Vitali Klitschko, 37, was never a great fighter. He certainly wasn’t a great heavyweight champion. In fact, I’d go further I’d say he was a poor heavyweight champion and little more than a mediocre fighter. Like many in the curious, contrary world of boxing his repute grew more in gritty defeat to an ageing Lennox Lewis than in any of his victories, of which I would struggle to summon a single performance of historic significance.
Mediocre heavyweight champions come and go, In the likes of Hasim Rahman, John Ruiz [much though I admire his character], Sultan Ibragimov, Ruslan Chagaev, Nicolay Valuev and Lamon Brewster the world has endured a few in recent years. The public recognition of the heavyweight champion and his significance has been slowly eradicated by a splintered title-picture created by sanctioning bodies interested solely in commercial gain. Not since Lennox Lewis’ reign drew to a close in 2003 has a dominant force been present in the division, both Vitali and Wladimir have tried to fill the departed champion’s shoes and both failed.
Vitali, to whom the Ring magazine bestowed their heavyweight title with unsavoury haste following a disjointed victory over semi-retired Corrie Sanders, never delivered on his supposed promise. Beating a fat Sanders, a fat Danny Williams and a version of Kirk Johnson so ill-prepared Sherman Klump could have got the shot, is precious little evidence of his dominance. A knee injury eventually curtailed his tenure and Danny Williams proved to be his last contest in 2004.
In retirement, the elder Klitschko pursued his political aspirations and appeared shorn of much of his muscle mass very swiftly after announcing his enforced abdication. He looked a world removed from the heavyweight picture and very unlikely to return as so many of his predecessors had, Lewis aside.
Fast forward three years, late 2007, and Klitschko announced a comeback, seemingly cured of his knee problems but once again his fragile physiology intervened and it is only now, 10 months on from his grandly announced return that his fight against Samuel Peter can be set. The ridiculous assertion by Jose Suliman, the President of the WBC of which Klitschko was formerly champion, that Klitschko would become Champion Emeritus on retirement, a new tag that facilitated an immediate title shot if he ever elected to return.
It made a mockery of Oleg Maskaev’s subsequent capture of the title and the eliminator and mandatory status Sam Peter earned too. Even for the WBC it left a sour taste. Made more sour by the injuries that befell Klitschko the more he tried to prepare his middle age body for combat. For all their limitations, neither Maskaev or Peter are fighters with whom anyone would wish to tangle without being in at least satisfactory shape.
I suggested Klitschko would never, in actuality, ever make it to the ring and October 11th, when the fight is scheduled, remains some distance, and many hard hours of training, away. But I must concede that Klitschko’s perseverance is impressive and while I don’t believe he will ever elevate himself to the same level as his nemesis Lennox Lewis he will prove this cynic wrong if he finally stares across the ring at the big Nigerian in October regardless of the outcome.
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