Wednesday 18 July 2018

Klitschko leaves a legacy of what's good about the game


Wladimir Klitschko. Photo: PA
Wladimir Klitschko. Photo: PA

James Corrigan

We can only pray that now Wladimir Klitschko has retired, he stays retired and is not attracted back with offers which will promise to do much for his pension fund, but little for his long-term health.

But then, maybe we should not worry, as the Ukrainian never has seemed susceptible to his trade's more depressing cliches. Certainly, it would be fitting if the last fight ever on Klitschko's garlanded professional record was that showdown with Anthony Joshua at Wembley in April.

Granted, he lost, and the manner with which his younger, faster rival hunted him down convinced this proud 41-year-old that a rematch would be unwise. Yet, without wishing to sound cheesy, Klitschko ensured boxing was the winner that night.

It was a contest that was everything it set out to be and, apart, of course, from the result, summed up this sporting giant's 21-year career.

Klitschko and Joshua were unstinting in their mutual respect before the bell rang. There were no foul-mouthed theatrics, just two masters of their craft informing us of the show to which we could look forward.

When they hugged at the end, it was not with a wink, with a cynical smirk that they had just made each other a pile of cash on the back of a stage-managed load of abusive nonsense.

It looked real and felt real because it was real, and a glorious reminder as to why we first fell in love with this complex pursuit. Sometimes, showmanship can be entertaining, but it should only ever be viewed as an add-on.

Boxing doesn't need the baloney or the bluster - Klitschko is the proof.

He has often been referred to as a gentleman and a scholar and, as he graduated with a doctorate and has a PhD in sports science, it is foolish to argue with the intellectual merit of this multi-lingual speaker.

Together with his brother Vitali, another world champion, he rose above the supposed confinements of his profession and offered something more substantive. Alas, he never was fully appreciated. In fact, he was often pilloried, never more so than by David Haye, a boxer blessed with so much talent but damned by yet more ego.

Yet in terms of insults in a sporting sense, the loudmouth Londoner's claim that Wladimir had "killed the heavyweight division" highlighted everything that is wrong with a pursuit which, ridiculously, places more emphasis on the fireworks than the art. Yes, Klitschko was defensive, but he was brilliantly defensive and it is too often overlooked that in 2004 even his brother was urging him to stop after twice being knocked out in 11 months. Through his sheer determination and intelligence, Klitschko developed and perfected a style which was to make him the second-longest reigning heavyweight champion of all time.

Experts class him among the very best, pointing out that he was far more than that destructive jab and that his straight right hand and left hook could be just as devastating. Yet often this most cerebral of strategists chose to unpick his opponents, unstitching their defences, laying bare their inferiority.

He did so against Haye in 2011 and if you did not rejoice in that performance, not only did you not value Klitschko, you do not genuinely value boxing. His legacy will continue to stand for everything good about the game. ©The Daily Telegraph

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