By Geoffrey Ciani: Fans of the heavyweight division finally have something to celebrate! For the first time in what seems like an eternity, unification is upon us. No, this one is not for all the marbles, but at least we will have someone who can claim to be a unified champion for the first time since Lennox Lewis decided to drop the IBF strap rather than face Chris Byrd. Not that I believe Byrd would have actually beaten Lewis, but that is a theme for another article..
Wladimir Klitschko is widely recognized as the best heavyweight in the world and for pretty good reason. Not only does Klitschko possess tremendous size and power to go along with the best jab in the division, but he has actually been improving since joining forces with Emmanuel Steward. Indeed, Klitschko has come a long way since the Brewster debacle and the Sanders fiasco.
On paper, this weekend’s unification bout between Klitschko and WBO champion Sultan Ibragimov appears like a mismatch. Klitschko is clearly the more talented fighter, with a better resume and more big fight experience. Ever since winning the IBF championship after knocking out Chris Byrd in their 2004 rematch, Klitschko has had three successful title defenses, all by way of knockout. By comparison, Ibragimov has looked less than spectacular in lackluster decisions over an aging Shannon Briggs and an ancient Evander Holyfield.
Since a Klitschko KO victory seems like a preordained conclusion, this begs the question: Can Sultan Ibragimov beat Wladimir Klitschko?
Of course, the answer to that question is yes. It is certainly plausible that Ibragimov can win. After all, this is boxing—a sport whose shining moments are often defined by the improbable. Whether we are discussing Cassius Clay’s upset victory over Sonny Liston or Mike Tyson’s shocking loss at the hands of Buster Douglas, time has proven that anything can happen when two pugilists lace up the gloves and enter the ring, especially in the heavyweight division.
A better question, however, might be: Will Ibragimov beat Klitschko?
Frankly, I find such an outcome to be extremely improbable. Klitschko is a seasoned pro who is not apt to make many mistakes in the ring, and in order for Ibragimov to win, Klitschko is going to need to make several mistakes. Under the tutorship of Steward, Wladimir has learned how to utilize his size, remain patient, and keep his composure under duress. This means it will be very unlikely for Ibragimov to be provided the type of opportunities he needs to have any chance at winning the contest.
On the other hand, I have always believed that when Klitschko ultimately loses, it would be against an opponent the boxing community would least expect to beat him, and in that light, Ibragimov seems to fit the bill. He is not known for having a tremendous KO punch and he is not known for being a sensational technician, but then again, he has respectable power and decent skills, so anything can happen.
Perhaps Ibragimov will go for broke early, and find a way to catch Wlad with a big left he never saw coming like Corrie Sanders did? Or maybe he can weather the storm, forcing Klitschko to punch himself out, following the Ross Purity blueprint? Is it also conceivable that Wladimir might just have an off-night? Of course, all of these scenarios are possible, but they seem highly unlikely. In the end, I suspect Klitschko will stop Ibragimov inside the distance, but that is what makes heavyweight boxing so exciting, and this is why we tune in to see the fights.
Either way, come Sunday, we will have a unified champion for the first time in nearly five years, and that is something for fans to get excited about.
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