladimir is No. 7 in the most-recent Yahoo! Sports rankings, behind Sergio Martinez and ahead of Timothy Bradley. And Vitali received the 11th most votes from Yahoo!’s panel of experts, meaning he could crack the Top 10 if he keeps winning.
What’s going on? Simple: The Klitschkos are finally getting the recognition they deserve.
No one will dispute that their opposition has been less than stellar, a good example being Vitali’s opponent on Saturday in Gelsenkirchen, Germany: marginal contender Albert Sosnowski of Poland. And, to be certain, a lack of big-name foes will impact their legacies.
The only time we saw a Klitschko face a truly elite opponent was when Vitali gave Lennox Lewis hell before their fight was stopped because of a horrible cut over the big Ukrainian’s eye. Other than that, the brothers have manhandled opponents ranging from mediocre to merely very good.
That doesn’t mean they’re unworthy of great praise, though.
The Klitschkos aren’t the only dominating heavyweights to build their reputations against questionable foes. Joe Louis, considered the No. 1 or 2 heavyweight ever, had his “Bum of the Month Club.” Rocky Marciano had only two exceptional opponents, Ezzard Charles and Jersey Joe Walcott, neither of whom was a Top 10 heavyweight of all time.
And some consider Mike Tyson a great heavyweight even though he never beat a single hall of fame-caliber heavyweight in his prime, a faded Larry Holmes being his only notable victim.
Perhaps we were spoiled by the deep, compelling heavyweight era of Ali-Frazier-Norton-Foreman and later Holyfield-Bowe-Lewis-Tyson. Those are the exceptions, though, not the rule. The current class of heavyweights is much like several others, a few exceptional fighters, a handful of very good ones and the rest forgettable.
It’s important to keep that in mind when we criticize the Klitschkos. As they say, a fighter can only beat the man who is standing in front of him. And the brothers have accomplished that with frightening efficiency.
Neither of the Klitschkos has lost since Wladimir was stopped by Lamon Brewster in 2004, his third knockout loss. Since then, they’re a combined 18-0 with 14 knockouts. Overall, they are an eye-popping 93-5 with a crazy 85 knockouts.
And Vitali was winning on the cards in both his losses – to Chris Byrd and Lewis – when he was injured and couldn’t go on. In other words, the elder Klitschko was leading at the end of every fight in his career, one reason some believe he’s the best fighter in the family.
The Klitschkos not only don’t lose fights, said trainer Henry Ramirez, whose fighter Chris Arreola was stopped by Vitali in 10 rounds, “they don’t lose rounds.”
“People think by watching them fight that it’s easy for them,” Ramirez said. “These guys work hard. They’re always in peak condition for their fights. You gotta give them credit. People say Lewis was out of shape when he fought Vitali. Whatever. Vitali was winning the fight. I think Lewis was a great champion but I don’t know if he wanted a rematch.
“… You have guys who are 6-7, 6-8 in great condition who are equally dangerous with their minds in the ring. That’s a difficult mountain to climb for anybody.”
Another knock on the Klitschkos is their common fighting style, even if it doesn’t play a role in the outcome of their fights. Some perceive them as boring.
They use their height, keeping their opponents at a safe distance with their ridiculously long jabs and then following with enough punishing right hands to break down their smaller opponents. And they do break them down, as their KO ratios indicate.
Wladimir didn’t always fight this way. Early in his career, he was more willing to engage his opponents and threw too many punches for such a big man. He paid a price, punching himself out in two of his losses (Ross Purrity and Lamon Brewster) and opening himself up to big shots in the third (Corrie Sanders).
He learned his lesson, though: He’s won 12 straight since the Brewster loss using the more-conservative style, which isn’t electrifying but obviously works.
“That’s clearly true,” said television analyst Larry Merchant, referring to the suggestion the Klitschkos aren’t exciting to watch. “They used to say the same thing about Lennox Lewis. The fact is these are the new era of super heavyweights. They don’t fight like 190- to 215-pound heavyweights. Physiologically they can’t fight that way.
“You don’t see 7-footers running up and down the court in basketball the way 6-footers do. Super heavyweights have sort of changed the way heavyweights fight. It’s just the evolution of sports – bigger, stronger, faster.”
And what about Wladimir’s losses? Don’t they hurt his legacy?
Of course. He was stopped by three capable but inferior opponents, setbacks that don’t suggest greatness. At the same time, boxing fans have always admired fighters who overcome adversity, who get up when they’re knocked down. Wladimir got up and now only his opponents go down.
He learned from his mistakes and turned himself into an all-but-unbeatable monster.
“Joe Louis was knocked out before he became champion,” Merchant said.
The perception of the Klitschkos in the U.S. – which once produced the greatest heavyweights -- probably also is skewed because they come from Ukraine.
Imagine if the Klitschkoks – tall, good looking, college educated, so successful – were American. Rest assured that any perceived deficiencies would be overlooked on this side of the Atlantic. The brothers would get much more credit for what they’ve accomplished and probably enjoy star status here.
“They’d be on the cover of all the American magazines and no one would be complaining about the heavyweights,” Merchant said.
One day a fighter might come along and beat one or both of the Klitschkos. Maybe Haye is the man, although it doesn’t seem likely. And they can’t fight forever. Vitali and Wladimir are 38 and 34, respectively.
For now, though, they rule the division in a fashion as dominating as any in heavyweight boxing history. And, in spite the reluctance of some experts and fans, people are taking notice.
“Just as they do with their opponents,” Merchant said, “they gradually wear you down and knock you out.”
Michael Rosenthal can be reached at RingTVeditor@yahoo.com