Kl­itschko’s con­sis­tency will be his le­gacy

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS -

NEW YORK — Wladimir Kl­itschko had to lose be­fore he was fi­nally ac­cepted by most box­ing fans.

Now that he’s re­tir­ing, maybe it’s time to fully ap­pre­ci­ate the for­mer heavy­weight cham­pion who never seemed to get his due.

Kl­itschko was as dom­i­nant as he was bor­ing, hold­ing pieces of the heavy­weight ti­tle for the bet­ter part of a decade in a reign not seen since the days of Joe Louis. His fights weren’t al­ways works of art, but they were the work of an ex­pert who un­der­stood how to con­trol space and dis­tance in the ring.

Amer­i­can box­ing fans never warmed to him, but he could fill soc­cer sta­di­ums in Ger­many, where fans didn’t com­plain about his cau­tious style and rev­eled in his abil­ity to dom­i­nate an op­po­nent from the first bell to the last.

His brother Vi­tali — now the mayor of Kiev — came first and be­tween them the two Ukraini­ans raised in the old Soviet ath­letic sys­tem pretty much dis­patched any­one in their path.

Score­board

Vi­tali came within a bad cut of beat­ing Len­nox Lewis in 2003, and Wladimir didn’t lose for 11 years af­ter be­ing knocked out by La­mon Brew­ster in 2004.

Out­side the ring there was a lot to like about both of them. They hold ad­vanced col­lege de­grees, speak four lan­guages and never talk trash about their op­po­nents or any­one else.

In the early 2000s they were try­ing to es­tab­lish them­selves in the US, even as the heavy­weight di­vi­sion was tee­ter­ing on life sup­port. The broth­ers were al­ways en­gag­ing with the me­dia, telling jokes and ea­ger to dis­cuss just about any­thing — in mul­ti­ple lan­guages.

They were un­pre­ten­tious and made it clear right away they would never fight each other be­cause they promised their mother they wouldn’t.

That they also sucked up most of the air of a heavy­weight di­vi­sion with few con­tenders was a re­gret­table le­gacy.

Wladimir could have fought more in the US, but the de­fen­sive style he de­vel­oped with the late trainer Emanuel Stew­ard af­ter be­ing knocked out by Brew­ster was never go­ing to be pleas­ing to box­ing fans who like their heavy­weights to trade punches.

The champ him­self ad­mit­ted be­fore his fi­nal fight — a KO loss to An­thony Joshua in April — that he had been bor­ing even while beat­ing ev­ery­one who was put in front of him.

Ironic, then, that in his last fight Kl­itschko not only put on the show of his ca­reer but won a lot of new fans do­ing it.

Among them were the 90,000 peo­ple packed into Wem­b­ley Sta­dium in Lon­don who came to cheer for the fear­some English slug­ger but left with new re­spect for Kl­itschko.

He had Joshua down in that fight and ap­peared on his way to a win be­fore Joshua stopped him in the 11th round in a wild slugfest.

The fight was a clas­sic, so good that there were plans for a Las Ve­gas re­match in Novem­ber.

That’s not go­ing to hap­pen now, but it’s not nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing.

At age 41, Kl­itschko is an­cient by heavy­weight stan­dards, and he’s made more than enough money to lead a com­fort­able life with his fi­ancée, Amer­i­can ac­tress Hay­den Panet­tiere, and their young daugh­ter.

There’s no rea­son to risk tak­ing a beat­ing in a re­match with Joshua.

Af­ter win­ning an Olympic gold medal at the 1996 At­lanta Games and 64 of his 69 pro­fes­sional fights, there’s also noth­ing re­ally left to prove in the ring, even against a young fighter he had on the can­vas be­fore los­ing.

Kl­itschko is hang­ing up his gloves at a time when the heavy­weight di­vi­sion is sud­denly resur­gent.

There’s Joshua and un­beat- en Amer­i­can cham­pion Deon­tay Wilder seem­ingly on a col­li­sion course with each other, as well as a num­ber of other promis­ing heavy­weights work­ing their way up the food chain.

He’s also leav­ing with two straight losses, af­ter los­ing his ti­tles to Tyson Fury in 2015 be­fore be­ing stopped by Joshua.

But Kl­itschko is bow­ing out with new­found re­spect from box­ing fans who saw him reach deep to nearly top­ple Joshua in a fight that did more for his im­age than any of the 68 be­fore it.

He ended up hav­ing a great ca­reer, though he’ ll likely not be men­tioned among the all­time greats. That’s the price he will pay for his cau­tion­ary style and lack of qual­ity op­po­nents.

Still, the last thing most box­ers do is re­tire when they should.

Kl­itschko is one of the few smart enough to leave the same way he al­ways fought — on his own terms.

AP FILE

Wladimir Kl­itschko cel­e­brates with his belts af­ter win­ning a 2011 heavy­weight ti­tle uni­fi­ca­tion bout against David Haye in Ham­burg, Ger­many.

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