Clinical Wladamir Klitschko KOs ringside thrills with dominance of heavyweight championship
The heavyweight crown was once the most coveted prize in sport, but now it's a viewer turn-off
Bang! Crash! Thud! Down goes Alex Leapai for the third and last time as the WBA, IBO, WBO and IBF Heavyweight Champion of the World, Wladamir Klitschko, defended his titles on April 26 in Germany. This was Klitschko's 16th consecutive title defence since 2006 making him the second longest reigning heavyweight champ of all time behind only the 'Brown Bomber' Joe Louis's, impressive 25 defences over nearly 12 years.
But where among history's great pugilists does Klitschko rank? While there is no doubt that he's a highly skilled fighter and tactician, his unengaged style of combat is simply boring to watch. The towering Ukrainian uses his long jabs to keep opponents from ever getting near him while remaining patiently on the defensive. What this amounts to is one fighter throwing defensive jabs and the other doing pretty much nothing at all. If Klitschko is ever to be spoken of in the same breath as greats like Muhammad Ali, Jack Dempsey or Larry Holmes, he needs to get in the ring with somebody who can fight back, somebody who can take him out of his comfort zone.
His latest bout was hardly worth watching. The gulf in class between Klitschko and the relatively unknown Leapai was immense. The Samoan-born fighter never looked to be in contention. Klitschko kept a frustrated Leapai at bay with the jab. The obvious strategy for the contender with the shorter reach was to dodge and try to move inside, but Leapai was stagnant throughout the fight allowing himself to be repeatedly tagged in the face. One online pundit stated that "the skill involved in staying well within the range of Wladimir whilst doing nothing was breathtaking".
In the fifth round Leapai swung and missed as Klitschko almost tripped over his own feet making the crowd think he had been struck. The Ukrainian gathered himself quickly, decided he'd had enough, moved in and immediately finished off a tired looking Leapai with a right hand to the side of the head. He got back up but was promptly sent crashing back to the floor. After the fight Klitschko offered his opponent these words of consolation, "Alex Leapai, I know it was not easy for you but you were up against the best fighter in the world".
Perhaps we've been spoiled over the years with all the exciting and controversial champions we've had, whether it was the political tensions brought by the likes of Ali and Joe Louis or the spectacle and drama created by fighters like Mike Tyson.
There was a time when the heavyweight crown was the most coveted prize in the sporting world. Today, viewership is in drastic decline as fewer and fewer people feel it's worth the pay-per-view price to watch Klitschko fight a seemingly endless line of no-hopers. You'd imagine that his engagement to Heroes and Nashville star Hayden Panettierre would create more interest in the USA for the long-time champ, but according to Yahoo Sports, Klitschko's latest title defence drew only 468,000 viewers as opposed to the 1.4 million they normally receive for that time slot.
Some have drawn a comparison between Klitschko and Rocky Marciano, who retired undefeated because there was simply no one in his division who could give him a good fight. Others take the more sceptical view that Klitschko is only taking on fighters he knows he can beat.
Following the Leapai fight, Britain's Tyson Fury (who is of Irish Traveller heritage) called out the Ukrainian saying "I want Wladimir Klitschko. He's avoiding me. Let's get it on Wlad. Stop being a p***y about the matter and let's fight." With a record of 22 wins and no losses, he stands at an enormous 6'9", bigger than Klitschko, with a longer reach and the advantage of being only 25 years old to Wladamir's 38.
Fury has been noted for his speed and power with little regard for defence and should he win his upcoming fight with Dereck Chisora on July 26, he will become the mandatory challenger for Klitschko. However, Fury speculates that this fight will never occur. "I don't believe he'll fight me. The reason being I wouldn't want to fight me. I'm young, tall, ambitious ... he won't want to spoil his legacy by going in there and getting done in ... He'll vacate or retire beforehand."
Whether Fury can live up to his own hype remains to be seen, but he is certainly a fighter who could cause Klitschko some real trouble.