Klitschko vs Ibragimov - The Heavyweight Unification: Truth or Consequences

ibragimov11.02.08 - By Francisco Lobo, photo by Wray Edwards/ESB: With something short of the remarkable essence of comprehension, one can understand the importance of the upcoming heavyweight unification fight between the IBF Champion Wladimir Klitschko, 49-3 (44), and the WBO Champion Sultan Ibragimov, 22-0-1 (17), in clarifying the future of both world heavyweights titlists and of the division. There is a generalized perception among boxing cognoscenti that the former Soviet Union block fighters that presently overcrowd the upper reaches of the division have not unlocked boxing’s most visible weight class from the puzzling, unclear and stagnant situation that settled in with different champions and titles. Gone are the days when the two top heavies would square off and bomb away at one another in irresistible toe-to-toe slugfests to decide who was the one champion but for the present standards, this is a big heavyweight fight nonetheless..

There are good enough reasons for Wladimir Klitschko’s steady standing as the prominent, top heavyweight in the world and Sultan Ibragimov is simply an undefeated world titlist that has to be reckoned with. Moreover, Klitschko was an Olympic Superheavyweight Gold medallist in Atlanta Games, in 1996, and was a former WBO Heavyweight Champion himself, and Ibragimov was an Olympic Heavyweight Silver in Sydney, 2000, and a former IBF top contender. They could have met before but now they will both put together their heavyweight titles on the line in search of that one heavyweight champion.

As unceremoniously as possible, they have met in Moskow in November 2006 to announce their fight to happen overseas, in Madison Square Garden, New York City, in February 23, 2008, and despite their origin could have given reason for a blockbuster European promotion. Klitschko from Kiev, Ukaine, and Ibragimov from Rostov-na-Donu, Russia, have made more than a name for themselves in the United States - they have built a bridge between the two Continents in recent times, and a fairly loaded Garden Arena with Ukrainians, Russians and American fight fans is expected for this unique showdown between a Russian and an Ukrainian at the highest level – something some americans would not dream of ten years ago.

The perfectly designed, imposing six-feet-six-inches tall Klitschko has the typical stand-up-straight European style, one of the best knockout punches in boxing and a certain aura to be considered the highest currency in the division whereas the physically less imposing but free-swinging lefty Ibragimov has had the skill set and the punching precision to remain undefeated thus far. Both selective punchers seem to pace themselves too cautiously and this can turn into a boring tactical, uneventful chess-match type of fight, but still this is a very intriguing boxing match style-wise, one lefty-vs-righty, heavier-handed puncher-vs-speedy counterpuncher matchup. Moreover, the straightforward prediction towards an expected climax is sufficiently boopy-trapped by anti-climatic consequences if the initial truths do not prevail.

For the better quality of his opposition and his high knockout percentage, Wladimir Klitschko surely is to be considered the favourite but the truism that it’s not the weapon that matters so much as the man who wields the weapon seems appropriate for this confrontation. Both Klitschko, 31, and Ibragimov, 32, are enough experienced to have learned a lot but young enough to make this one fast paced fight.

Under trainer Emanuel Steward and since his last professional loss against Lamon Brewster in Las Vegas, in 2004, Wladimir has reverted from being a pure puncher to a more conservative boxer-puncher whose intelligent movement and understanding of range made him dictate the pace and gradually break down his last opponents, Chris Byrd, Calvin Brock and Lamon Brewster (in the rematch in Cologne, Germany in 2007) specially with the use of a steady, spear-like jab, flush right crosses and bulldozing left hooks. But all of that can fall especially short to be effective now due to Ibragimov’s unusual circle-and-hit, herky-jerky, tricky style – Sultan is not a slickster but a busy footworker, using a lot of lateral movement, he is not a very fluid combination puncher but sets up very fast left counters and overhand rights and can be dangerous when counter-attacking like a mini-buzzsaw with consecutive overhand left hooks once he gets his rhythm going and such as against orthodox boxers Shannon Briggs in Atlantic City, and Evander Holyfield in Moskow, in his only two WBO heavyweight title fights, during this last year of 2007.
What makes this one even more intriguing is that each of the principals has the style and the punching precision to unveil the other man’s flaws.

