Wladimir Klitschko has restored pride to the heavyweight championship but, HBO refuse to honour him

Wladimir KlitschkoBy Bill Patrice Jones: HBO recently announced that it would no longer be broadcasting heavyweight title fights, citing lack of public interest as their chief reason. As world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko settles into his prime, one can only say this recent announcement is something of huge disappointment. HBO may claim that the reason is ‘lack of public interest’; however, most outsiders can see a clear link between the network’s decision and the lack of a dominant American heavyweight. Boxing may be entertainment but, it is also a sport like any other. HBO have a history of covering some of the most memorable and legendary heavyweight title fights in recent memory (Tyson Spinks, Tyson Douglas, Bowe Holyfield, Lewis Tyson, Lewis Klitschko etc), they have in many respects an obligation to honour the heritage of the heavyweight championship. Even though we have in Wladimir Klitschko a truly dominant champion, HBO feel no duty to respect him.

If the measure of a heavyweight champion is the size of the task he sets his challengers, then Klitschko is surely one the greats. When people remember Joe Louis they remember not so much the fights he had but, the aura he commanded as a seemingly invincible champion. Whenever someone steps forward to challenge Wladimir Klitschko today, the boxing public feels a similar sense of inevitability. This is surely the sign of a fighter against whom any heavyweight in history would struggle..

Is Wladimir Klitschko electrifying like Mike Tyson? The answer is no. Nevertheless if he was of American nationality, the press there would surely uphold him as one of the all time greats.

What Wladimir Klitschko has lacked thus far is a dynamic and memorable challenger in whom the public have invested a great deal. This is precisely why the charismatic and explosive David Haye was such an appealing opponent. Wladimir Klitschko has become in large part a victim of his own success, since Haye seems reluctant to face him. It should be clear to any true boxing fan just how enormous the task of defeating him has become.

There was a time when the detractors had good reason to doubt if Klitschko was truly ’the next heir apparent.’ He had looked almost uncomfortable with his own size. His jab could not control the range of contests and he seemed to panic when under duress. The knockout defeat to tough journeyman Ross Purity was seen as merely an aberration. The shock KO loss to Corrie Sanders seen as one of heavyweight boxing’s great upsets. But when Klitschko looked ill at ease in his comeback following Sanders and when unheralded American Lamon Brewster stopped him in five rounds it seemed the doubters may have been justified.

Arguably the most significant fight in Klitschko’s career was his title eliminator with the then undefeated power puncher Samuel Peter. The entertaining 12 round brawl was almost a microcosm of Klitschko’s entire resurrection as a fighter. The bout saw him doubt himself when Peter came forward, grow increasingly confident with his jab and slowly assert himself more round by round. There were two moments in the fight when Peter could have stopped Wladimir, but he survived. Almost sensing the significance of what was being witnessed Larry Merchant remarked in the tenth round, just as Klitschko recovered from his third knockdown, that this was ‘the moment of truth for Klitschko.’ Klitschko went on to stagger Peter badly in the twelfth round and win a unanimous decision.

Since the fight with Peter, Klitschko has dismantled: Chris Byrd, Calvin Brock, Ray Austin, Sultan Ibragimov, Lamon Brewster, Tony Thompson, Ruslan Chagaev, Hasim Rahman, Eddie Chambers. He has picked up two world titles in the process, although in fairness his bout against Ruslan Chagaev should have also been for the WBA strap. Had Ibragimov not taken him the distance, he would have levelled Tommy Burn’s long held record of eight consecutive title defences by knockout.

One aspect of Wladimir Klitschko’s legacy often ignored is the impact his elder brother’s comeback has had on his public standing. Vitali, another fine heavyweight champion was already highly regarded worldwide before he decided to return to the ring. Had he not elected to fight the then WBC champion Samuel Peter, the most likely scenario would have been a Peter Wladimir rematch for the unified heavyweight championship. Had Wladimir won he would have become the undisputed, unified heavyweight ruler everyone had been calling for since Lennox Lewis’s retirement.

Although many fans may rightfully marvel at the uniqueness of the Klitschko brother’s combined reign (myself included), Vitali’s comeback has still left certain sections of the public confused and unhappy with the concept of two heavyweight champions sharing the belts.

Wladimir Klitschko possesses one of the best left jabs in heavyweight history, a tremendous right cross and altogether a wonderfully athletic repertoire of hard punches. Though his brother is seen in many people’s eyes as the superior of the two, he lacks the fluidity, athleticism and punch repertoire of Wladimir. Vitali is tougher, harder and more durable. What he lacks though is the ability to punch going backwards and infighting skills. He can at times look awkward in the ring. If I had to name the more likely candidate for a defeat in 2011 I would certainly name Vitali.

The heavyweight championship of the world has seen a variety of characters defend the belt over the years. What still remains as one of the hallmarks of a true heavyweight champion, is the enormity of the task he sets his challengers.

Whenever Wladimir defends his crown, the opponent is cast so definitively in the role of underdog that the prestige and honour of the championship feels restored. Wladimir Klitschko is one of the toughest champions to defeat in his own time. He deserves to be called along with the likes of Joe Louis, with whom the challenger of the month club originated.

HBO’s decision to longer air heavyweight championship fights has come as a huge disappointment, because it will no doubt have a lasting affect on American fans perception of Wladimir Klitschko. We must no longer allow our opinion of heavyweight champions to be determined by national pride, nostalgia or bias. For Wladimir Klitschko deserves a lasting legacy in Europe, America and the world. His ability and professionalism have earned him that privilege. In twenty years time when his name is called in America people should remember a great champion, not one of many in a weak era.

Article posted on 19.07.2010

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