Mannheim, Germany – April 22, 2006. Wladimir Klitschko, who had previously ruled as WBO heavyweight champion, scored a 7th round TKO over Chris Byrd to win the IBF heavyweight title. It was the beginning of a nine-and-a-half-year reign as heavyweight champion. Klitschko was never undisputed heavyweight champion, as his brother, Vitali, was the WBC champ (for a long period of his brother’s reign as IBF/WBO/WBA champion anyway), and of course the two would never agree to fight.
Wladimir became a two-time WBO heavyweight champ in 2008, when he defeated Sultan Ibragimov (in one of the dullest world heavyweight title fights ever, it must be said). Wladimir became Ring Magazine champ the following year, when he stopped Ruslan Chagaev. And finally, Wladimir won the WBA belt, this with a wide decision win over David Haye in 2011.
This was Wladimir Klitschko at his peak: all-conquering and on one heck of a roll. After beating Byrd in their return fight (Wladimir having won a decision over Byrd to become WBO champ back in 2000), “Dr. Steel Hammer” won 18 fights in a row. Taking on all comers, Klitschko defeated good names like – Lamon Brewster (in a rematch of a crushing 2004 stoppage defeat that almost finished Wladimir), Tony Thompson (twice), Chagaev, Eddie Chambers, Samuel Peter (in a rematch, the two having fought a non-title fight in 2005), Haye, Alexander Povetkin, Kubrat Pulev and Bryant Jennings.
Klitschko was pushing 40 years of age by the time he decisioned Jennings yet he was still leagues above every other heavyweight out there. Or so we thought. A big favorite going into his November 2015 defence against Tyson Fury, Wladimir was, as we know, beaten. For the first time in almost ten long years. It was a frustrated, psychologically intimidated Wladimir that lost to Fury, his punch output that evening in Dusseldorf dismally poor. It was a strange ending to such a reign of dominance.
There was no rematch. Instead, Wladimir came back a year-and-a-half later, to fight Anthony Joshua. Klitschko put in a great effort this time, decking Joshua and appearing to be on the brink of victory, only to be stopped late on in a terrific action bout. This was just the fifth loss of Wladimir’s career. And then he was gone. Retired. All set for The Hall of Fame.
The truly impressive thing about Klitschko’s nine-and-a-half year reign is the fact that it came after devastating and humiliating stoppage defeats to Corrie Sanders and Brewster (with Ross Puritty also stopping a 24-0 Wladimir). The losses at the hands of Sanders and Brewster convinced almost everyone that Klitschko was all done at top level; instead, his prime years awaited him. As did an almost decade-long reign as the best heavyweight on the planet.
There was a time when most of us felt Wladimir Klitschko would never lose a fight again.