“My heart is at peace as I pass the torch to Anthony Joshua – the next generation. Good luck little bro, I’m proud of you!” (Wladimir Klitschko – retirement statement)
After Wladimir Klitschko was knocked out in the eleventh round of his mega fight with Anthony Joshua it felt like the end. Reports suggested the pair would meet again in Africa or America. As a boxing fan I believe it is better that this did not materialise. It was time to Klitschko to call an end to his excellent career. The above quote sums up the Heavyweight greats class. Before the fight with Joshua there were well wishes and respect. After defeat they have clearly continued. It feels like the end of an era and indeed it is.
Klitschko’s career began back in 1996 making his debut on the same card as his older brother Vitali. The younger of the Klitschko brothers was undefeated for his first two years in professional boxing. He recorded an unbeaten record after his first 24 fights with 21 of those fights not going the distance. In that time he had claimed the WBC International heavyweight title.
Then disaster struck. Wladimir, fighting as a professional for the first time in his home country of Ukraine, faced American Ross Puritty. The American did not have the greatest record and the fight had a clear favourite with the home fighter. The fight started as expect ‘Dr. Steelhammer’ dominated the early rounds establishing his jab and generally being the busier fighter. However, he did not pace himself and by the tenth round he had gassed out. He went down twice at the end of the tenth, one was ruled a slip, and was knocked out in the following round.
Klitschko was back two months later showing his hunger and determination. He scored a KO victory over Zoran Vujecic and 15 more victories followed in a four year period of dominance. A long the way the Ukrainian boxer picked up his first World title, the WBO World heavyweight title. He won the belt in Germany against Chris Byrd by unanimous decision.
After successfully defending the belt he faced Corrie Sanders a man who gave the younger Klitschko brother his hardest lesson in boxing. Sanders knocked out his opponent in the second round of the fight. Klitschko was not invisible after all. A straight left early in the second knocked down the WBO champion and after that the fight was only going to go one way. It was a harsh lesson for the heavyweight champ which changed the way he went about his business in the ring. He was a very different fighter in these early parts of his career. He was open, aggressive and easy to hit. He wanted to fight and knock opponents out and with that comes obvious risk.
The next two fights went his way and he was offered a fight to reclaim his WBO belt that had been vacated. In his corner for this title shot was the famous boxing trainer Emanuel Steward. This was a serious move from ‘Dr Steelhammer’. He was attempting to address the issues that had caused him to lose his belt. As it is with boxing – nothing changes overnight. Wladimir was unable to regain his WBO title as Lamon Brewster stopped the big Ukrainian in the fifth round. Absolute disaster for Klitschko. The loss resulted in his older brother advising him to look for a new career. This is another example of Wladimir’s determination and desire to reach the top. He knew that with Steward in his corner and the lessons he could learn from him he could go again and redefine himself in the sport of boxing.
This happened! After the Brewster defeat Wladimir and Steward masterminded 16 straight victories together before the partnership came to an end. It saw Klitschko avenge his loss to Brewster in a fight the Ukrainian fighter defended his then recently won IBF World heavyweight title. He faced British cruiserweight king David Haye. The build up was fast paced and Wladimir really showed his quality and his class which only magnified the ignorance and cheap mind games Haye attempted. The fight was a non event and the size difference really showed. He knocked out Kubrat Pulev in 2014 and established himself as one of the all time greats over this period of sheer dominance of the heavyweight division. Not always the best fighter to watch his change of style brought him tremendous success.
Asking him now if he should have retired in 2015 after his unanimous victory over Bryant Jennings he may not admit it, but a part of him must entertain the thought. Tyson Fury had worked towards a fight with the great Wladmir for some time. He got his wish. Fury did what Fury does. He made the champion uncomfortable and his awkward style saw Wladmir lose for the first time in 11 years. Then the Joshua fight came and it was a classic. A genuinely fantastic night where he went toe to toe with the young dominant man in the division. Nobody can ever say he did not show his best on that night at Wembley and it is extremely clear to see that he was one or two clean shots away from winning that bout. However, it did not happen.
You may not like his style in the ring but it is very difficult to dislike the man. He is calm, confident and helps those around him. His legacy will be great and he went on to dominate heavyweight boxing with his brother for two decades. To have such a long and successful career in a division in which it takes one clean punch to lose a fight is remarkable. Wladimir Klitschko developed as a fighter immensely over the years, he put it all on the line and he carried on even when people around him said he should quit. He is a true legend of not just the heavyweight division but the entire sport of boxing.