Wlad the Impaler? Or just Wlad the lmpaled?

22.04.05 - By Lee Hayes: Saturday, April 23rd, Wladimir Klitschko is set to fight someone by the name of Eliseo Castillo who, no disrespect to Eliseo, is barely a household name in his own household. The fight was originally being sold as some sort of a title fight eliminator, for the right to fight Chris Byrd for his IBF heavyweight title belt. If you aren't questioning what exactly it is that Wladimir Klistchko has accomplished over the past two and a half years to deserve a title shot, you should certainly be asking yourself what on this earth Eliseo Castillo has. The fight will no longer be hyped as a title eliminator, because, as it turns out, Wladimir Klitschko and his team have realized that although it has its moments, even boxing isn't that sleazy.

As you can probably gather, this article is not going to be a typical Klitschko cheerleading session. Instead, I am going to try something refreshing, an honest evaluation of the giant Ukrainian.

People have been claiming that Wladimir Klistchko was going to be the saviour of the heavyweight division. The logical heir to the throne that Lennox Lewis dominated for a decade. He was an accomplished amateur, capsuled with an Olympic gold medal in the super heavyweight division in 1996. Klitschko then proceeded to forge on to opposition so weak that the outcomes were all forgone conclusions before the contracts were even signed. All but two of the fights were held in Klitschko's adopted back yard, Germany.

In 1998, Wladimir faced in Ross Puritty, in what can only be described as "a gate keeper, to the gate keepers of the heavyweight division". It is noteworthy that Puritty had already lost to 13 men, including fighters named Cleveland Woods, Alex Miroshnichenko, John Sargent, Derek Isaman, King Ipitan and someone named Will Hinton. Incredibly, even though he was ahead on all score cards, Wladimir's corner threw in the towel and received a loss by TKO in the 11th of 12 rounds. It should have been a clear sign of things to come, as later we would discover that Klitschko's stamina makes Tommy Morrison's look like Rocky Marciano's or Joe Fraizer's. It was an embarrassment that would put Klitstchko's entire career in jeopardy. Quitting is not an acceptable way to lose in the boxing ring.

With his future in disarray, Klitschko's management team went about some very crafty manouvering, that allowed Wladimir to rebuild his name against some very suspect opposition, and the occaissional C level fighter, like Everett Martin, Axel Schulz, and David Bostice. His first test since Puritty (in reality, the first test of his entire professional career) came against -the then inexperienced- Monte Barrett. Klitschko put on a very impressive performance by knocking down Monte five times, and blowing him away before the bell rang for the seventh round.

His next fight would probably be against the best opponent that Wladimir would ever face as an amateur, or a professional, Chris Byrd. In what would remain the best performance of Klitschko's career, and the saving grace for all of his fans who required some form of hope that Klitschko can still be a force to be reckoned with in the heavyweight division, Wladimir Klitschko completely dominated Byrd. One couldn't blame someone for believing the hype. Pay no attention to anyone that claims the fight was for the heavyweight championship. It was for the WBO heavyweight title, and unless you truly believe that Francesco Damiani, Tommy Morrison, Michael Bentt & Herbie Hide are all former heavyweight champions of the world, the key point was that Wlad destroyed the talented Byrd.

Klitschko's next opponents of note, were Francois Botha and what appeared to be the great grandfather of the once formadible journeyman fighter named Ray Mercer, (but sadly turned out to be in fact the actual Ray Mercer). Klitschko walked through both opponents without much of a challenge, as he should have. Mercer was 41 years old at the time of the fight.

In one of the most bizzare bouts of 2002, the much hyped super fight of the super heavyweights, between Jameel "Big Time" McCline and Klitschko turned out to be a complete stinker and not the clash of the Titans, as many predicted. We would later find out that Jameel McCline froze under the pressure of the big fight, and folded like a chair, barely mounting anything that even resembled an offence. The fact that Klitschko was equally as unwilling to throw punches disturbed me more than McCline, as I never thought much of McCline to begin with. McCline's inability to succeed at in the division to this day demonstrates that Klitschko's win most likely had more to do with Jameel's lack of ability and experience than anything else. McCline learned to box as a full grown adult in prison, and lacked any of the pedigree and experience of a typical blue chip prospect.

Still, the win was over a legitimate heavyweight, at or near the top 10 of the division, and it again added to the Byrd victory, further confirming Wladimir's hype. The only remaining problem was that we had never really seen Klitschko get tagged on the chin, nor had we seen anybody put up the kind of taxing fight that would test his stamina that had proved to be questionable in the Puritty fight. We would only have to wait three more months to have the first question answered.

