Historically, dominance is a fleeting experience in the heavyweight division. Perhaps, thankfully fleeting. In the last century we’ve seen a number of periods in which one fighter reigned over the sports blue ribbon division. Louis, Marciano, Holmes, Tyson. An exalted list of greatness. Once in a generation fighters who destroyed their contemporaries and illuminated their respective eras. Something else unified those luminaries; the lack of a defining opponent.
Wladimir Klitschko, who turns 38 ahead of his next defence, is in the Autumn of a career even by today’s extended measure. Like those illustrious greats he finds himself searching for an opponent who will offer triumphant definition to his manicured statistics or risk being remembered for a defeat to Lamon Brewster in 2004 or a slew of moribund victories similar to the one he will accumulate in April when he tackles over-matched Alex Leapai.
In the 10 year period since Klitschko was ransacked by the sturdy but unremarkable Brewster, itself only a year after the South African Corrie Sanders uprooted the heavyweight stripling in a humbling two rounds, perhaps three challengers have emerged with qualities which distinguished them from the deluge of mediocrity surrounding them. David Haye and Alexander Povetkin encouraged believers. Haye swiftly gained repute and would use speed and power; Povetkin’s perceived credentials grew barnacles and his early aggression and bobbing style gave way to courage and pedestrianism.
Neither hit the Ukrainian.
Nicolay Valuev, the now retired Russian giant, never met either Klitschko but it was conceivable his weight and height could have presented a different challenge to the eternally circumspect champion. The fact he was clearly out boxed by Chagaev, was fortunate to sneak past Donald, Ruiz and Holyfield and lost narrowly to Haye subtracts significantly from any merit to this argument. He was just big. Beyond those three? On the current trajectory and with a review of the emerging heavyweights complete, the clashes with the rolling Nigerian, Samuel Peter, may prove as close as Klitschko gets to finding his ‘Joe Frazier’.
Some wise judges have grown to admire and respect this dominance. Weary of apportioning blame for lopsided points decision victories on the lack of dynamism omitted by the challenger or the champion’s caution. Electing instead to validate Klitschko’s place alongside the heavyweight champions of distinction from the last century by virtue of his extended unbeaten run.
This is a fashion oft exhibited by boxing writers. A boxing writer will enjoy the tang of acidity he can generate by cynically comparing the flaws exposed by Puritty,, Brewster and Sanders to the reflective brilliance of his predecessors but when longevity ensues the combination of accumulated victories and the realisation his continued attacks on the figure head of the sport threatens his own professional significance, the perspective shifts. Nobody wants to claim they cover a sport through an historically weak era, well not for long.
Little exists in the heavyweight landscape to suggest there is a forthcoming opponent who will push the veteran Ukrainian to his technical and emotional limit. To force him to engage, to expose his soul to the test which will help endear him to the wider boxing and sporting public. It all seems too easy. Robotic. Predictable.
But we must stay firm, objective, but true to the evidence available beneath the consistency and professionalism he demonstrates.. Can anyone make a case that Pianeta, Mormeck, Wach, Brock or Austin would have beaten Ron Lyle, Earnie Shavers, Jerry Quarry or David Tua? None of whom won a world title. Or Ken Norton who never won a world title fight? And yet these are the fighters on which Klitschko’s respect is built and beyond whom writers are beginning to place the younger of the Klitschko siblings.
So, now we turn to the winner of the Arreola and Stiverne rematch, or perhaps Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder or Mike Perez.
You have to feel for the Ukrainian.
Perez looks shorn of focus in his last fight, Wilder despite a pretty record believes fighting Malik Scott represents a step up and Arreola and Stiverne lack the quality to even best each other.
So Tyson, the floor is yours. Either prove Klitschko was the limited champion of a forgettable transitional era or provide the test which allows him to shake that mantle and justify the place fellow writers have begun to carve for him.