Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko have been written off, derided and essentially shut out of the American market who find them methodical and boring. But whatever your opinion of them as fighters, nobody can deny that they have done exactly what they set out to do when they turned pro. They wanted to be heavyweight champions at the same time and reign together as a family for years. They have achieved this – with ease – and could quite conceivably continue to do this for years to come.
Vitali is 41 and the reigning WBC champion. After retiring through injury in 2004, Vitali came back four years later and jumped straight into the ring with then-champ Samuel Peter, a fighter who was known for knocking out opponents, and had almost done exactly that to Vitali’s brother – knocking him down three times en route to a decision loss.
Klitschko boxed like he had never been away, using a lethal one-two to keep Peter at bay and wear him down over 8 one-sided rounds. He has since defended the same title on nine occasions without hardly breaking a sweat. His last fight – and it could be his final fight if his career in Ukrainian politics takes off – was a ridiculously one-sided four round mauling of Manuel Charr.
Wladimir is the WBO, WBA and IBF champion and is the fifth longest reigning heavyweight champion in the history of heavyweight boxing, with 13 defences of his title. In heavyweight boxing, where one punch can end a fight – and a career – this is a considerable achievement. He has defeated world champions like David Haye, Ruslan Chagaev, Chris Byrd and Hasim Rahman along the way, and all with considerable ease.
Triumph over Adversity
Both the Klitschko’s had to overcome adversity and derision on the way up the ranks, and the resolve they have shown to get to where they are today shows that they are both considerable athletes. Wladimir suffered three KO defeats on the way up, leading everybody in the sport to question his heart, chin and stamina. Vitali retired on his stool after 10 rounds against Chris Byrd citing an injury. He had won virtually every second of every round at that point. Suffice to say, the words “Klitschko” and “courage” were not bandied about in the same sentence very often.
That was until Vitali gave heavyweight legend Lennox Lewis absolute hell in a 2003 WBC title challenge. After being 4-2 up in rounds after the opening six, Vitali was pulled out by the ring doctor’s insistence because of a giant cut above his eye. The cut is one of the most hideous you are ever likely to see, but it didn’t stop a furious Klitschko from marching across the ring in protest to the fight being stopped. No heart? You couldn’t be more wrong.
Since Lewis retired, the Klitschko’s have cleaned up. They haven’t always entertained with highlight reel knockouts and come-from-behind wins, but they have always conducted themselves with class and have been all the top contenders between them over the last few years.
In various interviews over the years, both Klitschko’s have spoken about what makes a great champion, and that there are two ways you can become a great: Either by beating a great champion (if Vitali had beaten Lewis) or by beating all the best contenders over years. The fact that two of them have managed to do this explains the lack of quality opposition the two have often been criticised for.
The Klitschko’s can continue to knock over the competition for years yet, but how will the next generation shape up. After all, there aren’t many fighters in the division that haven’t been defeated by the two brothers already. British heavyweights David Haye, Tyson Fury, Dereck Chisora and David Price are all in and around the Top 10, but none of them would be favoured to beat either of the Klitschko’s. Two of them – Haye and Chisora – have already failed (Haye was easily outpointed by Wladimir and Chisora the same by Vitali) and the other two are either untested at world level (Fury) or have been exposed at a level below world class (Price).
The American heavyweights dominated the majority of the 20th century, but there hasn’t been an American heavyweight champion since Shannon Briggs briefly held the title in 2007 before losing it in his first defence. The Eastern Bloc – with the Klitschko’s at the forefront – have been the dominant force at heavyweight over the last decade, but none of them have brought with them the glamour and the knockouts required to make America sit up and take notice of the heavyweights again. The days of ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson are as fondly remembered as the reigns of Joe Louis and Jack Dempsey. Even London-born legend Lennox Lewis – who the American boxing community never truly took to their hearts – is greatly missed in an era of forgettable fighters with unpronounceable names.
In all probability, the next generation of heavyweights will be similar to the post-Lewis generation of 2003-08, where the likes of John Ruiz, Roy Jones Jr., Hasim Rahman, Corrie Sanders, James Toney (stripped because he was found to have taken a banned substance), Shannon Briggs, Oleg Maskaev, Samuel Peter, Ruslan Chagaev and Sultan Ibragimov all held versions of the world title before running into the Klitschko’s, or each other.
It is not beyond reason that Britain could see any of the aforementioned contenders become alphabet titlists. Haye has already held the WBA version and Tyson Fury is one fight away from become WBC mandatory. America has Malick Scott and Deontay Wilder knocking on the door of title contention, and the European scene is still strong, if unspectacular. The titles are likely to be won and lost, with no dominate champion emerging from the bunch.
And that is what makes the Klitschko’s all the more impressive. They have stood head and shoulders (literally) above the competition and beaten all in their way. Love them or loathe them, you have to respect such a remarkable achievement.