Giant former champion Vitali Klitschko may well have been the consensus champion when a knee injury forced him into retirement in 2004, shortly after he removed his kitchen sink from Danny Williams’ face, but he wasn’t the modern great many seem to retrospectively believe he was. His return got a few fans hot and sweaty but always left me a little cold. He was never really that good was he?
True he was the Ring belt holder, an honour bestowed without sufficient foundation in my opinion. Victory over a semi-retired, 40 year old Corrie Sanders and an obese version of Kirk Johnson is a shallow pool of achievement. It was evident at the time that the Ring had acted in haste and their action cast a long shadow over their own quest for legitimacy in this confusing era of multiple belts.
Is it really possible to become a Ring champion despite never having beaten a top 10 heavyweight? A case could be made for Sanders or Johnson being leading contenders, or maybe even Herbie Hide back in 1999, but all are, and were, deeply flawed. And despite the paucity of talent presently, there is a strong line of fighters Klitschko failed to face.
Klitschko’s first defence added little to his now dormant resume either, tackling Danny Williams – the man who socked it to Mike Tyson – but immediately ballooned and lost focus in the aftermath. Not quite Buster Douglasesque, as Williams still fought with heart versus Klitschko, but Williams is, like Johnson, Mahone, Donald, Bean et al, a limited performer.
Klitschko’s record is bereft of quality names, only Herbie Hide, Chris Byrd, Corrie Sanders and Lennox Lewis held or have held world titles, he lost to two of them and Hide’s claim to the World Championship in 1999 was tenuous at best. Advocates will claim misfortune for Klitschko’s defeat to Lewis, on cuts, and to Byrd, retired due to injury, but the record doesn’t lie. Welcoming Klitschko back with such glee, the WBC succeeded only in cheapening their belt further and undermining the achievement of Oleg Maskaev in winning it in Klitschko’s absence.
His feted return, which came close to scuppering the intriguing Maskaev v Samuel Peter clash, now lays in taters with a spinal injury postponing – read cancelling – his clash with Jameel McCline, an honest contender with bills to pay.
Perhaps I’m bitter at the swell of opinion that exaggerated Klitschko’s success versus an unmotivated and ageing Lennox Lewis, but Klitschko’s attempted return has done little for the sport and its entirely necessary pursuit of a unifying heavyweight. Unconfirmed reports, circulated by the McCline camp, that he’s being bashed up in sparring only further fuel the suspicion that Klitschko’s comeback was ill-considered and over hyped.
Capable though he was, his ability has been romanticised since his retirement. He never beat a leading contender of note. For all his critics, the similarities between his record and that of Nicolay Valuev are hard to ignore.
And Valuev has never been taken seriously.