By Jersey Jim.
In just about one year and a half we will have concluded the first decade of 21st century. For the last decade, the career of Wlad Klitschko has run a similar parallel to the career of Lennox Lewis, during the latter half of the 90’s. Generally recognized as the best Heavyweight in the world, Klitschko’s only losses (like Lennox Lewis before him) have come by way of knockout. Both men had their careers resurrected under the watchful guidance of veteran trainer – Emanuel Steward. On June 20th, Wlad Klitschko will face fellow strap holder Ruslan Chagaev for the Ring’s – Heavyweight Championship of the World.
At this point, some may consider Chagaev to be damaged goods after contracting hepatitis B in 2007.
Wlad Klitschko brings a record of 52-3 with 46 knockouts into the ring against Chagaev. That’s a knockout percentage of 89%. Rocky Marciano’s all-time knockout percentage stands at 87%. That would make Klitschko’s knockout percentage the best of all-time if he were to retire today.
Vitali, the only other currently active fighter in the world who could legitamately hold claim to being “The” Heavyweight Champion of the World will step into the ring for his next bout with a record of 37-2 with 36 knockouts.
With a 97% knockout ratio, Vitali Klitschko currently holds the highest knockout ratio of all time. Higher than his brother Wlad, and higher than that of all-time great sluggers, Rocky Marciano and George Foreman.
This fact alone could eventually launch Vitali and Wlad Klitschko into fistic legend for 2 reasons.
1. They have the top two highest knockout percentages among all Heavyweights in the history of the sport at this current point in time.
2. They are both brothers who simultaneous hold portions of the heavyweight title.
3. They are two of the largest, most physically imposing men to ever hold the title.
Their formula for success is simple and basic to the core. Jabs and right hands. Their superior size and natural power enables them to break opponents down from the outside. Both possess powerful right hands that rank favorable with fighters like Lennox Lewis & Larry Holmes as far as effectiveness goes. Neither Klitschko is particularly aggressive which has led to some dull fights over the years. Nevertheless, most of these fights still ended by way of knockout and they have compiled a combined record of 89 wins (82 knockouts) and 5 losses over the course of 13 years.
WHERE DO THE KLITSCHKO’S RANK IN HISTORY?
Right now, it’s too early to tell. If they retired today, however, time will more than likely put their accomplishments in a light similar to that of Lennox Lewis or possibly Larry Holmes. Holmes’ legacy was somewhat tarnished by his back to back losses to Michael Spinks. That and the fact that he followed in the footsteps of a charismatic champion in Muhammad Ali.
Lewis, like Wlad Klitschko, suffered unexpected knockout defeats against opponents he was well favored to beat. The avenging of those defeats, a victory of a faded Mike Tyson and his retirement while on top both go a long way in summing up his career and accomplishments on a positive note. Still, however, there always seems to be at least as many doubters about his overall place in history as there are believers.
The same will probably be said of the Klitschko’s should they opt for the same exit strategy.
On the downside, it could and has been said by many that Wlad and Vitali Klitschko are the beneficiaries of what may be the worst crop of Heavyweight contenders – ever. Fighters today are being recycled like aluminum cans. John Ruiz, Hasim Rahman, Oleg Maskaev and many others have enjoyed what would have been considered in decades past – two career’s worth of title shot opportunities. In an attempt to eliminate bias for or against the Klitschko’s, let’s insert them into another decade against a different generation of Heavyweight Contenders.
If the Klitschko’s had fought in the 1980’s, how would they have fared against the same, identicle opposition Mike Tyson faced? Let’s take a closer look.
During his first title reign, Mike Tyson faced –
1. Trevor Berbick
2. Bonecrusher Smith
3. Pinklon Thomas
4. Tony Tucker
5. Tyrell Biggs
6. Larry Holmes
7. Tony Tubbs
8. Michael Spinks
9. Frank Bruno
10 Carl Williams
11. Buster Douglas
Let’s take a closer look at how the Klitschko brothers might have fared against Tyson’s competition.
