Vitali Klitschko: Not The Most Stylistic, But Perhaps The Most Effective

07.12.03 - By Janne Romppainen: Even though I picked Vitaly Klitschko to beat Kirk Johnson in their scheduled twelve-round WBC title eliminator on Saturday, the result of the bout surprised me. I had expected Klitschko to control the fight on a slow, measured pace, to break down Jonson’s resistance and to win in the late rounds or by decision after a hard-fought contest. I did not expect Klitschko to score an early-round wipe-out. However, that was just what we were allowed to witness. The Ukrainan giant walked all over his foe so effortlessly that I for one was very impressed and had to start to think about what me and most other predictors had counted wrong.

Granted, Kirk Johnson fought tactically an unwise fight by standing and trading against Klitschko instead of sticking and moving as most had expected him to do. Also Johnson’s flabby physique – he weighed in at 260lbs, 16 lbs more than ever before – raised a question about his preparing for the bout. The boxing commentator Larry Merchant made a nasty remark afterwards, saying that “whale was harpooned” referring to the outcome of the fight. Even though the comment was pretty harsh, it included some truth. Johnson hardly looked like a world-class athlete. All this doesn’t make Klitschko’s victory any worse though. He fought just the way he was supposed to do and blasted out a contender whom many ranked among the most talented fighters of the division.

It was plausible to think beforehand that Klitschko’s stand-up stance where he holds his left hand very low would invite a known counter-puncher such as Johnson to pick him off with his shots and at least to give him a brisk fight. However, Johnson hardly landed a shot at all against Klitschko, and it was not a case of him being not good enough. On contrary to what was expected, it was Klitschko’s style that gave Johnson problems, and the Canadian was totally toothless against his aggression.

When I watched the way how Klitschko pounded Johnson out, he reminded me of the reigning welterweight champion Ricardo Mayorga, who made his breakthrough to the top this year with his personal-but-effective fighting style. Klitschko, like Mayorga, still does things in the ring that many orthodox boxing technique books would consider as “errors”. However, just like is the case with Mayorga, the results that Klitschko has achieved force me to re-evaluate his status. Maybe it is not a question about Klitschko not mastering the text-book skills, but rather a case about him having a unique style that works most effectively for himself.

Klitschko holds his upper body erect, with his legs wide apart and his weight resting on his back foot. That kind of a stance is often bashed as “the Euro-style” which should leave you open to multiple of punches, but Klitschko has none of that. Instead, because of Klitschko’s unusually large physique he is able to use that style in his favour. Because of the stance and his huge reach he is able to hold his chin far away from his opponent. When you add this to the fact that Klitschko seems to have very slick defensive reflexes, it becomes much more understandable why Johnson’s hooks never connected or why Lennox Lewis couldn’t find the mark with his famous overhand right.

Also Klitschko sometimes seems like an arm-puncher who doesn’t get his whole body weight behind his shots. While it is true that his punching technique is not the best in the world, it still works effectively for him. Because he doesn’t load up with every shot, Klitschko is able to keep up with much higher punching output than most other heavyweights and he has a nice hand-speed for a big man when he lets his hands go. Also, as you can expect from a man with Klitschko’s kind of huge body strength, all those shots that he throws also hurt, as his 32 knockouts in 33 victories certainly demonstrate. Klitschko’s reach enables him to throw shots from very long distance too. Again, it becomes evident why he is as effective as he is, even though his style isn’t the most pure boxing technique.

One new factor that I noticed in the Johnson fight about Klitschko was that his confidence has grown up a great deal. While in his earlier fights against guys like Chris Byrd and Larry Donald his approach could have been described as careful, now he went after a much more dangerous foe with much more speed and seemingly total self-trust. Again, the style could be compared to that of Ricardo Mayorga’s even though Klitschko isn’t that relentless. It is evident that Klitschko trusts on his chin and is not afraid of being hit, and after the bout with Lewis that is reasonable as well. The British world champion landed his best uppercuts on Klitschko and he stood up for all of them. Why should he be afraid of getting hit anymore? Furthermore, Klitschko seems to have a great stamina, which must boost his confidence even further. He knows that even if the fight goes on longer, it won’t be a problem for him.

Of course, too much mustn’t be counted on this victory. After all, Johnson was still somewhat untested goods. He lost to John Ruiz just three fights ago and his best victories have been against Oleg Maskaev and Lou Savarese both of whom have been knocked out more than once in their respective careers. Also there were suspicion’s about Johnson’s chin, and this result proves that there were some ground for those thoughts too. Even so, Klitschko’s result was remarkable. A knockout win over a legitimate top-10 heavyweight proves that even though his style isn’t perhaps the most beautiful to watch, it still works. And, after all, that is the only thing that counts.

Personally I was also very delighted to hear how the big crowd (especially considering the weather conditions) was loudly behind the Ukrainian. Only half a year ago, before the Lewis-fight, Klitschko was often deemed as a “quitter” because of the unfortunate Byrd-fight. Now the whole Madison Square Garden gave him an ovation after the bout was over. Every fighter has a chance to redeem themselves, and the best of fighters are respected world over regardless of their nationality. And Klitschko’s performance was worth of every applaud.

Article posted on 07.12.2003

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