Wladimir Klitschko: A Heavyweight Legend
They say it’s only when a fighter retires that their achievements are truly appreciated…
Wladimir Klitschko (64-5-0, 53 KO’s) had a professional career spanning over 20 years, with two stints as Champion of the world during that time. If you add that to the fact that he also boasts an Olympic Gold medal, it is clear to see that Klitschko is one of the greatest Heavyweights of recent times.
Wladimir has been an exceptional fighter from the day he stepped between the ropes. After becoming Junior European Champion in 1993, and then runner up in the Junior World Championships in 1994 (both at Heavyweight), Klitschko stepped up to the senior competitions – now campaigning at Super Heavyweight – coming in second at the European Championships in 1996.
However, his crowning glory as an amateur undoubtedly came later that year at the Atlanta Olympics, where he bested all opposition to earn himself an Olympic Gold medal. In doing so, he asserted himself as one of the most exciting prospects in world boxing heading into the paid ranks.
Following on from his Olympic success, ‘Dr Steelhammer’ made his professional debut in November 1996, following in the footsteps of his elder brother Vitali (who also became a formidable World Champion). After twenty three stoppage victories in his first twenty four fights, Klitschko suffered a shock first defeat as a professional at the hands of Ross Puritty (31-20-3, 21 KO’s) in their 1998 WBC International Heavyweight title bout. Klitschko looked in complete control throughout the contest, but inexperience seemed to get to the Ukrainian, looking exhausted as he wilted at the end of the tenth round under pressure from Puritty. The unheralded American then finished the job in the eleventh, with Klitschko’s corner man Fritz Sdunek entering the ring to halt the contest.
The defeat only proved to be a minor setback however, as Wladimir continued to pick up various International titles before his breakthrough bout against slick southpaw Chris Byrd (41-5-1, 22 KO’s). With scores of 120-106, 199-107 and 118-108, Klitschko cruised to his first World title. Five defences followed – all won by stoppage – before rugged South African Corrie Sanders (42-4-0, 31 KO’s) caused a huge upset by stopping Klitschko inside two rounds in August of 2003 in Hannover, Germany. After being caught cold by Sanders’ trademark straight left in the opener, Klitschko never recovered, being dropped a further three times before the contest was waved off. It was another monumental shock for the Ukrainian, who had just signed a nine-fight deal with American broadcaster HBO.
Following two low-key comeback fights, Klitschko challenged Lamon Brewster (35-6-1, 30 KO’s) for the vacant WBO crown. However, the frailties that had haunted him in his previous losses would rear their ugly head once again, succumbing to Brewster in the fifth round of the contest. The loss was the Klitschko’s first fight under the guidance of the legendary Emanuel Steward. The defeat proved to be a blessing, as Steward overhauled Dr Steelhammer’s style to leave him less vulnerable. The results were emphatic: Klitschko would not lose another fight for over 11 years.
Wladimir regained World honours in April 2006, defeating Chris Byrd once again, this time for the IBF & IBO World Heavyweight titles. Three routine defences followed – including a 6th round TKO revenge win over Brewster – before Klitschko added the WBO strap to his collection with a dominant 12 round Unanimous Decision win over previously unbeaten Russian Sultan Ibragimov (22-1-1, 17 KO’s).
Top 10 contenders Tony Thompson, Hasim Rahman, Ruslan Chagaev and Samuel Peter (x2) were all brushed aside by Wladimir, before claiming the WBA ‘Super’ title in a highly-anticipated 2011 unification bout with Britain’s David ‘Hayemaker’ Haye (28-3-0, 26 KO’s). Klitschko controlled the fight from the opening bell behind his jab, with the smaller Haye struggling to land anything of note throughout the contest. Despite a heated build-up, Klitschko remained composed, refusing to be drawn into a fight with Haye, instead utilising his superior reach advantage en route to a lopsided 12 round Unanimous Decision.
Klitschko – alongside elder brother Vitali, who held the WBC World Heavyweight title – continued to rule over the Heavyweight division. Wins over unbeaten foes Kubrat Pulev, Bryant Jennings and Alexander Povetkin would further cement his legacy as one of the most dominant Champions in history. In total, Klitschko defended his World Heavyweight titles 23 times: a feat only surpassed by the legendary Joe Louis.
However, his time as World Champion came to an abrupt end at the hands of British giant Tyson Fury in November 2015, who befuddled the ageing Klitschko for twelve rounds in Düsseldorf, Germany. Fury’s mind games in the build-up seemed to have a marked effect on fight night as Klitschko looked reluctant to throw his punches. Fury’s elusiveness would also cause Klitschko problems, switching stance and off-setting Klitschko as he cruised to a shock Unanimous Decision victory to dethrone the long standing Champion.
After the scheduled rematch with Fury fell through twice, Klitschko would face another British Heavyweight in the shape of IBF World Champion and knockout-artist Anthony Joshua (19-0-0, 19 KO’s) with the vacant WBA ‘Super’ title and Joshua’s IBF belt on the line. The showpiece event took place at Wembley Stadium in front of 90,000 fans, who witnessed what turned out to be Klitschko’s final professional bout. After a cagey opening four rounds, Joshua dropped Klitschko in the fifth but seemed to tire as he tried to follow-up and put his man away. Klitschko would then turn-the-tables with a dramatic knockdown of his own in the sixth, causing Joshua to rise on unsteady legs. Joshua would somehow survive the round, but Klitschko appeared in the ascendancy and looked to be in control of the fight. As the fight wore on, the general consensus was the scorecards were very close, however, Joshua rendered them insignificant after catching Klitschko with a brutish uppercut in the eleventh, badly hurting Klitschko. Joshua would seize his opportunity and dropped Klitschko to the canvas twice, forcing the referee to bring an end to the contest, and as with it, the career of Wladimir Klitschko. The torch had been passed.
Klitschko can be proud of his incredible accomplishments as an amateur and professional, winning a combined 198 of his 209 contests and losing just 11. Although he was unsuccessful in his final fight with Joshua, the contest at Wembley Stadium was a fitting send off for the legendary Champion, as he left the ring to the sound of cheers and adulation: arguably gaining more credit in defeat than he received during his many career victories.
Wladimir Klitschko is a legend of the Heavyweight division, and now that he has left the sport, he may finally begin to be appreciated…
Article by: Luke Madeira
You can follow Luke on Twitter at: @lukemadeira15