Where, oh where, is Wladimir Klitschko?

16.11.07 - By Geoffrey Ciani: The state of professional boxing is often defined by the state of its keynote weight class—the heavyweight division. Although the various alphabet titles are splintered and we are currently without an undisputed champion, one fighter stands, both literally and figuratively, head-and-shoulders above the rest and that fighter is Wladimir Klitschko..

wladimir klitschkoHistorically speaking, fans have always been enamored by the big men, and this is especially true of the casual fan. As such, at first glance, it would appear that Klitschko personifies the type fighter that captures the public’s imagination—he’s big, he’s strong, and his fights usually end in a knockout victory. Unfortunately for Klitschko, he has been unable to maximize his potential fan base and is without an especially big loyal following; the question is, “Why?”

For starters, as I have already mentioned, the belts are currently splintered and this often results in a disinterested casual fan base. While Wladimir Klitschko is clearly the division’s top dog, he is but one of four major title holders. The public much prefers a universally recognized champion, and although Klitschko’s pedigree has him headed down the right path, he isn’t quite there yet.

Klitschko is now in the midst of his prime. If there is a time to capitalize on his tremendous talent and future marketability, he needs to seize the moment now. Wladimir started the year off like a ball of fire when he disposed of a grossly overmatched Ray Austin in a mere two rounds in March. In July, Klitschko continued his winning ways when he put on a one-sided exhibition against his former conqueror, Lamon Brerwster. Klitschko looked brilliant in these two performances, in particular against Brewster, where he reversed the outcome of their previous encounter and did so decisively.

After the victory over Brewster, it appeared that Wlad was going to strike while the iron was hot, but unfortunately, this was not to be. As a result of his exclusive contract with HBO, Klitschko’s options were limited because the cable network had already spent their entire 2007 budget around the mid-year point. Shortly after the Brewster fight, there was an announcement stating Wladimir Klitscko would not be fighting again until 2008. Consequently, everyone loses—the fans, Klitschko, HBO, and the heavyweight division.

This is a very sad state of affairs. At a time when the sport is gaining some renewed popularity, it needs a big name heavyweight more than ever. Even sadder is the fact that we have one in Klitschko. That Klitschko did not fight a third time, or possibly even a fourth, before the year endes is simply inexplicable and the entire boxing community suffers the consequences.

In fairness to HBO, I have heard they wanted Klitschko to fight again this year, but in order to make that a reality it needed to be a PPV event. I cannot say with certainty that this was the case, but trustworthy sources tell me that Wladimir rejected this notion because he opposes the idea of making his fans pay an extra $50 every time they want to see him fight. While this is a noble gesture on the part of Klitschko, I’m not so sure it serves his best interests in terms of career and legacy.

2007 has been a great year for boxing which has seen many great match-ups, including but not limited to:

* Oscar De La Hoya vs. Floyd Mayweather
* Miguel Cotto vs. ‘Sugar’ Shane Mosley
* Bernard Hopkins vs. ‘Winky’ Wright
* Jermain Taylor vs. Kelly Pavlik
* Joe Calzaghe vs. Mikkel Kessler
* Miguel Cotto vs. Zab Judah

We still have a couple of more good ones coming up before the New Year, most notably, when Mayweather defends his welterweight crown against undefeated challenger, Ricky Hatton.

It’s a damned shame that the top attraction in the heavyweight division was unable to join the show. It’s most unfortunate, but hopefully we will see a much more active Wladimir Klitschko in 2008 and perhaps he will even be involved in one or more mega fights to help ride the continuing trend of boxing’s recently renewed popularity. Simply put, the sport needs him.

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Article posted on 16.11.2007

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