Vitali Klitschko: A Criticism Rollercoaster

13.09.05 - By Justin Hackman: What makes boxing such an exciting sport is all the competition that goes on outside the ring as well as inside. Sure, the fighters enjoy trash talking, and I don’t blame them for it—they only get to prove themselves once every four or five months. But the kind of competition I am speaking of are the discussions and arguments that take place amongst fans and writers alike: who would win a fight between Hatton and Judah? Who is a pound for pound harder hitter, Tszyu or Lacy? Can Winky Wright handle the winner of Hopkins/Taylor, and while we’re on the subject, who’s going to win that one?

These are some of the conversations that take place that keep boxing alive when it is not fight night. When it seems like you cannot possibly wait until the next big fight, a conversation about your favorite fighter seems to do the trick for the time being.

But for every jab of support that is given to a fighter in discussion, there is always an uppercut of criticism not far behind. And lately, Vitali Klitschko’s name seems to be at the center of that criticism, which begs the question: how much of it is justified?

In 2000 he fought Chris Byrd and quit on his stool after nine rounds. Klitschko had been dominating up to that point in the fight. People defend Byrd by saying “Well, he was getting stronger…” He was getting stronger, that much is true,
however, Byrd would have needed at least one knockdown to win that fight based on the scores the judges had at the time of the stoppage. And I don’t care how slick Byrd was getting, no way in hell he was going to knock Vitali down. I say
that not in defense for Klitschko but to illustrate my point: all Vitali had to do was stay on his feet for another nine minutes in order to cruise to an easy victory. Instead he chose to quit and consequently give up the victory, the undefeated record, and any respect American fans were about to have for him. His reasoning was just that—reasonable: he wanted his shoulder to be in workable shape to fight another day.

I cannot argue with that reasoning. However, boxing breeds injury! When a fighter steps foot in the ring, he must be prepared to sustain an injury; after all, there happens to be another giant at the other end of the ring ready and willing to dislocate your head from your body. I am going to go out on a limb and say, "An injury might occur!" Fight fans do not want to see a boxer quit because he wants to fight another day, especially if an easy win is minutes away. Fight fans want to see a boxer willing to leave his jaw lying on the canvas if it means earning a victory. So was the criticism surrounding Vitali’s heart, or lack thereof justified at this point? No doubt.

Klitschko later made a comeback against former champ Lennox Lewis. In this match, Klitschko sustained one of the worst cuts over his left eye that I have ever seen. His eyelid was in danger of never recovering along with his eyesight…talk about fighting another day, how about seeing for the rest of your life! Vitali did not want to stop fighting. I believe when he fought Byrd he did not know what it meant to truly be a fighter. He was a boxer with a PhD. And when he stopped fighting, it was his reasoning, his intellect that told him it was not smart to go on. However, boxers are not supposed to be known for their brains. We don’t want them to reason.

We want them to fight. And that is exactly what he did against Lewis. Somewhere in between the Byrd fight and the Lewis fight, Vitali understood what it meant to be a fighter. Though after the fight he was still called a boxer with no heart. I did not feel the criticism at that time was necessary. In that fight with Lewis, Klitschko successfully corrected the flaws he showed us he had in the Byrd fight.

Since then, Klitschko has been the recognized champion of the heavyweight division, but his reign has been shaky to say the least. His first title defense was against Hasim Rah-, no wait, Chris By- no wait, John Ru- no wait…Danny Williams!!?? Ok that was a tad suspicious. Vitali disposed of Williams easily, but because he was supposed to, it was as though he didn’t prove to us anything. Klitschko has delayed his mandatory defense against Rahman long enough at this point. They finally are going to fight, and I believe it is only because it was his only option aside from getting his belts taken away. I would like to think Klitschko would have fought him regardless, although he leaves me no choice but to come to the pessimistic conclusion.

It is no secret as to why Klitschko has delayed the process so long; it is because his dream is to hold a championship belt the same time as his brother. Hey, I don’t blame the man. How can I? However, if that is to happen, let it happen with dignity, with honor. Do it the right way: taking on any worthy opponent and proving you are the best. Because after all, what do the belts mean, if you do not constantly prove that they deserve to be yours? So in this case is the criticism justified? Yes. Klitschko must prove that he is the best time and time again, just like all other champions do, and until that point he is fair game for criticism.

So in conclusion, is Klitschko a deserved candidate for criticism? Absolutely, though I hope I proved in this piece that the criticism is only justified depending on what is being discussed (I chose not to acknowledge the ones that say Vitali has a glass chin, as I have never seen evidence to conjure up such a claim). The outcome on the night of November 12 should tell us a lot. Given Vitali wins (though it won't be Danny Williams easy), and he does not delay the subsequent fight another 11 months, he should be able to atone for his prior shortcomings…he has done so before.

Article posted on 13.09.2005

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