Did you hear the one about Vitaly Klitschko and the hungry, young contender? No, nor did I. Admittedly, Vitaly Klitschko hasn’t fought during a particularly glowing period for heavyweights. His tenure, interrupted by a now mysteriously cured knee problem, as the leading heavyweight began when Lennox Lewis retired and has continued through soporific contests with Danny Williams, Kirk Johnson, Corrie Sanders, Sam Peter, Juan Carlos Gomez, Chris Arreola and latterly Albert Sosnowski. So maybe, the revelation Danish pastry Brian Nielsen is making a comeback aged 45 will be welcome news in the Klitschko castle if nowhere else.
I first read the story of Brian Nielsen’s imminent return here
Every heavyweight champion that ever laced them up has enjoyed easy pay-days. From Ali to Tyson and those that preceded and followed them have all indulged themselves for a straightforward payday. And a degree of forgiveness is possible for the likes of Ali who entertained between the ropes regardless of the opposition and who fought ‘patsies’ between historic contests with 4 or 5 of the best 30 heavyweights of all time. Klitschko fits in soft defences between soft defences.
Of course, it isn’t entirely his fault. He isn’t opting for HBO hype job Arreola instead of Joe Frazier or tackling Albert Sosnowski and ducking Sonny Liston. The division is weak, weakened further by multiple belts which illuminate the careers of too many mediocre fighters but leave the followers of the division in the dark – is there a heavyweight who hasn’t challenged for the title in the past twenty years? Purely a victim of his own era? Or perhaps his own dominance? Or just the misfortune of discovering the leading contender to the crown to be his brother?
I have to disagree. The WBC belt holder has to accept some responsibility. Klitschko first kept the division in flux while pulling out of a series of fights 4-5 years ago when his body appeared close to collapse as a collection of injuries forced him to retire. The sycophants at the WBC coined a new title, Champion Emeritus, to permit the giant to return at his whim and contest the title – leaving a shadow over his successors and cheapening the work of those who contested eliminators during his long absence. Those sycophants compounded the unsavoury haste shown by The Ring magazine who bestowed their previously impeachable championship belt on him for his victory over Danny Williams following Lennox Lewis’ retirement. That was all it took, a win over Danny Williams. The Ring sold itself cheap that day.
Neither occurrence was Klitschko’s fault but it benefitted him by implication as it has proven the crucible for his pre-eminence despite a distinct lack of victories over opponents of any historical significance. It is a pre-eminence which is laden with responsibility, one Klitschko carries with dignity of demeanour but an absence of vigour and vitality. The truth is he was stopped by a bloated and old Lennox Lewis and has subsequently taken out the bitterness he felt that night on a string of old and/or bloated heavyweights.
Despite the paucity of talent and risk prevalent in the heavyweight rankings, Klitschko has failed to negotiate fights with Nicolay Valuev, a fight that would have unified two belts and presented a physical if not technical challenge for him nor has he fought either of the sprightly movers who beat the 7ft Russian – Ruslan Chagaev and David Haye – or the only American to win in a heavyweight title prize-fight in recent times, John Ruiz.
For those who scoff at my cynicism, please be assured that I am not doubting Klitschko the elder’s ruggedness nor his awkward effectiveness but I just grow tired of the protestations that he is anything other than a big, fit guy in a weak era. I’m force-fed by the WBC and media opinion his supposed dominance, a theory cautious matchmaking and predictable execution of drawn out victories in a collection of forgettable defences fails to corroborate. I would venture the WBC champion will understand just how precious a commodity David Haye has become if he is to ever convince the historians of his importance as either an all-time or even modern great before meandering to his dotage and the Hall of Fame.
Haye provides Klitschko with dynamism and daring the crown he currently lays claim to demands but of late, so rarely gets. In fact, Klitschko can ill-afford to beat Haye too easily should the contest ever be negotiated. He needs it to be hard. He needs to be pushed. He needs an opponent to demonstrate his resolve, ability and ring generalship against. If Haye isn’t that opponent – heaven knows who is – but it almost certainly will not be whoever Vitaly Klitschko fights next..