What is Wladimir Klitschko’s Problem? Chin or Confidence?

21.09.05 - By Kevin Purcell: This Saturday night Wladimir Klitschko (44-3, 40 KO’s) takes on the Nigerian Samuel Peter (24-0, KO’s) in a bout that promises to answer a lot of questions. One of these questions pertains to Klitschko’s ability to deal with his opponents power. Well, I can answer that for you now. Quite simply, he can’t! But a factor that I believe will have the most influence on the fight is Klitschko’s state of mind and whether he really believes he can win.

They say that professional sport at the highest level is 90% mental and 10% physical. This old adage especially rings true for the Ukranian fighter. Confidence is a precious, delicate thing, an intangible asset that can take a long time to build and a split-second to destroy. In a boxing career that promised so much, confidence was a natural asset to Wlad until that fateful night in March 2003 when it was cut to shreds at the hands of free-swinging South African, Corrie Sanders.

Since then, “Dr. Steelhammer” has been branded “china-chinned”, “glass-jawed”, and other such terms indicating an inability to take a punch.

This notion was re-enforced a year later when he suffered a 5th-round KO against the unfancied Lamon Brewster after dishing out some serious punishment during the first four rounds. But lets take a closer look at the situation to determine whether his chin really is the problem.

Most fighters who are unfortunate enough to end up on the receiving end of a Sanders bomb endure a similar fate to that of the younger Klitschko. The South African is a renowned KO artist so it wasn’t a surprise that when he nailed Wlad at the end of the first round, the fight only lasted another couple of minutes. This incident proved that Wlad doesn’t possess a
granite-like chin but I don’t think he deserves to be tagged “china-chinned” as a result. Sanders isn’t exactly feather-fisted and could also have knocked out Vitali had he shown up in decent shape.His defeats to Ross Purrity and Lamon Brewster were more of a stamina issue. Both of these fighters, to their credit, hung in there whilst under attack and then capitalised when Wlad punched himself out.

So the jury is still out on whether Wlad actually has the weak chin as is purported to be, but what is certain is that his confidence has evaporated. This is far worse than having a weak chin. If his confidence remained intact after the Sanders beating, he would’ve denounced it as a fluke and demanded a rematch. Then, adopting a more cautious approach, made full use of his rapier jab to disorientate Sanders while circling away from his left hand. Enter the middle rounds, and by now Klitschko is hammering home the right hand resulting in a mid-to-late round stoppage. (Obviously boxing isn’t quite that simple but a gameplan along those lines would probably have gotten the job done).

This is something that I believe Klitschko would have been more than capable of but there was no great effort to secure a rematch. Compare this with Lennox Lewis, who jumped straight back in the ring with Hasim Rahman fully aware that if Rahman hit the button again then it was all over. But he used his superior skills to outbox then blast his way to redemption. The point is that, despite getting starched in the first fight, Lewis still ahd the self-belief that he could get back in there and emerge victorious. It was the same after his defeat to Oliver McCall. He subsequently adopted a more defensive style when he realised he didn’t have a great chin. But the important thing is it didn’t wreck his confidence.

Wlad’s timid outing against Eliseo Castillo, someone he surely would’ve walked through a few years ago, shows that he’s now fighting whilst gripped by fear. Being a bit afraid is a good thing because it forces you to concentrate and not take your opponent lightly but in Wlad’s case, the fear has manifested itself to the point where he won’t utilise the hugely impressive offensive arsenal that he has at his disposal. Manny Steward can teach him the technical aspect of the sport until the cows come home, but until the fighter himself vanquishes the psychological demons inside his head, then the battle to get back to where he once was is futile.

So, you might ask, if Klitschko’s confidence reserves have run dry, what the hell is he doing getting in the ring with a powerhouse like Peter? Obviously, the bout is an IBF and WBO title eliminator so if he wins he should get a title shot. But I also think he’s forcing himself to do this to try and prove to himself more than anyone, that he still has what it takes.
If he wins convincingly then his confidence should come flooding back and, armed with the knowledge that he can dispose of extremely powerful punchers, we could yet see him atop the heavyweight pile.

Thoughts or comments?

Article posted on 21.09.2005

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