Head-to-Head: Klitschko vs. Chagaev
Ruslan Chagaev looked very focused during a public workout Wednesday in Essen, Germany. Photo by Marianne M├╝ller
WLADIMIR KLITSCHKO vs. RUSLAN CHAGAEV
When: Saturday, June 20
Where: Veltins-Arena, Gelsenkirchen, Germany
TV: ESPN Classic, 2 pm. PT/ 5 p.m. ET
Weight: Heavyweight (unlimited)
Title(s) at stake: THE RING, IBF, WBO
Also on the card: Alexander Ustinov vs. Michael Sprott, 10 rounds, heavyweights; Johnathon Banks vs. Paul Butlin, eight rounds, heavyweights; Andy Lee vs. Olegs Fedotovs, eight rounds, middleweights
Height / Reach: 6-6¾ / 81
Hometown: Kiev, Ukraine
Turned pro: 1996
Record: 52-3 (46 knockouts)
Trainer: Emanuel Steward
The Ring rating: No. 1 heavyweight
Titles: WBO heavyweight (2000-03, lost title to Corrie Sanders); IBF heavyweight (2006-current); WBO heavyweight (2008-current)
Biggest victories: Chris Byrd, Oct. 14, 2000, UD 12 (wins WBO title); Samuel Peter, Sept. 24, 2005, UD 12 (Peter unbeaten at time); Byrd, April 22, 2006, TKO 7 (wins IBF title); Lamon Brewster, July 7, 2007, RTD 6 (avenged loss to Brewster); Sultan Ibragimov, Feb. 23, 2008, UD 12 (regains WBO title).
Three losses: Ross Purrity, Dec. 5, 1998, TKO 11; Sanders, March 8, 2003, TKO 2 (for WBO title); Brewster, April 10, 2004, TKO 5 (for WBO title).
Height / reach: 6-1 / 74
Hometown: Andizhan, Uzbekistan (lives in Hamburg, Germany)
Turned pro: 1997
Record: 25-0-1 (17 knockouts)
Trainers: Michael Timm
The Ring rating: No. 3
Titles: WBA heavyweight (2007-2008); WBA heavyweight champion in recess (2008-current).
Biggest victories: John Ruiz, Nov. 18, 2006, SD 12 (WBA title eliminator); Nikolai Valuev, April 14, 2007, MD 12 (for WBA title; Valuev’s only loss).
Draw: Rob Calloway, Oct. 5, 2002, TD 3 (Calloway cut by accidental headbutt; Chagaev’s sixth fight).
Skills: Both heavyweights are well-schooled former amateur stars (Klitschko was an Olympic gold medalist; Chagaev was a world amateur champ) who possess a solid foundation of technique and boxing ability. Most of the punches they deliver are textbook in form and usually well timed. Klitschko delivers straighter punches with more power; Chagaev’s power shots have a little more arc to them but he gets off with better balance and accuracy. They are both versatile boxers who can stalk their opponents behind a power jab or utilize lateral movement with counter punching.
Power: Early in his pro career (when he was based in Las Vegas, Nev.) Chagaev took out his journeyman opponents in such aggressive fashion that he earned the nickname “White Tyson”, however, he doesn’t have near the punching power even a past-his-prime Mike Tyson possessed. Klitschko, on the other hand, does. The behemoth is such a gifted athlete with superb technique that he’s able to get maximum leverage on his ramrod jab and all of his power shots, even short left hooks that barely travel six inches. Emanuel Steward says Klitschko’s power is on par with Lennox Lewis’s. Freddie Roach, who trained Klitschko briefly, says the Ukrainian giant hits harder than Tyson. And unlike Chagaev, whose main power hand is his straight left, Klitschko possesses KO power in both hands.
Speed and athletic ability: There’s no contest, really, in this category. Klitschko is arguably this decade’s best pure athlete in the heavyweight division. His hand speed is almost as impressive (and intimidating to his opponents) as his power. Chagaev is no slouch in this department. He’s got deceptively quick hands and fluid footwork. He’s very mobile for such a squat heavyweight. (It was his footwork that gave Nikolai Valuev fits for 12 rounds.) However, Chagaev is not in Klitschko’s league. The last big man with Klitschko’s ability to quickly but smoothly maneuver in and out of an opponent’s range, stop on a dime and explode with rapid-fire combinations at any angle, was Lennox Lewis.
Defense: Chagaev is not gifted with Klitschko’s size, power, speed and overall athleticism but he makes up for his modest size and average natural ability with sound defensive technique. Unlike Klitschko (who has a bad habit of dropping his left after he jabs), Chagaev keeps both hands up at all times. He also blocks and parries incoming punches well, as does Klitschko. However, it’s Chagaev’s excellent footwork and ability to get low and bob and weave under punches that have preserved him from damage, particularly against taller, larger opponents. Klitschko doesn’t lack defense. He’s tucking his chin better these days and Steward has taught him how to tie up smaller opponents — like Chagaev — when they get in close. However, he’s usually more offense minded than defense minded, and thus he’s been nailed by lesser opponents such as Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster (who knocked him out), and DaVarryl Wiliamson and Calvin Brock.
