Klitschko vs. Povetkin vs. Apathy

wladimir2How many people who don’t frequent boxing websites are aware that the Heavyweight Championship of the World will be contested mid-day Saturday? The prize once regarded as the greatest in all of sport will be on the line when Wladimir Klitschko faces Alexander Povetkin in Moscow, Russia. Beyond the traditional significance attached to such an event, another element adds even greater intrigue to the story: history. As Klitschko adds days and numbers to his impressive time as champion he more securely solidifies his place among the sport’s greats.

But, again, who will notice?

If HBO’s Saturday fight schedule were a theatrical production, this heavyweight fight would be nothing but the supporting cast member—resting in the shadow of aging star, Miguel Cotto.

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But is it really the case that no one cares; or is it simply that Americans don’t care? Wladimir and his brother Vitali have no problem selling out arenas in Europe. They are loved in their native home of Ukraine and their adopted home of Germany.

So is it just our ethnocentric view of the sports world that has made us so indifferent to this great champion? If so, that’s rather funny. I’d been raised to think that boxing was all about Black vs. White. And that once a White man came along who could prove himself to be the best heavyweight in the world he would receive praise beyond his abilities and beyond his accomplishments.

Then again, maybe Klitschko’s lack of American acceptance is more basic than the crude ideas of ethnicity and race. Maybe he’s just too damned boring. At this point, many fans would be willing to take half the talent for twice the excitement. It’s very possible that if he finds himself in trouble and manages to escape he might just win a fan or two.

If, conversely, he gets hit and folds (as he has in the past) his legacy may go down with him. People need to see that a champion knows how to respond when faced with an obstacle. When judging greatness many more points are awarded to the men who can withstand the storm and refuse to fall. Muhammad Ali is remembered for all his great performances, but he is loved for surviving the trials of the Thriller in Manila.

As one pithy ad-man once put it, “When challenges are met champions are made.” As long as Wladimir Klitschko has an easy time with opponents, people will believe his opponents are just that: easy.
We have seen the younger Klitschko in serious trouble three times. He ran out of gas against Ross Puritty; he got nailed with a big punch against Lamon Brewster; and he got wiped out by Corrie Sanders. He hasn’t lost since being starched by Brewster, but he hasn’t really been hit either. There was that night in Atlantic City when he picked himself up three times to go on and win a points victory against Samuel Peter. But never did he look distraught or even shaken in that match. For us to fully accept him, we need to see him once more on the brink. We need to know that he can stare down and come out victorious against a determined foe.

And now, after numerous questions about the champion, we’re left with the only important question concerning his opponent: can he be that determined foe?

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Povetkin had a stellar amateur career. He began his professional fighting days at a blistering pace. He rattled off over a dozen fights in relatively quick succession, facing descent names along the way. None of his opponents were elite when he defeated them. But they were decidedly better than most names that appear on a young fighter’s early resume.

Since then however, Povetkin has cooled; not facing the kind of top opposition seeming augured by his initial success. Along with this tepid pace was a debatable decision victory to Marco Huck, a man who had spent his career as a cruiserweight.

This is Povekin’s past. Is it a past that has groomed him to be the next king of the sport? Or condemned him to be yet another opponent for a great, though unloved, champion?

Whatever the result, it will ripple beyond the confines of Moscow and be bigger than its second billing on HBO. And let’s just hope it gets noticed beyond the websites dedicated to boxing.