Wednesday, August 17, 2022  |


Klitschko renders Chagaev helpless in masterpiece


GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany – They blasted live music as Wladimir Klitschko made his way into the ring to face Ruslan Chagez before 61,000 buzzing, wide-eyed fans Saturday night in the cavernous, enclosed Veltins-Arena soccer stadium here. They shone spotlights. They fired 20-foot-high torches. They shot off fireworks.

It was a spectacular show, the likes of which isn’t seen in the U.S. It was much more entertaining than the main reason everyone was there.

The Germans, who have embraced Klitschko as one of their own, witnessed what they expected to see: Another Klitschko victory, this one a 10th-round technical knockout giving him THE RING heavyweight championship. What they didn’t see was much of a fight.

Chagaev made his ring walk with confidence and a solid list of achievements behind him. The Uzbek southpaw was a world amateur champion, he was undefeated, he was the WBA titleholder and he is the only one to beat another giant, 7-footer Nikolai Valuev.

However, Klitschko isn’t Valuev.

The 6-foot-6¾ Ukrainian rendered Chagaev helpless with a pile-driver left jab and what might be one of the hardest rights in boxing history. He’s like the BMWs that zip down the autobahn at 120 mph here — a fine-tuned machine that owns its terrain.

It will take a special fighter, perhaps one who battles with reckless abandon and can take a monstrous punch, to beat this man.

“This is the best Wladimir we ever saw,” said his former promoter and Chagaev’s current handler, Klaus-Peter Kohl.

Chagaev (25-1-1, 17 knockouts) came out of his dressing room to his own blaring music and with a swagger typical of a fighter who has never lost. He had beaten Valuev — his scheduled opponent last month until he tested positive for a Hepatitis B antigen — and fully expected to do the same to Klitschko.

Klitschko (53-3, 47 KOs) acknowledged the hearty cheers of a typically subdued German crowd but was stone faced before the opening bell. He had business to take care of and seemed eager to do it.

And it didn’t take long for the simple plot to come into focus.

Klitschko’s game plan is no secret. Pound the jab into your opponent’s face to keep him at a distance and set up the right, follow with pulverizing rights when you have openings and either hold or move when he gets near you.

It worked perfectly on Saturday.

Chagaev, about 6 inches shorter than Klitschko, ate left jab after left jab and an increasing number of rights as the fight progressed as he tried in vain to get inside. He went down as the result of one right in the second round and was staggered by many more, although he displayed an impressive chin. And each time one landed, the crowd, craving action, ooed, aahed and cheered.

By the ninth and final complete round, it was clear that Chagaev had no chance. He had lost every round, was breaking down physically, was bleeding from a cut above his left eye and wasn’t landing his own punches.

Chagaev, clearly disappointed with his performance, said afterward that he could’ve continued but that was his pride speaking; his cornermen wouldn’t allow it. The fight ended with him on his stool.

“If he was going to continue fighting, he was going to have to knock me down to do it,” said his trainer, Michael Timm.

After referee Eddie Cotton signaled the end of the fight, Klitschko finally smiled and raised his arms in triumph. Then, after well wishes in the ring, he jumped onto the ropes in each corner beaming as his German fans roared their approval.

They didn’t witness a great fight but they know a masterpiece when they see it.

“That’s the best criticism when you dominate a fight, giving no chance to your opponent,” said Klitschko, referring to the fact it wasn’t particularly entertaining. “Sometimes it seems easy. ÔǪ When you have controversy in a fight, when both fighters are up and down and there is a lot of blood and eventually one guy is able to win, it’s a competitive fight.

“It wasn’t that. I’m not eager to prove my chin, which is made of glass,” he continued, joking about the perception by some because of his three KO losses. “I want to dominate my fights, which I do pretty much in all my best fights.”

Indeed, Klitschko, who has won 11 in a row, seems far removed from the fighter who was stopped by inferior fighters once each in 2003 and 2004.

He seems to be fighting with a sense of purpose that eluded him early in his career. He knows what he’s capable of doing and, as an experienced fighter and consummate professional, he goes out and does it. Again and again and again.

“I think he learned to relax,” said Shelly Finkel, Klitschko’s U.S. advisor. “He used to be so tense. Now, he just goes out there and does his job every time he fights. He’s definitely a different fighter than he used to be.”

Klitschko now owns THE RING belt his brother, Vitali, once wore and holds three of the four major alphabet titles. He’s on top of the division, the fighter every ambitious heavyweight wants to meet.

Finkel said he’d like to see Klitschko fight either Haye — Klitschko’s original opponent for Saturday until he pulled out with a back injury — or Los Angeles-area slugger Chris Arreola in September.

Haye might be the most-logical choice. The well-spoken Briton has a great deal of charisma and the animosity between them would help sell the fight. It was Haye, not Chagaev who helped sell out Veltins-arena.

Arreola, who is unbeaten, is an action fighter who probably would make for a very entertaining fight. Finkel said he would expect that fight to take place at Staples Center in L.A.

Another option would be the freakish Valuev, the opponent German television executives have said would be a very marketable opponent. However, Valuev turned down a chance to fight Klitschko on Saturday.

Whoever steps into the ring with Klitschko had better have a better game plan than Chagaev did, particularly if what Klitschko said is true.

“I really think that the best for me,” he said, “is in the future.”

Michael Rosenthal can be reached at [email protected]