Wladimir Klitschko: The rip-tide of misdirected criticism

By James Allan: As a regular consumer of boxing critique over the last ten years, I've come to notice that the scribes that follow our sport are among the finest commentators that fill the sports pages, whether printed or electronic. I won't bombast you with my favourites (of which I have many) nor will I seek yours, as I'm not looking to stir debate in this area or massage any egos. But the quality of writing, depth of knowledge and reverence to boxing's storied history, will often astound me like an explosive Seymour Hersch investigation or a surprisingly well penned novel..

It is therefore with great trepidation that I now aim a harpoon at those writers, whether earning a living from their copy or not, who have chosen to miss the mark so egregiously in their criticism of Wladimir Klitschko.

I say chosen, because I believe our favourite writers know better than to submit many of the stories linking Dr Klitschko's performances and position atop the pile, to the current state of the heavyweight division and the sport as a whole.

Every athlete has their performance critiqued and when we're being asked to fork over currency, in whatever denomination, for access to our sporting heroes, that criticism should be both honest and, when sub-par, suitably barbed. Along with every passionate fan I will cheer and chastise when I feel required to do either and in the case of Wladamir Klitschko I have done each in turn, with victories over Byrd (twice) and Peter versus losses against Sanders and Brewster in particular, as well as during the win against Ibragimov.

But my beef with many of the "sweet science's" journalists is not with performance coverage as from opening bell to final gong they tend to get it spot on. My complaint is with the placement of his performances on the wider scale of the sport's discourse as, when often discussed, the man, with a Phd, four languages, a 51-3 (45) record and two of the big belts, can do nothing right.

Taking his fights so far in 2008 as examples, if he had blasted both Ibragimov and Thompson away in the manner with which he dispatched Ray Austin, the prevailing argument would be, as it was then, that of a passing reference to the good doctor's display before bemoaning the "hapless" state of boxing's marquee division. Yet, two frustratingly sub-par performances later, while still having his hand raised victorious, we bemoan the consensus number one as a sorry heir to the throne while lamenting his piers in the next sentence. Such is the lens that fight writers and many fans view him through.

My concern is that at 32, an age where recent history indicates a heavyweight is entering his prime, this frame will never leave him. Such is the bile that follows him and the trap in which he finds himself.

He is a flawed fighter. Yet all are. Great champions often possess clear fallibility that is ultimately exploited by either a nemesis or the man who was good enough on the night. Our man of the moment has endured three nights of the latter, but has delivered sterling performances against both the dangerous and the durable and a review of his record shows that of a champion, comparable with many gone before.

Yet here lies the rub. He can't help when he was born. That he wasn't fighting 10 years earlier, that he's not going to be fighting when the next rival to Ali or Louis emerges or that, even better, he wasn't 32 in 1974.

Hence, the sparkling name of whomever you'd like to choose, from any era you'd like, isn't going to pop up on his ledger and validate him in the manner of Marciano, Liston, Holmes or Lewis, each with one or two apiece, ensuring they are always remembered in the best of terms but never thought the best.

Instead he will likely continue as he has done. Collecting a strong record against the men of his time, one that remains superior to his rivals as illustrated by the intriguing contests to come against Povetkin (a little green perhaps but with a strong pedigree) and Haye (a worthy linear World Champion).

The lack of talent north of 200lbs should be examined. Of course it should. We know that the next great American heavyweight is either playing organised ball or nursing that chronic "what if?" injury from either High School or College and from the US perspective this will ultimately be solved by a realignment of priorities concerning the amateur game. But a seperation of this arguement from Klitschko and the wider sport is needed. He simply isn't the diagnosis, or even a symptom, for why boxing has dropped down the public's consciousness. The complaints of a poor heavyweight division go back to the '80's and have lingered during some serious talent peaks for the sport's big men.

Yet it doesn't matter when and where champions come from, but that they're there at all.

And when we look for a champion we should think of what has been done, instead of lamenting that he didn't have to try hard enough. I expect we'd all like to turn Samuel Peter into Joe Frazier to give him a test we'd all enjoy, but sadly the option isn't available to us.

Article posted on 26.07.2008

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