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Should Wladimir Klitschko be on pound-for-pound list?

03
Jul

Wladimir Klitschko has now made seven successful defenses of his heavyweight title(s), an impressive number. And he’s not just winning; he’s dominating his opponents. He stopped all but one of the seven.

After he embarrassed then-unbeaten Ruslan Chagaev on June 20 in Germany, some observers began to raise an inevitable question:

When will Klitschko enter anyone’s Top 10 pound-for-pound list?

Some knowledgeable boxing people laugh at such a notion. Take one look at his opponents, they suggest, and you won’t say Klitschko and pound-for-pound in the same sentence. He has beaten no one special.

Plus, they say, his safety-first style doesn’t help his cause.

Klitschko’s proponents say it’s not his fault that he competes in a weak division. He does what he’s supposed to do – win. And, more often than not, he knocks out his opponents in the process.

And the case for Klitschko appears to be gaining some traction: In Yahoo! Sports’ most-recent pound-for-pound poll, he finished 12th.

Still, for now, detractors seem to outnumber proponents.

“To me, winning isn’t enough,” boxing historian and author Bert Sugar said. “To misquote Grantland Rice, it’s not whether you win or lose but who you beat. ÔǪ Punching bags have had more of a chance to beat (Klitschko) than some of his opponents. I give Juan Manuel Marquez more points drawing against Manny Pacquiao than I give Klitschko in all his fights put together.

“I don’t mean to burst his or anyone’s bubble. He’s good at what he does; he rules a mediocre-at-best division.”

THE RING editor Nigel Collins, whose magazine recognizes Klitschko as its heavyweight champion but leaves him off the pound-for-pound list, goes further.

He presents an argument with no reference to Klitschko’s opposition:

“Let’s set the bar relatively low, and think of Wladimir fighting THE RING’s No. 10 P-4-P fighter, Celestino Caballero. Remember, in P-4-P they are the same size. Like Caballero, Wladimir is tall, but can he hook to the body the way Caballero does? Can Wladimir throw the uppercut the way Caballero does? Can Wladimir take a punch like Caballero? The answer to all three questions is no. Overall, Caballero is a much more versatile fighter. That’s why he’s in our pound-for-pound ratings and Wladimir is not.

“None of this is intended as a knock against Wladimir. He is THE RING heavyweight champion, and with the possible exception of his brother, Vitali, would be favored against any heavyweight in the world. But as far as P-4-P goes, he’s up against thousands of other fighters in 16 other division. Under those circumstances, he just isn’t good enough.”

Again, not everyone agrees.

One observer near and dear to Klitschko is hardly objective but he’s passionate when he discusses the perception of his fighter: trainer Emanuel Steward.

The Hall of Famer pointed out that Klitschko has beaten six opponents who were unbeaten at the time, including five in his last 10 fights. And Kevin Iole of Yahoo! Sports wrote that the big Ukrainian has won 184 of 192 rounds scored in his last five fights.

That’s impressive.

“I think any time a guy has been as dominating as he’s been, it’s hard for me to see (him denied a place on the pound-for-pound list),” Steward said. “He might not have the style of getting hit a lot but he’s become a complete, almost perfect mechanical fighter. He’s a master at controlling a fight.

“I never saw anyone who can do what he does. ÔǪ He shuts opponents down; he won’t let anyone do anything.”

What about the mediocrity of his opponents?

“There’s nothing he can do about that,” Steward said. “ÔǪ I remember Lennox (Lewis) going through the same thing. I told him, ‘Lennox, all you can do is beat the best of your era.’ Then Lennox gets (Evander) Holyfield and a fight with Tyson, even though he had slipped by then, and the perception of him changed.

“A lot of heavyweights have gone through this. Remember, Joe Louis had ‘The Bum of the Month Club.’ Wladimir is just an exceptionally good fighter at a time there isn’t anyone else.”

Several observers pointed out that the level of opposition is becoming less significant as he continues to win, particularly in a dominating fashion. This might explain the Yahoo! poll results.

Overall, Klitschko has won 11 in a row and hasn’t lost since 2004. And the problems he encountered in his career – the three seemingly inexplicable knockout losses – seem to be light years behind him.

Should his winning streak reach, say 15-20, it will be difficult to keep him off of any pound-for-pound list regardless of opposition.

“Larry Holmes is an example of that,” said television analyst Larry Merchant, referring to the once-overlooked former heavyweight champion who held one title or another for seven years. “Holmes fought all his fights in the U.S. and on TV constantly, though. But yeah, if (Klitschko) continues to win, he’ll get more and more credit.”

In the end, unless Klitschko somehow lands some career-defining fights, he’ll probably never be compared to the likes of Holmes.

However, it does seem likely that he and his brother, Vitali, will one day receive the highest honor in the sport because of their remarkable records – a combined 90-5 (83 knockouts) — and dominance over a long period of time.

Then this story won’t have much meaning.

“Hey, (Wladimir) Klitschko might not be on the pound-for-pound list,” said historian Don Elbaum, “but I tell you now, both of them will be in the Hall of Fame.”

Note: Bert Sugar’s most-recent book — Baseball Hall of Fame, A living History of American’s Greatest Game — is a well-written, beautifully photographed and designed work. Flip through the pages and you’ll feel as if you’re at Cooperstown. It’s well worth a look.

Michael Rosenthal can be reached at [email protected]

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