Wlad and Vitali Klitschko vs. Trevor Berbick
Berbick was a solid boxer/puncher with a decent chin and lazy overall work rate on the majority of occasions. Using the Wlad who was Manny Steward prepared and rose from two knockdowns to easily outpoint Sam Peter, it’s easy to see Wlad using the jab all night long to pile up points against the limited offensive spurts Berbick might offer.
Vitali Klitschko would most likely employ the same blueprint with one exception. It’s much easier envisioning him turning up the heat and forcing a TKO stoppage of Berbick sometime between the 10th and 12th rounds.
Wlad Klitscho W12
Vitali Klitscho KO11
Wlad and Vitali Klitschko vs. Bonecrusher Smith
The Bonecrusher who faced Tyson fought to hear the final bell. And he did. Faced with two opponents in Vitali that would negate his normal height and reach advantages and what do you have? Probably a fighter who would have to rely on single-shot power to turn the fight around. Against a maturer, seasoned Wlad, I wouldn’t bet on it. Against Vitali, no way.
Wlad Klitschko TKO 8
Vitali Klitschko TKO 10 (cuts) Why cuts? Who knows? That’s just what I pictured in my mind!
Wlad and Vitali Klitschko vs. Pinklon Thomas
Thomas had the makings of a great jab under the guidance of Angelo Dundee. By the time he got to Tyson, however, the effect of drugs and rust had taken their toll. Thomas was hit with dozens of clean, hard, knockout punches against Tyson before finally reaching the end of the line in the 6th round. Against the Klitschko’s I could see Vitali pressing the issue in the championship rounds whereas Wlad would probably only take the knockout if it presented itself.
Wlad Klitschko TKO 11
Vitali Klitschko TKO 9
Wlad and Vitali Klitschko vs. Tony Tucker
Here’s the first real problem for Wlad and Vitali. Tony Tucker was the first fighter to actually rock Mike Tyson. Blessed with a outstanding chin and very good boxing ability, Tucker broke his right hand against Tyson early in the fight. Afterward, it was said that he blamed losing to Tyson on the early round injury as he held his own for 12 rounds losing a decision. Afterward, he became heavily involved in drugs and the rest is history.
Against this Tony Tucker, Wlad would facing a fellow giant at 6’ 5” with a good jab, decent speed, and a good offense. I’m going with Tucker via a 9th round technical knockout.
Vitali has a good chin, so I doubt that Tucker could stop him. Plus, it would be Vitali who would be moving forward, pressing the action with his jab and right hand the majority of the night.
Wlad Klitschko TKO by 11
Vitali Klitschko W12
Wlad and Vitali Klitschko vs. Tyrell Biggs
Biggs had the makings of a decent boxer. Mike Tyson’s style made him look more beatable than he actually was. Biggs movement might give Vitali some problems here and there in spots. But that would be about it. It took Tyson seven rounds of pressure and aggression to halt the then undefeated version of Biggs (who like many others before him, would never be the same after his first stoppage loss).
Wlad Klitschko TKO 11
Vitali Klitschko W12
Wlad and Vitali Klitschko vs. Larry Holmes
Larry Holmes, like any other boxer, would always have the hands full with a swarming, pressure type fighter like Mike Tyson. Doubly so for the older version who fought Tyson in 1988. Against the Klitschko’s though, Holmes presents and interesting obstacle. Wlad, the more athletic and versatile of the two brothers, can land enough punches to outpoint or possible earn a stoppage victory in the later rounds. Vitali, however, faces the same obstacles that a slower, ponderous Ray Mercer faced. And the way I see it, the chances of an identical outcome are the same.
Wlad Klitschko W12
Vitali Klitschko L12
Wlad and Vitali Klitschko vs. Tony Tubbs
For many years, Tubbs was surprisingly light on his feet for a bigger man. Tubbs, another fighter whose career was adversely affected by the use of cocaine, had the tools to go farther than he did. But against either of the Klitschkos, the 1988 version wouldn’t stand much of a chance to see the 4th round.
