Up from the ashes: Wladimir Klitschko

13.11.05 - By Michael Youssef: Before Corrie Sanders slapped Wladimir Klitschko around the ring like an abusive father, most of us who remember the hype surrounding the younger and now only fighting Klitschko can remember just how great the expectations of him were. Wladimir had just iced Ray Mercer and Jameel McCline in successive fights on HBO, and in the process made both accomplishments look effortless as both opponents appeared hopelessly outclassed and utterly helpless against the European. Trained by Fritz Sdunek at the time, and with the pedigree that most fighters fighting since their youth could never even hope to achieve, it certainly seemed logical that Wladimir Klitschko would never become a Michael Grant type of failed heavyweight hopeful.

Now over two years later, and with the premier heavyweight people had hoped to see Wladimir face off against long gone (Lennox Lewis), Klitschko is still ranked among the very best fighters of the division.

The fact that he has fought his way back into a mandatory position in half of the major sanctioning bodies' rankings makes Wladimir Klitschko's career already far more accomplished than Michael Grant's career ever was, following a traumatic defeat. There was however Lamon Brewster, who also knocked out Wladimir Klitschko but in much different fashion. Whereas Corrie Sanders simply abused Wladimir over and over again with a deceptively speedy straight left hand, Brewster played the roll of a punching bag for all but roughly 90 seconds of his fight with Klitschko before coming on at the end of the fifth and final round of their bout.

Detractors have used these two losses as well as an earlier loss to Ross Puritty, to justify their assumptions that Wladimir indeed had stamina issues (Puritty), a lack of chin (Sanders), and an anxiety disorder (Brewster). Critics claimed that all of these flaws were, on an individual basis fatal, and when combined both insurmountable and irreparable.

But now, as boxing fans brace themselves for what they hope won't be a repeat of 2005, Wladimir Klitschko (45-3, 40 ko's) has done something sufficient enough to not only become a mandatory challenger, but become a fighter now widely considered to be more than capable enough of overtaking this embarrassingly weak division.

The upcoming New Year is likely going to bring further change within the heavyweight division. The biggest change that also bears the greatest likelihood of occurring is Wladimir Klitschko. I believe that Wladimir Klitschko will not only become a champion before Christmas time 2006, but will be the most recognized champion of the unfortunate multitude as well. For those who can use a bit of depth perception, they may see what to me, are glaringly obvious circumstances that leave Wladimir Klitschko in a situation where he is all but certain to find himself in a position to prey on the dysfunctional heavyweight division.

Let me start out by saying that there is only one fighter on the planet now that I believe has all the tools required to beat Wladimir Klitschko, and as a matter of fact, he already did. The ability to absorb an ungodly amount of punishment, debilitating power, and the skills to utilize such power are all things that Lamon Brewster did and still does possess. In fact, the Brewster who I've seen fight lately is probably even better than the one who got the job done the first time around against Klitschko in April 2004.

Other than Lamon Brewster, every other contending heavyweight would have some very serious disadvantages. Chris Byrd lacks firepower and size, and the skills he does possess are clearly eroding with each fight, as evidenced by his last three outings, all of them, fights he was lucky to walk away from with his IBF belt. John Ruiz lacks the skills to deal with even a gun shy or timid Wladimir Klitschko, who, judging by the Peter fight probably no longer exists. Come to think of it, the last time Ruiz found himself inside the ropes with a fighter who had punching power like Klitschko, he only stayed for 19 seconds. Then there is Hasim Rahman, who would be woefully outclassed in terms of skills and even athleticism. However, what would be most detrimental to Rahman's chances of competing would be the fact that he would once again be in against another big banger. Remember, if Monte Barrett could land punches and hurt Rahman, I don't see how Wladimir could fail to do the same, in which case Rahman's chin would be a big underdog to see him through the fight.

Perhaps the most dangerous fighter for Klitschko to face, besides Brewster is Sam Peter, who of course is now a known variable. However, it was in this awkward fight that I began to think that Klitschko's time as a contender was far from over. Klitschko showed he was not gun shy, has no stamina problems whatsoever, and certainly has heart to go along with a chin that now appears to be much better than once feared. Nor did he wilt when Peter threw heat at him, and in addition, Klitschko has learned to fight at his most comfortable fighting range, as he showed by simply grabbing Peter and pushing him off in order to keep the fight where he wanted it. Emmanuel Steward has long claimed that Wladimir's goose was far from cooked, even after his humiliating loss to Sanders, and perhaps Steward knows what he's talking about.

James Toney is a great fighter, but can anybody remind me of a fight where Toney had to jab or move his way inside to land blows against a bigger fighter remotely as skilled as Wladimir? Furthermore, what would keep Wladimir from pulling an octopus on Toney and wrapping him up and pushing the much smaller man off? I would give Calvin Brock a much better chance of taking out Klitschko than Toney, who lacks the firepower and size that Brewster, Rahman, Peter, and Brock all possess.

But, all of these things are neither here nor now. What the fans know as of right now is that Wladimir Klitschko can fight against either Lamon Brewster or Chris Byrd for a world title, and he would be in a pick-em fight with the former and a heavy favorite over the latter. In addition, Klitschko is probably going to be receiving a very high ranking from the WBC now that his brother has departed. Rahman, now the WBC champ has spoken of fighting Wladimir, and with the money that such a fight could generate, such talk is not surprising.

Don King tournament be damned, there is simply no way it is going to happen unless either Brewster or Byrd are willing to lose their strap due to sanctioning rules (not fighting the mandatory within the mandated time frame). And if either fighter decided to do the unlikely and Riddick Bowe their belts into a trash can, you would have to be nuts not to anticipate the marketing number HBO would employ to promote Wladimir as the most legitimate title holder of the lot. Finally, even Don King knows that Wladimir Klitschko is by far the biggest attraction in the division and easily pulls in more money that any other heavyweight with or without a belt when he fights. His last bout against Peter was the second most viewed fight of 2005, even more than Hopkins-Taylor. The only fight that pulled in a greater audience so far was the Morales-Pacquiao brawl.

To anoint Wladimir Klitschko as the savior of the division would be premature. However, the facts surrounding the division still remain. There are some very weak and discreditable belt holders who are ripe for the taking by just about anyone who possesses just an ounce of skills, as James Toney was the latest to show. Of the fighters out there who possess such skills and other tools, Wladimir Klitschko once again heads such the list. As a result, he is in the title mix, ranked ahead of nearly all contenders, and thus is first in line for a chance to capitalize on what could be easy pickings.

In closing, no matter what Don King says, money talks even louder (but just barely in King's case). Klitschko's ability to pull the attention of the boxing community when he steps through the ropes, produce big pay days each and every outing, and apparently fight well enough to become a mandatory challenger are all factors that ensure 2006 will not pass without Wladimir in a boxing ring fighting for a title, most likely against Chris Byrd. HBO waving their pom-poms for Dr. Steelhammer is also a deciding factor for why Klitschko has the best chance of being the first non King fighter to get a title shot

Article posted on 11.11.2005

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