Champion Wladimir Klitschko (58-3 51 KOs) battered challenger Tony Thompson (36-3 24 KOs) into submission via a 6th round mercy stoppage to retain his WBO/IBO/WBA/IBF belts.
It wasn't long ago that I declared that greatness in boxing was as much a product of "quality of opposition as it is by records or championship belts." After having watched the Waldimir Klitschko/Tony Thompson tilt - and witnessing the utter lack of interest stateside in this fight - I can't help but feel vindicated. Thompson (36-3 24 KOs), is a 40 year old slugger best known for already having lost to Klitschko by 11th round TKO in 2008. Thompson is a game, solid, heavyweight with several quality wins on his resume and, despite an obvious skill set that placed him front and center (yet again) as the mandatory challenger, he was completely outclassed by Dr. Steelhammer. Folks, this wasn't a close fight; it was a clinical vivisection.
Despite the obvious mismatch, the challenger's advanced age, and the predictable result I felt compelled to dig a little deeper into the latest championship victory of a man whose record and title run would demand instant inclusion into the 'greatest ever' debate. I watched a replay of the fight and came away thinking that Wladimir might be unjustly judged by the complete LACK of a suitable challenger to his dominance. Is it really his fault that there is no Frazier to his Ali? Are his obvious physical advantages to be held against him? How would he have fared against the dominant heavies of other eras?
The answers to these questions are not easy to come by - especially if you are an American longing for the days when Americans dominated what was for over a hundred years the most glamorous designation in the sporting world - world's heavyweight champion. Or maybe they are easily answered if you call Europe home. After all, Americans have dominated the division for the better part of a 130 years and perhaps, for them, this is just the cyclical nature of sport finally laying hold of boxing's premier title.
To those boxing historians out there, sure, I am aware of the Freckled Wonder (Fitzsimmons), the diminutive Canadian, Tommy Burns, the misunderstood Max Schmeling, the brief reigns of the Amblin' Alp (Primo Carnera) and Johansson with his "Hammer of Thor" punch, nor the few other alphabet soup Euro "champions" of the 80s and 90s - - nor have I forgotten the British phenom, Lennox Lewis. What I am trying to say is that while I know there have been European exceptions the rule has been that American's have held, for the most part, the heavyweight belt since the bare-knuckled days of the great John L.
That dominance has held mostly true until the Klitschkos stalked upon the scene in the early 2000s. At last count their records are a combined 102-5 with 91 KOs and of those 5 losses two of them came on injuries where the elder Klitschko (Vitali) was winning easily. Dominance of this sort is almost unheard of in the annals of heavyweight boxing - and forget for a moment that we are talking about brothers sharing the significant titles with the same level of dominance as other past champions.
It's easy to forget that they have met every significant contender of their era - aside from themselves, a result of a promise to their mother that they would never fight each other - and with only one exception (the controversial stoppage of Vitali by Lewis in 2003) the brothers have won every significant fight and avenged each rare loss with a magnificence that would have garnered acclaim the level that Ali or Frazier enjoy to this day.
is their dominance simply a byproduct of a "weak" heavyweight division? To be honest, I had thought so until their dominance reached a Holmes like level. What else can they do but meet, and beat, the best the division can muster? A close examination of the recent Klitschko/Thompson fight reveals several things to the patient observer. Wladimir Klitschko moves better than any heavyweight of his size ever. His chin remains suspect but I maintain it no longer matters when your opponent cannot solve your jab, your cross, your movement nor your hook. Wald is possessed of one of the best jabs I have seen since Larry Holmes, another lonely and forgotten champion who deserves more recognition than he has been offered. It is like a pile-driving piston moving at Mach 4. It is beautiful. It is perfect. There is only one heavyweight who can lay claim to an equal or better jab in all the annals of recorded boxing and that is Larry Holmes. His straight right is eclipsed in modern effectiveness only by his own brother , Vitali, and is usually delivered behind that wonderful jab which, together, have wreaked havoc upon 58 victims. He moves with the speed and grace of a man 30 pounds lighter without taking unnecessary punishment.
