Kl­itschko was dom­i­nant but never re­ally got his due

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY TIM DAHLBERG

Wladimir Kl­itschko had to lose be­fore he fi­nally be­came ac­cepted by most fight 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 a boxer 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. Fans there didn’t com­plain about his cau­tious style, in­stead rev­el­ing 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. Vi­tali Kl­itschko came within a bad cut of beat­ing Len­nox Lewis in 2003, and Wladimir didn’t lose for 11 years af­ter suf­fer­ing a knock­out loss to La­mon Brew­ster in 2004.

Out­side the ring there was a lot to like about both of them. They held ad­vanced col­lege de­grees, spoke four lan­guages and re­fused to talk trash about their op­po­nents or any­one else.

I re­mem­ber meet­ing them for the first time at an ex­tended stay mo­tel off the Las Ve­gas Strip, where they were stay­ing. It was the early 2000s and they were try­ing to es­tab­lish them­selves in the United States even as the heavy­weight divi­sion was tee­ter­ing on life sup­port. We talked some box­ing, sure, but it was clear right away that th­ese two be­he­moths were com­fort­able dis­cussing any­thing.

I re­minded Wladimir of the meet­ing when we talked be­fore his loss to Anthony Joshua in April and he not only re­mem­bered it, but also the name of the mo­tel they were stay­ing in. Two un­pre­ten­tious brothers, two heavy­weights who made it clear right away they would never fight each other be­cause they promised their mother they wouldn’t.

Wladimir Kl­itschko could have fought more in the U.S., and 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.

Kl­itschko him­self ad­mit­ted be­fore his fi­nal fight 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 against Joshua 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 to do it again in Las Ve­gas in Novem­ber.

That’s not go­ing to hap­pen now, but it’s not nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing. At the age of 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 (1996) 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 in April.


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