5. Wladimir Klitschko: With all due respect to older brother Vitali (who’s actually a bit taller), “Dr. Steelhammer” is the heavyweight division’s most towering presence these days. While Vitali’s reign as WBC titlist is nearing its fourth year, Wladimir’s current hold on the IBF strap has lasted six-and-a-half years and 12 defenses, already one of the longest tenures in divisional history. Along the way he added the WBO and WBA titles, and he has managed to keep the belts united for 14 months – not a mean feat considering the Alphabet Boys’ penchant for arbitrary strippings.
But before he became a dominant heavyweight champion, he was an equally dominant amateur who capped his career in the best way possible. That combination is why he is placed so highly on this list.
Olympic career – As the Ukraine’s super heavyweight representative, Klitschko edged American Lawrence Clay-Bey 10-8, iced Sweden’s Attila Levin in one round and decisioned 6-6 Russian Alexey Lezin (who would lose to Audley Harrison four years later in Sydney) 4-1 en route to the final. There, he out-boxed Tonga’s Paea Wolfgramm, won the gold by a 7-3 score and closed out an amateur career that saw him go 134-6.
Professional career – The 36-year-old, 16-year veteran is still close to his peak form, which means there are probably still more chapters to be written – and more opportunities to move up this particular list. His current record is an excellent 58-3 (51) and has won 16 straight over the past eight-and-a-half years. Long-term control over a division is a hallmark of genuine greatness and after a few disastrous moments (all three losses were by KO) Klitschko found his stride as well as his stylistic voice. Many call it dull, but others call it dominant. If he continues apace he’ll end up among the top 10 heavyweight champions of all-time – if he’s not there already.
His current title reign is his second, for he held the WBO belt from October 2000 to March 2003, a tenure that encompassed five defenses – all by knockout – before it shockingly ended in two rounds at the southpaw hands of Corrie Sanders.
Klitschko’s record in title fights is a sterling 19-2 (16) and his victims include Chris Byrd (twice), Frans Botha, Ray Mercer, Jameel McCline, Samuel Peter (twice), Tony Thompson (twice), Ruslan Chagaev, Sultan Ibragimov, Hasim Rahman, Eddie Chambers and David Haye. Other fighters he beat in non-title encounters include Axel Schulz, Phil Jackson, Derrick Jefferson, Davarryll Williamson, Monte Barrett, 1992 Olympian Dannell Nicholson and his previous Olympic victim Wolfgramm, who he stopped in one round in March 2000.