Wladimir has learned from his setbacks rather than wallow in defiance of the obvious. He has weaknesses and he has learned from them: witness the Lamont Brewster debacle where Brewster played the part of an aggressive Joe Frazier, or the Purity result where he clearly ran out of steam against a game opponent despite the manhandling he had administered for 10 rounds, or even the punishment he endured at the hands of the heavy hitting South African,Corrie Sanders. He could have thrown in the towel, swallowed as accurate the unfair "great white hope" ridicule he faced in the wake of each of these losses but instead he learned from each of these setbacks and became a better fighter each time. What is there not to like, to respect, about that kind of dedication to the sport we love so much?
Some of you will read this and shake your collective heads at my perceived idiocy. I can hear your objections even now; "Can't you see that Ali would dance his way to an easy late round KO over the flat footed Russian" or that "Tyson would murder this guy with his speed" or that "Louis would take the measure of this pretender in less than 6!" A favorite of mine is the constant lament that "The heavyweight division is so weak that I could dominate" or, the 'brothers' wouldn't even have cracked the top 15 in any decade leading up to this one. Riiight...let's hear what Thompson had to say about Wlad's perceived lack of talent: "I just think that we’re (America) so used to dominating the heavy part of the sport, that we just found reasons to, you know, put the contenders down, and not give the Klitschkos full credit." I trust his judgment considering he had only lost to one other opponent in his 20 years as a professional boxer.
As I said, I watched this fight and many others and can honestly say that Wladimir is a deserving, talented champion who could stand toe to toe with the greats of most eras.
Round 1: 10-9 Thompson
The challenger landed the only meaningful blow of the 1st round and used an effective jab to force Klitschko to simply follow Thompson around the ring. A tactical round for both fighters.
Round 2: 10-9 Klitschko
The champion began to dictate distance in this round. He pushed the pace and his straight right landed effectively throughout. Thompson's jab continues to land. A somewhat sloppy round.
Round 3: 10- 9 Klitschko
Thompson continues to use an effective jab but it is clear he has nothing else to capture the Russian's attention. The end of the round finds Klitschko hunting the game Thompson around the ring. I wouldn't argue much if you gave Thompson the round but Klitschko was the aggressor and he landed 4 good body shots and several jabs and Thompson didn't offer much.
Round 4 : 10-9 Klitschko
Not much action other than what Klitschko initiated. Thompson landed a hard jab which was answered by a much harder right hand by Klitschko. Klitschko is overly careful in this round but one senses this is about to end.
Round 5: Klitschko 10-8
Klitschko starts to use his jab to establish range and it clearly affects Thompson. Klitschko has lulled his opponent into a false sense of security. Using the jab, Klitschko sets up a powerful straight right that Thompson never sees (thanks to the stiff jab) and the challenger kisses the canvas.
Round 6: Klitschko wins via TKO
Thompson never recovers from the big right hand in the 5th and the referee saves his 40 year old body and brain from severe damage. Klitschko was beginning to shows flashes of his actual speed and it is too much for Thompson who appears able to go on but stumbles slightly when asked to move forward after the 2n knockdown and it is probably a life saving decision on the ref's part.
This fight is typical Wladimir: slow start, feel your opponent out, make them miss and begin to measure them against an ever increasing output. Nothing fancy, noting rash, just sound technique and amazing power. Even glancing blows cause these professionals to seize up in shock upon partial impact. It only gets worse as the rounds go on and his confidence grows along with his desire for a KO. My only gripe is that he could have gone to the body at any point in this fight and ended it even earlier.
Yes, Thompson was 40 years old but he was the mandatory challenger and no one else seems capable of lasting more than a few rounds against Wladimir. Thompson hadn't lost since his first meeting with Klitschko. No one else was calling him out and demanding a match. No one else is even remotely on par with these two men. They are all waiting for these two brothers, Wladimir in particular, to retire so they have a shot at the title because as long as these two stick around there simply is no one even remotely capable, outside of a lucky punch, to defeat these two guys.
Say what you will, they did all that they could as boxers and they continue to dominate their era like no one else has before. Champions of the ages or simply of the age?