One of the truths about this is that the bigger and heavier man Klitschko can dictate the action and take advantage of the reach advantage with his long left jab over Ibragimov’s low right guard and pawing lead in a methodical manner. The IBF Champion can drive Sultan easily into the ropes and then try to jump in and land some heavy punches like the straight right hand as the WBO titlist struggles beneath the blows and leaves himself open when trying to turn and get off the ropes, something that took place against much less busier fighters Briggs and Holyfield, in the first and last rounds of their fights respectively.

Furthermore, Sultan also has the wrong habit to circle to his left and to cross his feet when switching directions to circle to the right (like trainer jeff Mayweather urges him to) and can walk right into a sizzling left hook as against Ray Austin, who managed to drop him when Sultan was dominating their IBF eliminator but finished to earn one unsatisfying draw verdict, losing the opportunity to fight Wladimir, back then and his present trainer was sitting in the opposite corner. Sultan also jumps in with overhand rights and lefts and is caught on the countermove by right hooks and straight rights himself. As a consequence of Sultan’s mistake, Klitschko can be brutal with the left hook as when blasting the very same Ray Austin in two rounds, defending that IBF Championship.

In short contrast, Ibragimov circling on his lighter feet and selectively picking his counter punches from his southpaw stance represents another true problem to Klitschko, who moves forward tentatively on his toes and doesn’t commit fully to his punches all of the time, leaving spaces and opening for counter-shots as a consequence. Wladimir is expected to be specially cautious after being dropped four times by straight left counters against southpaw puncher Corrie Sanders in the last thirty seconds of round number one and the first thirty seconds of round number two when he lost the WBO Heavyweight title to the South African in 2003. Wladimir’s psyche is also a problem when he is driven into punching exchanges, something akin to growing panic was evident when he was dropped twice by Samuel Peter in the very same fifth round of their IBF heavyweight eliminator, prior to winning that fight and the IBF title from Chris Byrd – the consequence would be that Sultan may want to take advantage of Klitschko’s reluctance to mix it up.

Oftentimes, when you have two punchers who seek to explore defensive vulnerabilities in one another, it is footwork, rhythm and timing that weigh more than anything else. Ibragimov doesn’t have the responsibility to seize the initiative but to be successful, he should create the distance, have that little head movement, bobbing up and down, to avoid getting peppered too many times by Wladimir’s left lead and to create the openings to score with pinpoint shots on the fast countermove like the straight left to the body and the overhand right hook. On the flipside, Klitschko should not fall blindfolded inside the distance and leave himself open for counter shots but keep himself on the outside, where his superior strength and reach and his expert shooting ability will put him at a decided advantage.

Frequently, Sultan has a very tentative opening frame and the first couple of rounds and studies cautiously his opponent and it is from that point on, that he gets his rhythm going, picks up the pace and he begins to move to-and-fro, in and out, and do just enough to shade rounds. Whenever they get too aggressive, he harpoons them in the gut with the counter left and whacks them away with overhand right hooks, whenever they stay in the centre of the ring, he picks his spots and fights well in spurts, fakes with the right, counters with straight left or overhand left and finishes with the right lead. Nothing too elusive, nothing too sleek, nothing that fluid – all his philosophy is based on moving around and do not let his opponents sit down with punches, and timing his punches to perfection, while ducking most of the heavy, incoming flack. Where does he make the mistake? He doesn’t realize that his defense is porous even when he manoeuvres to stay out of punching range.

More often than not, Wladimir likes to spring into action, consolidate assertive starts, trying to control the action at the end of his powerjab, doubles, triples up the jab, combines it with a right cross, good footwork for such a big heavyweight in tip-top shape, gives some angles to it, and when the he leads by insurmountable ground on the scorecards, expects his opponents to run into higher risks and from counter-puncher position, throws that lightning-fast left-right combo that can stop any opponent. How can he fail? He needs to set up his money punches – the right hand thrown down the pipe and the bulldozing left hook with the jab… He doesn’t have much punch variety and when the fight goes on the inside, he can only grab, clinch and break the action to start all over again. Theoretically, there can be a short fighter that can make the most of slipping his jab and work his midsection and follow-up to the head with wicked looking weapons.

Whatever happens in MSG in February 23, the quizzical problem of truth or consequences will be solved for both competitors but surely there will be given a solid step into restoring the public’s interest in the division. The significance of its outcome cannot be disregarded by any top heavyweight. Maybe we are even on the dawn of a new era in heavyweight boxing, who knows?

Article posted on 12.02.2008

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