Wlad Klitschko KO2
Vitali Klitschko KO2
Wlad and Vitali Klitschko vs. Michael Spinks
Being a good boxer is one part of the winning equation. Being able to absorb a bomb is oftentimes the other. Michael Spinks like Larry Holmes and other boxer-styled fighters, are most effective when able to create space between themselves and their opponents. For much of his career, Spinks’ right hand gave plenty of fighters something to think about before employing pressuring tactics. Many feel Holmes beat him in the rematch as he applied pressure and had Spinks backpedaling much of the fight.
Against either of the Klitschko’s, Spinks would be hard pressed to survive once either of the brother’s right hands landed. It may take longer than the 91 seconds it did against Tyson, but probably not much longer.
Wlad Klitschko KO2
Vitali Klitschko KO3
Wlad and Vitali Klitschko vs. Frank Bruno
For years, Frank Bruno brought a sense of respect to the Heavyweight division. In an era when fat, low work-rate behemoths filled the top ten during the 80’s, my friend’s and I rooted for the “Mighty Bruno” as we called him, to topple Tim Witherspoon when the met at Wembley in July of 1986. But it wasn’t to be. After being stopped by Witherspoon, he ran off four stoppage victories before facing Tyson in 1989. He was stopped in the 5th.
How would the 1989 version of Frank Bruno fare against either of the Klitschko’s? From where I’m sitting, Frank would do very well. Until he got hurt. Once Bruno was hurt, things seemed to quickly unravel against top competition. Again, you have to get the image of Wlad crumbling against Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster out of your mind and realize that the fighter who got up twice against Sam Peter was a different, more mature, better conditioned fighter.
That’s the version we’re looking at in these fantasy match-ups.
Wlad Klitschko TKO 7
Vitali Klitschko KO 4
Wlad and Vitali Klitschko vs. Carl “The Truth” Williams
I met Carl Williams in Atlantic City many years ago during an Evander Holyfield fight. I was amazed how skinny his upper body was. By his own admission, this was one of the things that hindered him for much of his career. He just didn’t have the upper body strength. How ironic that he filled out finally – after retiring.
The version who fought Tyson in 1989 checked out within the first two minutes of action. Against either Klitschko, I don’t see the result being any different.
Wlad Klitschko TKO 1
Vitali Klitschko TKO 1
Wlad and Vitali Klitschko vs. Buster Douglas
And finally, we have Buster Douglas. Could the Buster Douglas of Tokyo have beaten Wlad or Vitali Klitschko? There’s no doubt that the Tyson of Tokyo was undertrained, poorly managed and an accident going somewhere to happen. Even so, let it never be said that the Douglas of Tokyo got lucky.
The Douglas of Tokyo was inspired by the death of his mother and got up off the canvas to fight back from the brink of defeat and hand Tyson the first loss of his career. No small task for any man.
Against Wlad, the Douglas of Tokyo would face a lot of hard jabs from the younger Klitschko. His own jab was very underrated, however, and a well trained Douglas would hit Wlad with a more punches than he’s used to taking. By the 9th, the younger Klitschko would be winded. By the 10th, it’s easy to picture Douglas catching a second wind and sending big Wlad for the first of what would be – multiple trips to the canvas.
Against Vitali, Buster’s mobility would be the key. Remember, we’re talking about the Douglas who fought Tyson, not the Douglas who stepped through the ropes against Holyfield.
Tyson couldn’t catch up with a mobile Douglas over 12 rounds… and I don’t see Vitali Klitschko catching up with him either.
Wlad Klitschko TKO by 10
Vitali Klitschko L12
So there you have it, looking at the Klitschko’s place in history from a different angle.
When it comes to effectiveness – getting the job done, the Klitschko’s produce results. They may not always be pretty getting the job done, but neither were most of their predecessors (Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, Larry Holmes, etc.)
Unless something changes, the Klitschko’s will both be viewed, years from now, as the dominant fighter/champions in the post-Lewis Heavyweight division. Even more so if they both retire on top.