On March 8th, 2003 at Preussag Arena, in Hannover, Germany, Wladimir Klitschko fought Corrie Sanders in defence of his WBO heavyweight title belt. The fight was considered by many insiders as nothing more than a "keep busy" bout. Something to keep Wlad active, and his name in people's minds. What ended up happening was a one-sided beat down, just as vicious as the assault George Forman placed on Joe Fraizer nearly 30 years previously. Corrie Sanderís only other real fight of note was a losing slug out with future heavyweight title holder Hassim Rahman. In fact, Sanders was practically retired when he signed to fight Klitschko, finding himself content to play golf and run his wildlife hunting operation. Fighting a 37 year old semi-retired boxer/golfer hardly seemed the thing of giants. However, it was noted by anyone that saw Sanders fight Rahman that the southpaw South African could punch fairly well with his left hand. Still, the fight should have done nothing more than prove that Wladimir could in fact take a legitimate heavyweight punch. We found out that he couldn't. The first left hand that connected, only half flush, had Wladimir hanging on for dear life. He was knocked down four times in total, and it was obvious that he couldn't even take the most glancing of blows from Sanders, who to be fair, was in better shape than he had been in years.

It seemed that Klitschko's dreams to share a piece of heavyweight glory with his older brother Vitali crashed down on the canvas that night along with his large cranium. After the bout, Klitschko told HBO analyst Larry Merchant that he would insist on an immediate rematch, that it was in his contract, and that it was his "right". He wisely never pursued that option and still has not to this day.

Klitschko then went on to fight a couple of tune up fights against fighters of no distinction before being handed a opprotunity to regain his minor WBO belt against Lamon Brewster. Another fighter of little distinction but, at least on paper, his record insinuated that he could probably punch and that his chin was not completely made of china. As it turned out, Klitschko put on a very impressive display of offensive fireworks not seen since the early days of Mike Tyson. Unfortunately, as it also turned out, Brewster's chin is made of solid granite. Lamon had the skills of a rank amateur, but he possessed the chin that allowed him to absorb punishment until his opponent tired himself out, ala Rocky Balboa. It was like a rope-a-dope, only without the ropes. Klitschko played the part of dope willingly. He would not stop throwing punches, and averaged around 100 per round. The fact that he then dropped from total exhaustion, at the conclusion of the 5th round, really shouldn't have suprised us, but the fashion in which he colapsed made it impossible not to. Wladimir and his camp made multiple excuses for the fight, ranging from vaseline being used on his legs, all the way to being purposely poisoned by unknown Don King operatives. It was poor sportsmanship for a man who showed for the second time in his career that a man with a good chin could tire him out and make him surrender.

Klitschko's last fight was against DaVarryl Williamson, a capable fighter, if not one without a single noteworthy characteristic. Williamson attacked Klitschko right from the first bell (as every opponent would be wise to do from this point on, due to Klitschko's obvious lack of confidence in his own chin). Klitschko backed to the ropes without a single sign of an intelligable defence. Once he landed a few of his hard punches, Williamson wisely decided not to trade, and danced akwardly on his toes around the ring in what continued on as a rather boring uneventful fight, until Williamson caught Klitschko with a light, off balance punch that put Klitschko down. Wladimir sustained a vicious cut on his forhead that made him look like he was Harry Potter on steroids. The fight was stopped due to the severity of the cut, and Klitschko was awarded the victory (while standing in the ring gushing out blood all over his face) because he was ahead on the scoring at the time of the stoppage. The stoppage was legit, as was the scoring, but the cut and the knockdown did nothing to better any confidence that Klitschko or his fans could have in his future.

This leads us up to this Saturday's fight with Eliseo Castillo. Castillo is being marketed as a puncher. He's not. Just looking at the records of opponents that have gone the distance with him, like Ronnie Smith (record 6-27), or Onebo Maxime (record 15-20) tells you all should need to know. If it doesn't, perhaps this will...Ronnie Smith was stopped 9 times before he dragged Castillo the distance. Maxime was stopped 11 times before taking him the distance. This guy is not a puncher. The only reason he stands a puncherís chance against Klitschko is because we have no idea how badly damaged Wlad's confidence truely is, nor exactly how weak his chin truly is, since Sanderís is the only puncher he's ever faced. My guess is that Wladimir will probably win this fight, only because the opposition is so weak.

Unfortunately the bar has been lowered again to accomidate Klitschko. If he somehow loses, or does not look extremely impressive in winning, it's hard to imagine how much lower the expectations can get.

My assessment of Klitschko is that he is much more like a Frank Bruno, then a Lennox Lewis, or an Evander Holyfield. He looks the part of a heavyweight killer. So did Bruno. He can punch. So could Bruno. He was able to defeat the mediocre tests in front of him. So did Bruno. He's beloved by his countrymen. So was Bruno. He does not possess the chin to stand up to the top contenders of his time. Either did Frank Bruno. Bruno didn't win an Olympic gold medal, but neither did Klitschko possess Bruno's sense of sportsmanship or dignity in failure. Other than that, I would say that Klitschko should be remembered as a heavyweight on Bruno's level. A good fighter, but not a great one.

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Article posted on 22.04.2005

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