02.10.04 – By Nat Kerr: – firstname.lastname@example.org – Don King doesn’t have a vested interest in this fight, there aren’t going to be any strange creatures lurking in his dressing room, no misuse of Vaseline and Wladimir Klitschko can’t say he wasn’t prepared to fight a southpaw – his opponent is right-handed.
With all due respect to Klitschko’s opponent DaVaryll Williamson, whether or not Klitschko wins or loses tonight is completely up to the 28-year old former WBO champion. If he loses, he has no business stepping into the squared circle ever again. Those are the words echoed by many, including his older brother, current WBC heavyweight champion Vitaliy Klitschko.
It’s all about the demons that haunt Wladimir Klitschko. Can he overcome them? Can he put aside the one-sided loss to Corrie Sanders? Can he erase the memory of pummelling his opponent — punching bag Lamon Brewster, for 4 plus rounds, only to faint in the ring under the strangest of circumstances at the end of the 5-th?
It’s a lot to put aside, but the best have overcome the greatest of obstacles to carve out their niche in the annals of boxing history.
Wladimir Klitschko was hyped for years as the best heavy since an 18-year old from the Catskills named Mike Tyson was decreed the future of heavyweight boxing. He was bred to succeed, winning tournament after tournament as a teenager, racking up 134 wins in 140 fights, 80 of them by knockout. From his gold medal at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, to his early accomplishments overseas, Klitschko seemed to be on the path to tremendous success. The last few years have seen him take several steps back on his road to the top. Thus far, the potential talked about hasn’t been reached.
The problem with any analysis of the younger Klitschko is that staring at you is a 6’6 240 plus pounds physical specimen with the best offensive arsenal in the heavyweight division in years. It’s remiss to ignore the raw skills Wladimir brings to the ring: the snapping jab, the left hook and the straight right. His hands are lightning fast and his footwork shows nimbleness not associated with athletes that tall and muscular. It’s also impossible to dismiss the fact that boxing is a sport where ability alone won’t get you anywhere.
What has stood out from all the bizarreness of the Brewster fight and the knockout defeat to the semi-retired portly South African Sanders is that Wladimir is a tremendous athlete, who may not be a great boxer.
A boxer is a rare breed of both physical and mental toughness. This isn’t a team sport where a loss is shared amongst 20 plus individuals, a coaching staff and franchise. When a boxer encounters adversity, it’s the fighter and the fighter only that is in the spotlight. Defeats are avenged months, if not years later; leaving a fighter a long time to painstakingly analyze what went wrong. He must put aside the “L” on his record, ignore the endless array of critics and resume as though his record is unblemished. It’s about going back to the drawing board and making sure that history doesn’t repeat itself. There has to be an understanding that each opponent is different; that each fight carries with it a different set of circumstances.
Wladimir Klitschko doesn’t have a glass jaw, nor are his defensive skills as poor as some of the amateur analysts claim. He simply lacks the ability to adjust to his opponent’s offensive arsenal. When things don’t go his way, he hasn’t shown the ability to adapt his fight plan accordingly. He falls apart at the first sign of hardship. Exhibit A — The Sanders fight. It started out typical Dr.Steelhammer, with the champion snapping the jab and landing the right hand. In the middle of the first round, seemingly out of nowhere, Sanders landed a straight left flush, wobbling Wladimir and leaving him lost as to how to react to a being on the receiving end. Klitschko continued to move forward, exposing himself to further punishment, culminating in the first knockdown. Essentially the fight was lost after the first straight left landed. At that point it was Klitschko’s chance to show he could take a punch and regroup, quickly examining the situation before him and determining how best to lose a round and come back fighting in the second. It didn’t happen.
It was eerily similar to Wladimir’s first loss to American veteran Ross Puritty, in which Klitschko dominated for 10 rounds and simply tired in the 11-th, losing because of sheer fatigue. Someone should have reminded the younger Klitschko that Puritty doesn’t hit the canvas. Klitschko didn’t adjust his game plan in the 5-th or 6-th rounds to account for the fact that the fight was likely to go the distance. He went at Puritty with everything he had, leaving nothing for the last 2 rounds of the fight. He lost the fight on tactics alone.
This is where one of boxing’s finest strategists enters the picture — Emanuel Stewart. He has fashioned legendary careers from fighters like Thomas Hearns and Lennox Lewis, both thought of as defensively weak and less than granite chinned. Stewart recently said: “ Wladimir is as good as anyone I have ever trained. He has as much potential as any fighter I have ever seen.” Those are big words coming from a trainer with the pedigree of Stewart. Considering he breeds thoroughbreds, Stewart wouldn’t risk his stellar standing in the boxing community to undertake a project that didn’t have a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Tonight is part 2 in Steward’s chaperoning of Wladimir Klitschko. Part 1 ended fatefully with an unfathomable loss.
Now that he has been exposed as a fighter that can only fight on the offensive, how he reacts to the first signs of adversity, no matter how minute, may decide his future fate. If he reacts like a Stewart-trained prodigy, and defeats his opponent, part 3 of the Klitschko-Stewart partnership will follow. It has to be said that the sky will be the limit.
A defeat means the end to a career that never came close to reaching the apex it should have. It will also mean the Klitschko family honour will no longer be divided amongst two fighting brothers. One will be a champion and the other — as much physically as verbally — a big flop.