Matthew Hurley: Within the confines of historic Madison Square Garden in New York City, IBF and IBO heavyweight belt holder Wladimir Klitschko, 50-3 with 44 KOs and WBO belt holder Sultan Ibragimov, 22-1-1 with 17 KOs engaged in the first unification bout in the division since then belt holders Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis fought in a rematch in the same venue back in November of 1999. On that night Lewis captured the crown, if not the universal acclaim of the boxing public, and tonight Wladimir Klitschko took one step further in his quest to become the universally recognized champion in boxing’s flagship division..
Unfortunately the fight in which he begins his ascent lacked any real fistic drama. The only aspect of the fight that seemed to galvanize the crowd was the anticipation of Klitschko actually throwing his vaunted right hand. Instead he was content to single jab for nearly six rounds, his right hand cocked, while Ibragimov back peddled and swung looping left hands that missed.
Klitschko began the fight in a parrying mode, slapping away at Ibragimov’s right jab in an almost comic fashion. The tactics adopted by Wladimir did not provide for scintillating action but it became obvious as the rounds progressed that the Ukrainian fighter was more than content to jab his way to victory. Trainer Emanuel Steward appeared completely at ease with his fighter’s approach, at least until the later rounds when he became more animated in the corner. Whether it was Ibragimov’s southpaw stance that necessitated such an extremely cautious tact on Wladimir’s part or if his opponent’s underrated foot speed bothered him Klitschko simply banged away with the jab and eased his way to a decision victory.
It wasn’t until the eighth round that Klitschko opened up at all. Ibragimov was pushed to the canvas which energized the crowd and then in the ninth round was pummeled briefly into the ropes but no real damage was done. In the tenth round both fighters spilled to the mat but such instances only reiterated what a disappointing showdown this was.
As the bout entered the championship rounds Klitschko opened up a bit more but the status quo remained – jab, parry and throw the occasional right hand. In some ways it seemed as if Wladimir just wanted to get this one out of the way. There’s nothing wrong with that if he continues to take on not only mandatory challengers but unifies all the belts. Not every performance is going to be a highlight reel candidate, but tonight it certainly would have been nice. A cautious approach was not what was hoped for going into the first heavyweight unification bout in eight years, but that’s what we got.
The criticisms of Klitschko will continue despite the win because he did not bring the sense of drama that marginal boxing fans pine for in remembrance of past champions Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson, but he is slowly carving out his own niche. Sometimes he’s exciting and sometimes he isn’t. He’s more in the mold of his predecessor Lennox Lewis and Lewis was slammed by the boxing public for his often cautious approach. It wasn’t until he was gone that he was appreciated for clearing out the division as he did. It’s still up for grabs if Wladimir can do what Lewis did but regardless he remains the pivotal figure in the division.
The final scores for the fight were 119-110, 117-111, and 118-110. I scored the bout 119-110.