This Time It’s Personal For Wladimir Klitschko

02.28.06 – By Chris Acosta: Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward once likened his charge, heavyweight contender Wladmir Klitschko, as a “beautiful car.” He then continued with the auto-analogy by explaining that Wlad had suffered a flat tire against Corrie Sanders and then a blow-out against Lamon Brewster, which by all accounts was a pretty bizarre finish.

Mr. Steward had a good point. From a physical standpoint, the younger Klitschko is indeed a luxury model that handles well and houses plenty of horsepower. But after his technical win (and a shaky one at that) against Davarryl Williamson, many suggested that this hot rod was more fiberglass than steel, terrible on gas and prone to overheating.What was once a promising heavyweight became the latest in a string of over-hyped big men who juggled the torch past on by Lennox Lewis. Brother Vitali was a reasonable substitute, fun to watch and consistent but when he recently retired due to repeated injury, the heavyweight landscape was suddenly without a dominant figure.

James Toney is an instinctual talent but is nearing the end of his warranty. Hasim Rahman, who will challenge Toney for the vacant WBC title on March 18, is capable but far too wishy-washy to put together any momentum should he win.

Wladimir had his last chance against Samuel Peter last September but the feeling was that of little confidence. Our car breaks down a few times, we take it in to the mechanic but even after diagnosing the problem and then correcting it, there’s still the feeling that things won’t ever be the same. Luckily for us humans, we can overcome functional deficiencies the way a machinery cannot. It isn’t easy though. Mental blocks are more often than not, too difficult to completely overcome and eventually they force us to take an alternate route around them.

Had Klitschko decided to call it a career he could have driven off into the sunset with the knowledge that he’d held the WBO title and beaten some fighters of good standing. But with a supposedly less talented sibling who’d gone even further on a fierce tenacity that younger brother didn’t seem to have and with a merciless media ready to mock the family name, the Ukrainian decided to give it another go. And against the wrong kind of opponent no less.

Don’t believe what you’ve been reading about Sam Peter being a poor man’s version of David Tua. The Nigerian is a powerhouse and while he is flawed, so too were Earnie Shavers, Ron Lyle and a guy named Rocky Marciano. Each of them left various stamps on the division despite eating more punches than the most hardened sado-masochist.

If Wlad was as fragile as he appeared then he was in no position to absorb the punches of Peter, whose fists could be registered as fender-benders. But amazingly, we waited for the accident to happen and it never did. Even when Samuel landed a crashing left hook at the close of round three and we waited for big Wlad to flop about in an unconscious spasm, he didn’t.

“If Wladimir Klitschko has a glass chin, then it was made of strong glass on that occasion.” Larry Merchant said in mild disbelief to the HBO audience. The fight in itself was bigger than a bout between two contenders, at least in Klitschko’s case. His mind and confidence, surely two facets of his game that even he must have questioned, were tested. He went down three times (though none of the knockdowns were clean; having more to do with the Nigerians superior physical strength) fought with nice discipline and composure and even managed to stagger Peter with a booming hook in the final round.

Sadly, many of the media criticized the bout for a lack of action which seemed difficult to comprehend judging by the raucous crowd reaction. Even KO Magazine’s usually reliable William Detloff, wrote a piece considering Peter-who had been out boxed soundly- to have the greater upside to his career. Despite proving his chin and stamina, Wlad is still seen as fragile, but I have to strongly disagree.

If anything, the past couple of years may prove highly valuable for Klitschko, impossible as that might seem in this age of overt cynicism. In his defeat to Sanders, Wladimir suffered a hit and run and in retrospect, many of us should have seen something like that coming. Life just loves to throw a wrench at us just when we think we are rolling along smoothly. Wlad
was unanimously recognized as the number one heavyweight behind Lennox Lewis, the media loved him and opponents were intimidated the first time they felt his jab, which made the rest of the fight as pleasant as a drive down US Route 101 here in California. But what happens when we round the turn towards a bright future and the brakes give out? Bad things.

If there was ever a downside to being very good at what you do, it’s that you’re less aware of the possibility of failure. Hasim Rahman would have suffered the same fate against Sanders in their bout for that fateful shot against Lewis, if not for the “helping” hands of David Tua and Oleg Maskaev. Rahman had felt violent defeat before and it hardened him. Tough experiences are what separate the veterans from the silver-spooned. He didn’t set the cruise control, lower the top and get on the cell phone so to speak, when he met the South African. He gripped the steering wheel and kept his eyes and ears open.

Wlad is at that point now. He was humiliated, saw his reputation take a nosedive and so what can he possibly lose now? The win over Peter showed tremendous character. There were moments in the fight when his facial expression had “a man at odds with himself” written all over it. Just as it appeared with Sanders and Brewster.

But the big guy overcame his own self-doubts and earned the shot against Chris Byrd, who most of us agree lacks the power to hurt Wlad and already showed he cannot outbox him. Brewster is a good man with a tremendous fighting heart but even he has to lay his hopes on Wlad collapsing from his own personal demons – should they still exist- when they inevitably meet again.

Instead of his adversaries fearing him, they could possibly be underestimating Wlad in this phase of his career and that would be a mistake. With his ability still intact, a desire to prove his worth to the suspecting public and the lessons behind him but not forgotten, he may again be ready for the showroom floor.