By Paul McCreath -- click here to view Klitschko-Rahman photo gallery -- This past Saturday Wladimir Klitschko took care of his mandatory with an easy win over Hasim Rahman. This leaves him in the enviable position of not only being the top rated heavyweight in the world but also free to more or less choose any opponent he wants for his next defense. He has an IBF mandatory due against Alexander Povetkin but this does not have to take place until next fall and his July win over Tony Thompson leaves him until next summer before the WBO mandatory is due. So who is he likely to meet?
Many would like to see Wladimir meet the WBA champ Nicolay Valuev next, but that is unlikely. Valuev meets Evander Holyfield next weekend and then must meet champion in recess Ruslan Chagaev after that. Chagaev has a tune-up scheduled for early February with Carl Davis Drummond, so he and Valuev won't be meeting until early summer at best. That pretty well rules out a Wladimir vs Valuev bout as the next one for Wladimir. The same would be true if Chagaev wins again.
Wladimir could of course meet Povetkin as early as June if he chooses to go that route. Alex appears to be in no hurry and has said he would not mind a tune-up before fighting Wladimir. That probably means they will wait until the fall.
David Haye fans are clamoring for a quick shot and he may get his wish. David is seen by many as one of the few who would have any chance of defeating the younger Klitschko and the match would probably be the best draw of any available at this time. It is going to be up to Wladimir, because this would be a voluntary defense. He might decide to wait a bit longer and let Haye establish himself more as a real heavyweight threat and thus increase the value of the match. Haye has said he would like one more bout before his title shot but if the money is right I doubt if he would turn down the chance. It could go either way.
American fans of Chris Arreola would love to see him next in line. As an exciting slugger, Chris would be a good match but the problem is that he is still not a well known fighter among the casual fans. If he can add a couple of good wins on TV and at the same time drop some weight to show that he is serious about winning a title this could be a big match later but I don't think so right now.
One possibility would be if Juan Carlos Gomez managed to upset brother Vitali when they fight. That would set up a huge fight with Wladimir, but it would all take time and won't be the next bout for Wlad. The bout with Vitali is not even scheduled yet as far as I know.
Alexander Dimitrenko looms on the horizon as a likely challenger sometime in 2009 but he will likely require an eliminator before moving into the mandatory position. That again rules out Alex as Wladimir's next opponent.
When it comes right down to it the most likely name by far has to be David Haye. Whether he is ready yet or not he is in the best position at this time. The only other option for Wladimir would be a voluntary defense against some softer foe and even this type are in rare supply right now. Maybe Dimitrenko would do or he could meet the Paolo Vidoz-Sinan Samil Sam winner. I am guessing he will fight Haye, maybe in June. In the meantime, I would hope that we will see an elimination tournament take place to establish a serious contender for late next year.