Wladimir Klitschko's Last Stand

11.08.05 - By Chris Acosta: No matter what you think of Wladimir Klitschko, it's hard not to like the guy. With big Wlad, you're never going to get any trash talk or unsportsmanlike behavior. He and his brother, WBC champion Vitali, are involved with Unesco, a foundation that helps underprivileged children throughout the world. In post -fight interviews, the guy just seems to come across as honest and candid about his abilities and the things he needs to improve them. He's just one of those people you want to see win.

Winning was something he knew lots about a few years ago when many folks were labeling him with a compliment that seems more curse than anything else. And hype being what it is nowadays, there was still something about the king-sized Ukrainian that appeared genuine and it drew many of us in.

Was it the use of that left hand which could morph from a stinging jab into crushing left hook in one fluid motion? Was it the snappy reflexes and balance that so often seems to leave fighters as they grow to massive physical dimensions? Was it the valuable pedigree of that 1996 Olympic Gold medal?

There were many facets to his game that were so well thought- out and executed that they bordered on perfect. But there were whispers from the fight game's sages, the Emmanuel Stewards and Gil Clancy's, guys who you seldom question, about his instincts. You see, it's one thing to ride a bicycle with training wheels and quite another to take them off and suddenly be introduced to a world of on- the -spot adjustments to uneven terrain and obstacles that seem to just pop out of nowhere.

And so it was that in a routine title defense against a dangerous but inactive Corrie Sanders that we all witnessed the training wheels coming off. It wasn't that Wlad was necessarily weak of chin as Sanders has a penchant for first round knockouts, made all the more difficult to deal with coming from the southpaw angle. It the way he reacted to an opponent who threw enough leather at him to cover four sets of hands. Unable to decide whether he should play defense or punch back, Wladimir made the amateurish mistake of trying to both at once. The second round loss brought out enough "I told you so" finger-pointing from the usual members of the boxing community who just can't seem to be optimistic about anything and dashed his hopes of taking the torch from Lennox Lewis.

Throw in that more disturbing loss to WBO king Lamon Brewster and we saw the fall out from the Sanders loss: the over-reaction to every single punch Brewster threw, the worried look of a man who was riding a ten- speed bike downhill on a cobblestone road and then the post-fight accusation that he was drugged. That last one my friends, is the sign that one has lost touch with reality. Sorry Wlad, I can defend you for everything but that.

There was the shaky comeback technical win over Devarryl Williamson and then a typically composed stoppage over Eliseo Castillo, but neither has done anything to convince the skeptics that this once promising fighter is damaged goods. When he went to court to get himself positioned for a mandatory shot at IBF titlist Chris Byrd, it looked like a desperate case of putting himself in a stylistic advantage over the smaller Byrd, who he'd beaten handily already and trying to accomplish that much publicized dream of simultaneously holding a championship belt with his brother (or before running into someone who could actually hurt him).

With that request denied, Wladimir was left with one option. Since he had no affiliation with Don King, Klitschko would have to take the same route Monte Barret did to get himself up near the front of the line: fight his way there. At this point in his career, Wladimir isn't going to be babied like an over-protected prospect. Avoiding tough competition is more damaging to a fighter' credibility than losing gallantly. Wlad has a big heart, he fought until he collapsed from exhaustion against Brewster and you can't ask for much more than that. He's been near the top, been through the ringer, survived and now has to deal with things like a true contender.

On September 24th, the younger Klitschko has decided to put everything into his own hands -literally- by facing the "Nigerian Nightmare" Samuel Peter. Peter is a pure knockout artist in a division sorely lacking one and he seems to know it. He also knows that Wladimir is a high- profile heavyweight with a suspect chin. A win would launch him right into the top ten and with
his style and charisma, into someone's mandatory contender spot.

If there was ever an opponent Wlad doesn't need, it's Peter. But the Ukrainian star understands that a victory would both move him up in the rankings and more importantly, erase the stigma of his supposed fragility. He must also sense, though not rely on, the fact that Peter himself is a question mark. The burly Nigerian is powerful to be sure but he easy relatively easy to hit, has trouble with movement and has himself never been on the receiving end of a major league puncher.

Wladimir's faults are right there in the open but so are his gifts and they all represent the three things his 24 year-old foe has either been hindered by or has yet to face. We should accept the fact that Klitschko will never be a perfect fighter but that he has some very intimidating weapons that keep him far from being imperfect. Who cares if he isn't the next Ali or
Holmes? What about the next Cleveland Williams? If Wladimir can find it in himself to rise to the most important occasion of his career, then he may have a chance to fit in somewhere in between.

Article posted on 11.08.2005

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