Experience: Klitschko is the most experienced active heavyweight in the sport. With 55 pro bouts under his belt he has more than twice the number of fights that Chagaev has; and since the start of this decade, many of his opponents were top-10 contenders, such as Samuel Peter, Tony Thompson and Sultan Ibragimov, and experienced former titleholders such as Chris Byrd, Ray Mercer, Frans Botha, and Hasim Rahman. Chagaev has faced quality opponents such as former two-time titleholder John Ruiz and Valuev, but he hasn’t fought as many as Klitschko.
Chin: This category obviously falls in favor of Chagaev, who has never been down or seriously hurt in his professional career. Klitschko, on the other hand, has lost three times — all by knockout. Klitschko has also been dropped a few times in winning bouts (three times against Peter and once against Williamson). However, this doesn’t mean that he can’t take a punch. Klitschko’s first stoppage loss (against Ross Puritty early in his career) was due more from fatigue than actual punches. Sanders had super fast hands that he didn’t see coming. Brewster is a tremendous puncher.
Conditioning: Until recent years, Klitschko’s Achilles Heel was his stamina. It’s not that he didn’t train hard, it was that the pace he fought at sometimes caused him to punch himself out (as he did vs. Brewster) or run out of gas (as he did when he fought Puritty). However, he’s learned to pace himself better under Steward’s guidance and has evolved into a 12-round fighter, as Chagaev is. Both fighters always show up to fight at optimum weight and condition.
Wear and tear: The drawback to Klitschko’s decided edge in experience is that he’s absorbed more punishment. His three KO losses haven’t caused him irreparable physical damage, but those setbacks (along with his close calls against Peter and Williamson) may have dented his psyche to an extent. Chagaev, unbeaten as a pro, has never been in a brutally taxing fight.
Corner: Chagaev’s trainer, Michael Timm, is not known to American fight fans, but the former amateur boxer is second on Universum’s coaching staff totem pole, behind bossman Fritz Sdunek. Timm, who has trained a dozen world-class boxers under the Universum banner, has a sharp eye for talent and is known for his ability to nurture and develop it. The German native brought up super middleweight standout Juergen Braehmer and current undefeated 154-pound titleholder Sergiy Dzinziruk, but Chagaev is probably his prize pupil. The two have a very close relationship and work well together; however, it’s debatable if they are as good for each other as Klitschko and Steward. Just as Steward added wrinkles to Lewis’s game that evolved the giant Brit from a former titleholder to an undisputed champ, the hall-of-fame trainer has guided Klitschko from a heavyweight on the brink of disaster (following the Brewster loss) to the No. 1 big man in the sport who is now on the cusp of being recognized as the champion. One of Steward’s first fights with Klitschko was the Brewster debacle. He stood by Klitschko after the brutal stoppage and continued to believe in the heavyweight’s potential, which became the foundation of their trust and friendship. Klitschko is 10-0 with seven knockouts since that loss (including a rematch stoppage of Brewster) and Steward has helped him add strategy and technique to his arsenal with every fight.
Outcome: Some fans believe this fight will be an uneventful snoozefest like Klitschko’s 12-round decision over Sultan Ibragimov. However, although Chagaev is an average-sized southpaw with an extensive amateur background like Ibragimov, the Uzbek is stronger and studier with better technique than the Russian that Klitschko dominated in boring fashion last February. Chagaev’s tight technique, counter-punching ability, and footwork will trouble Klitschko in much the same way it did Valuev, but to a lesser extent. Klitschko will be able to make adjustments, close ground, and let his hands go in a manner that the plodding Valuev could only dream of. If Chagaev tries to engage Klitschko on the inside he will be tied up and forced back on his heels by the bigger, stronger man. The worse thing any fighter can do when fighting Klitschko is back up or allow himself to be forced into the ropes because that’s when Dr. Steelhammer really lets his hands go. Chagaev and Timm are aware of this, so expect the mobile southpaw to utilize lots of lateral movement and attempt to counter-punch Klitschko from mid-range. After a few cautious early rounds the heavyweights will go tit-for-tat in the middle rounds. Chagaev’s chin and defensive prowess will allow him to survive Klitschko’s power, but he won’t have an answer for the big man’s superior reach, speed and punch volume. Look for Klitschko to cruise the final rounds of a competitive boxing match.
Prediction: Klitschko by decision, roughly eight rounds to four.