Klitschko proved his heavy mettle
Updated: 2013-12-20 07:40
By Murray Greig (China Daily)
The pantheon of boxing's all-time greatest heavyweight champions is very exclusive - Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, Jack Johnson, George Foreman - so it's no disgrace to be firmly ensconced in the second tier.
That's right where Vitali Klitschko belongs: just south of Sonny Liston, Larry Holmes and Lennox Lewis, but ahead of Jack Dempsey, Rocky Marciano, Joe Frazier and Mike Tyson.
Klitschko announced this week he is giving up the WBC title he's owned since 2008 and walking away from boxing to pursue a bid for the presidency of Ukraine in 2015. While not calling it a formal retirement, the 42-year-old gave every indication we've seen the last of him in the ring. If that indeed is the case, he's stepping out on top.
Klitschko leaves with a record of 45-2, including 41 KOs. In his four victories by decision - against Shannon Briggs, Kevin Johnson, Timo Hoffman and Dereck Chisora - he won an astonishing 137 of 144 rounds.
Even more impressive is that in the two fights the 6-foot-7, 250-pounder lost - to Lennox Lewis and Chris Byrd - he was leading on all three scorecards when the bouts were stopped.
In 2000 a shoulder injury forced him to quit in the corner after the ninth round against Byrd, and three years later he sustained a horrific facial cut that prompted the referee to halt his showdown with Lewis after six.
While Klitschko deserves to be hailed as the best of his generation, what diminishes his standing as an all-time great is that he fought only one of his four best contemporaries - Lewis.
Tyson, Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield never made it to the champ's dance card.
Perhaps Klitschko's greatest legacy is that he was the poster boy for the new breed of super-sized heavyweights. While not particularly skilled in terms of pure boxing ability, he combined power, determination and courage. Add to that the fact he always showed up in shape and consistently represented the sport with class and dignity outside the ring, and it spells out a Hall of Fame career.
With Vitali's departure, the torch is now passed to his brother Wladimir, 37, who holds the WBA, WBO and IBF titles. While not as big or strong, the younger Klitschko has managed to carve out his own legacy while compiling a record of 61-3 (52 KOs) against softer opposition.
In an odd way, breaking up the Klitschko stranglehold on the titles could turn out to be a blessing for boxing as the sport struggles to retain relevance. The most reliable gauge of the public's perception of the sweet science has always been the larger-than-life persona of the world heavyweight champion - which remains the most prestigious title in all of sport.
With Vitali out of the picture and his brother likely to follow sooner rather than later, the door is open for the likes of unbeaten American Deontay Wilder (30-0, 30 KOs), Canada's Bermane Stiverne (23-1, 20 KOs) and Mexican sensation Andy Ruiz, who improved to 21-0 by notching his 15th KO in Macao last month. Any one of these young guns could step up and challenge for the vacated WBC crown and/or take on Wladimir in a unification bout in 2014.
Either way, it would be a major step in putting the "world" back in the vox populi of who is boxing's best heavyweight not from Ukraine.
Murray Greig is a Canadian author and former boxing trainer. He can be contacted at email@example.com
(China Daily 12/20/2013 page23)