Wladimir Klitschko-Hasim Rahman Preview: The Rock: Stuck in a Hard Place

Wladimir KlitschkoBy Eric Wong: On December 13th, Wladimir “Dr. Steelhammer” Klitschko and Hasim “The Rock” Rahman will square off in Germany for the IBF Heavyweight Title. The bout was scheduled on somewhat short notice. Klitschko was originally set to fight IBF mandatory contender Alexander Povetkin, but Povetkin pulled out with a partially torn ligament in his left foot. The choice of Rahman as an opponent disappointed some in the boxing community, as most do not feel Rahman is worthy of a title shot against the younger Klitschko.

Rahman’s last bout was a no-contest with James Toney, as Rahman elected to not continue due to a cut after a clash of heads. This had been originally ruled as a TKO win for the Michigan motormouth, however it was overruled to a no-contest. The matchup between Klitschko and Rahman is viewed almost universally in the boxing world as a foregone conclusion, three years overdue for a Klitschko-Rahman matchup, and that was a different Klitschko anyway. Nevertheless, big upsets do happen, as Rahman can attest to.

Before embarking on a boxing career, it’s not hard to envision the Baltimore native Rahman as a character straight out of the HBO series The Wire. An enforcer for a drug gang, Rahman survived gunshot wounds and an automobile accident that left him with permanent scars on his face. In the mold of another “Rock”, Rocky Marciano, Rahman started boxing at a relatively late age (20), to reach the highest pinnacle of the sport. That moment came in April 2001, when the 15-1 underdog knocked out reigning heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis with a right hand in South Africa. Rahman has also suffered devastating low points in his career. He was brutally flattened by Lewis in their rematch, and has also suffered two knockout defeats at the hands of Oleg Maskaev, one in which Maskaev memorably knocked Rahman out of the ring. He also suffered an unforgettable hematoma at the hands (or more accurately, head) of Evander Holyfield. In 2005, Rahman was contracted to fight Wladimir, older brother, Vitali. But this fight was never to happen as Vitali postponed the bout three times, and then cancelled, due to various injuries. Through it all, Rahman has remained fairly active by modern heavyweight standards (this will be his 15th fight in a 5 year period), and at age 36, he may not be given any more chances.

Like Rahman, Wladimir has seen the drastic highs and lows of the sport. He has shown great resilience by rebounding from two knockout defeats in 2003 and 2004 to become viewed by most boxing pundits as the #1 heavyweight in the world. His dedication to the sport is also a reason for his resurgence in the boxing world. Unlike Rahman, Klitschko has developed a reputation for having terrific work ethic in the gym. He has all but dominated his recent opposition. Chris Byrd was stopped in one-sided fashion, and his bloody face served as evidence to the power of the man called “Dr. Steelhammer”. The then-undefeated contender Calvin Brock managed to draw blood from Klitschko through a clash of heads, but was sent to the floor from a right hand for his troubles not too long after. Sultan Ibragimov, was relieved of his WBO title belt and undefeated record after 12 one-sided rounds with Klitschko. At age 32, Klitschko appears to be at the top of his game.

Rahman is given by most the proverbial “puncher’s chance”. Rahman is a heavy-handed puncher with a very good jab. Rahman’s jab served to control the likes of David Tua for most of their two bouts, and it was also the primary weapon in Rahman’s draw against the aforesaid Toney in the first of their two meetings. While lacking the speed and snap of a Larry Holmes or Muhammad Ali jab, it is more a thudding, powerful jab. Despite a short amateur career, Rahman has a wealth of experience on the professional level, as his 51-fight career has included some of the biggest names in the division such as Toney (twice), Lewis (twice), Maskaev (twice), Tua (twice), Holyfield, John Ruiz, and Klitschko-conqueror Corrie Sanders. His shortcomings include shaky stamina, modest speed, questionable training habits, age, and his chin. The good news regarding his punch resistance is that all of his knockout defeats have come at the hands of big punchers. Maskaev’s right hand has always been respected as a dangerous weapon, while The Ring Magazine considers Tua and Lewis as two of the 100 greatest punchers of all-time (Tua was ranked #48 and Lewis #33). Rahman has not been stopped by just anybody. The bad news is that Wladimir Klitschko is perhaps the most powerful, and effective, puncher in the division.

Klitschko’s style has been tweaked in recent years, most likely due to the teachings of his trainer, Emmanuel Steward. The younger Klitschko was a more offensive-minded fighter who let his hands go more freely. While it made for more fan-friendly fights, it also may have played a role in two of his three defeats. Klitschko ran out of gas in his defeats to Ross Purrity and Lamon Brewster (later avenged). He is a more reserved fighter now who has no problem in clinching his opponents either to preserve energy or nullify his opponent’s offense. He is more selective with his punch output now, as he is happy to jab his opponent for long stretches of time, to “open them up” for his lethal right cross. His jab and right cross are perhaps the best in the heavyweight division, and his left hook can be effective as well. It was his left hook that turned Sam Peter’s legs into spaghetti in the 12th round of their fight, and what ended his short fight with Ray Austin. Also, in his last fight, an 11th round stoppage win over Tony Thompson, Klitschko showed a nice body attack. His chin remains a question mark, as he was bombarded by the left hands of Corrie Sanders and dropped 4 times in 4 minutes of action. He has been dropped numerous times in his career, so his punch resistance is taken into account when Rahman is given the “puncher’s chance”. It is due to the questionable chins and unquestionable power of both combatants that boxing fans optimistically hope for an explosive, knockdown-filled fight. Unlike his brother, Wladimir does not seem to respond well in the face of an attack. He seems panicky and nervous. Usually, his offense and sense of range and distance is so good, that he hasn’t had to often face too many effective attacks.

Article posted on 06.12.2008

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