Will the real Wladimir Klitschko ever return to centre stage?

10.04.04 - By Nat Kerr - - Last Saturday’s Klitschko vs. Williamson fight appeared to be the Broadway version of the life and times of Lennox Lewis by Emanuel Steward, with Wladimir Klitschko playing the heralded hero.

Klitschko, not earlier known for emulating Steward’s American style of fighting, looked nervous, tentative and out of place in his second stint under the tutelage of the famed trainer of champions. For all of Steward’s acclaim, the sudden switch to the style that worked wonders for both Lewis and fighting legend Thomas Hearns has muted many of the positives the younger Klitschko used to bring to the ring.

It was apparent from early in the fight that the cautious approach would be extremely awkward for the 1996 Olympic gold-medallist

Klitschko did in fact do a fair job of re-enacting Lewis’ fights against Evander Holyfield, David Tua and Ray Mercer. However, he did not replicate very well the Lewis that harpooned Francis Botha, Shannon Briggs, Henry Akinwande and Andrew Golota.

There were flashes of the old Klitschko early in the fight, specifically in the second round, with Wladimir landing several power shots that stunned Williamson. But at just the moment when Klitschko was to come out with his best Lennox Lewis vs. Henry Akinwande, he suddenly switched to Lewis-Holyfield. Williamson appeared confused and unwilling to follow the script, doing his best Shannon Briggs for the audience. The hugging and hanging on was more extemporization from an obviously fearful Williamson. He then proceeded to dance around the ring like Nureyev in Swan Lake to the obvious chagrin of the viewing public.

In the 4th, Williamson went into his best Oliver McCall ersatz, which resulted in a knockdown. In truth, Klitschko was off-balance and moving back at the time the right-hand landed, thereby aiding the punch that didn’t seem to really stun Wladimir. To his credit, Klitschko went into an impromptu of Lewis in his fight with Hasim Rahman part 2, and succeeded in regaining a point in the mind of two of the judges, only losing the round 10-9, despite the knockdown. It was the first time the Ukrainian stared adversity straight in the eyes and responded with his heart on his sleeve. It was a moral victory of sorts, although his attempts at clinching were sloppy and not nearly what Steward had wanted from his pupil.

The fight came to an abrupt end at the end of round 5 because of a large gash on Klitschko’s forehead just above his right eye, the result of the fighters’ heads clashing violently just before the bell had rung. Referee Jay Nady immediately recognized the accidental head-butt and ring doctor, Margaret Goodman, advised that the fight be stopped because of the severity of the cut. It was a disappointing ending to a bout that lacked the necessary pizzazz to magnetize the audience.

In hindsight, the fight looked a lot worse than it was. Williamson pranced around the ring, waiting for what his handlers hoped would be a fatigued Klitschko to gradually deteriorate. Klitschko’s output was not high, which made it unlikely that fatigue would be an issue. The 6’7 inch 244-pounder was content to bide his time and jab all night. It was conservative and perhaps expected in light of the strange way the Brewster fight had ended.

Dr Steelhammer left many questions unanswered. He did prove that he could get up from a knockdown and fight back admirably. He also showed some mean spirit in the beginning of the fifth round that has been sorely lacking from about the Mercer fight. Most importantly, Klitschko emphatically cried out via Saturday’s performance that he cannot fight the way Manny Steward would like him to. There was very little Wladimir Klitschko pre-Sanders on exhibit. Bottled up and conventional, Klitschko is a shell of his former self. Gone was the once fluidness associated with his aesthetically pleasing style. Instead he looked gangly and awkward at times, which only served to have Klitschko’s finger that much closer to the panic button.

Emanuel Steward would be well advised to concede that Lennox Lewis and Wladimir Klitschko are not that similar. Klitschko has faster hands and doesn’t plant as well with his feet as the British fighter did in his run as champion. Klitschko can move around the ring quite comfortably when allowed to. He is off-balance and out of tune when trying to throw combinations from a flat-footed stance. He also handled several crisp shots from Williamson without much difficulty. Which means his chin is not nearly the problem that amateur pundits have been so eager to accentuate in their attempts to bury the 28-year old. He doesn’t need to fight overtly cautious, as the skills and talent are there to be a champion fighting his own unique style.

Emanuel Steward has stated on the record that he sees in Klitschko a lot of Lewis. He may have forgotten that Klitschko, arguably, has better offensive skills than Lennox ever possessed. His best defence is still the punishment he can unleash on his opponents.

Klitschko replicating Lewis will never get Wladimir anywhere near the top of the heavyweight heap. He will continue to labour and let mediocre fighters like Williamson dictate the length and tempo of the fight.

Wladimir Klitschko had it right for the most part against Brewster. The same fight plan for Saturday’s duel would have resulted in the one-sided knockout-victory Klitschko’s unrelenting critics require to even grant him a place in the heavyweight mix. That style would also dominate the greater majority of the division and put out on display the best offensive tools in the heavyweight division in years.

The Sanders fight did more than bring the Wladimir Klitschko express to a grinding halt. It appears to have changed the mental make-up of a once proud and confident fighter. If the identity crisis continues, we may very well never see the old Wladimir Klitschko.

Article posted on 05.10.2004

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