Is Vitali Klitschko’s victory good for the heavyweight division?

klitschko13.10.08 - by Mark Gregory , photo by Y.Nesterenko / -- Klitschko-Peter Photo Gallery -- On Saturday night, Vitali Klitschko didn’t just beat Sam Peter to regain his WBC heavyweight title, he totally outclassed him. Not since Joe Calzaghe’s clinic against Jeff Lacy in 2006 have I seen such a sustained and one-sided beating in a contest between two elite level fighters. Such was the constancy of Vitali’s stiff jab and occasional right hand landing on Peter’s increasingly swollen face that after 8 rounds of it – all of which were won by Vitali, in spite of one judge’s charity – the Nigerian Nightmare quit on his stool.

On the face of it, having a heavyweight champion who can actually box can surely only be a good thing. The current batch of heavyweights are, rightly or wrongly, much-maligned by fans and pundits alike.. The very fact that a fighter as obviously limited as Sam Peter, who seemingly didn’t know enough to slip a single jab, was able to win a version of the world title is seemingly testament to the fact that this is hardly an inspiring crop of fighters plying their trade in the sport’s marquee division. Without wanting to be harsh on Peter, who is better than he showed on Saturday, I am struggling to think of another decade in which he would have stood much of a chance of getting a shot at a world title, let alone actually win one.

So now the older Klitschko brother is back we have a champion that has a very good, if somewhat predictable, jab and who carries a serious dig in the right hand and left hook. What’s more, Vitali has an excellent chin. He has never been down as a pro and took some of Lennox Lewis’ best shots without tasting the canvas. In spite of quitting with a shoulder injury against Chris Byrd (one of only two losses on his record), it is also hard to question the man’s heart. He was outraged when Lewis was given the TKO win over him after sustaining a truly horrific cut, and in spite of the fact that Lewis was starting to land big shots with increasing regularity, Vitali wanted to carry on and build on what was a very good start to the fight for him. He earned more credit in defeat that night than any of the current crop of heavies has ever earned in victory.

On top of all his in-ring attributes, Vitali is also a likeable character outside it. Like his younger brother he is well-mannered, articulate and intelligent. He also has just a hint of a nasty streak running through him; a temper that doesn’t flare up often but when it does you wouldn’t want to get in the way (just look at him after the Lewis stoppage, or after his brother had been brutally stopped by Corrie Sanders). In this respect his appeal is probably more universal than Wlad’s, who for some is just a bit too nice.

So why is it that in spite of all the positive things there are to say about Vitali Klitschko, I still cannot help but feel a little empty after his demolition of Sam Peter? Perhaps it is because Vitali has exposed just how poor the current state of the heavyweight division is. After all, he was coming off a 4 year lay-off which had been characterised by a succession of serious injuries. He should have been made to look rusty. He should, at least, have had to go to the well to pull out a victory. Instead he won every minute of every round without even having to break too much of a sweat. And this was against a reigning world champion and consensus number 2 fighter in the division, not some bum who had been handpicked to ensure that Vitali looked good on his comeback. That the fight was never competitive is certainly one reason why it left me feeling a bit flat, but it is certainly not the main reason.

Klitschko/Peter Post Fight Press Conference:

The main reason that Vitali’s victory left me with a sinking feeling is that it just leaves the division in what seems like an endless state of limbo. Why? Well, for one thing Vitali will not be around forever. With his injury record and advancing years I certainly cannot see him boxing for more than 2 years at the most. When he retires we are likely to find the division bereft of talent once again. But again, this is not the main reason for my sense of deflation. The main reason for my sense of deflation is that Vitali’s victory removes the possibility of a genuine championship line being established in the heavyweight division.

Since Lennox Lewis retired in 2003 the heavyweight division has been lacking a genuine champion. Initially we had the likes of an old Holyfield, Rahman, Byrd and Ruiz scrapping it out for supremacy without any one of them ever looking the part or ever showing any sign of being able to unify. Since then we have seen the steady domination of the Eastern Europeans, most of whom bring sound technique but little in the way of excitement. In the years since Lewis’ retirement, the younger Klitschko, Wlad, has recovered from a couple of major setbacks to find himself at the head of the pack. He has shown some ambition to unify and holds two of the titles, the first fighter to do so in more than half a decade. Though his position as the division’s best is not undisputed, no other claim appeared particularly strong. It even looked for a while as though Wlad would look to go on and unify all four titles and once and for all restore credibility (and a genuine championship line) to the division.

Klitschko Post Fight Press Conference (In German)

With Vitali’s return all of that hope is gone, at least for now. Why is that? Well, quite simply the brothers will never get in the ring with each other, and who can really blame them? Vitali’s return raises questions once again about who is the man in the division. Whilst Vitali does not have the polished technique of his brother he is more than his equal for size and, crucially, Vitali does not have the massive question marks about the quality of his chin hanging over his head as his younger brother does. It is my humble opinion that if the two were to meet that Vitali would stop his brother somewhere in the middle rounds. It is not, however, the purpose of this article to discuss the hypothetical match up. It is the purpose of the article to point to the fact that it is one hypothetical match up that will never happen, and not – as is usually the case with hypothetical match ups – because one or both of the fighters are retired, but because they are family and their family bond is more important than their careers.

In essence what this means is that the division will remain fragmented until one or both of the brothers loses. If Vitali follows through with his plan to unify the WBC and WBA titles then the Klitschko brothers will have all four belts. In any other scenario a fight between the two would be inevitable, and we would have a genuine undisputed champion. In this unique set of circumstances, however, this simply cannot happen. And however you dress it up, that can only be bad for boxing, and for the heavyweight division in particular.

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Article posted on 14.10.2008

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