Friday, March 24, 2023  |



Are Klitschkos bound for the Hall of Fame?


The Klitschko brothers, Wladimir and Vitali, have their supporters and detractors.

Some see them as great heavyweights whose size and abilities would have made them formidable in any era. Others see them as big lugs with boring styles who are lucky they fight during a time with few decent heavyweights.

When their careers are over, though, how might they fare in perhaps the most-important arena of opinion — among the voters for the International Boxing Hall of Fame?

Three experts with a keen understanding of boxing history – author Bert Sugar, broadcaster Larry Merchant and writer Cliff Rold – were asked that question and agreed on an answer: The Klitschkos will fare well.

All three said the giant Ukrainians will one day be inducted in Canastota, N.Y., although they had different levels of enthusiasm.

The most-compelling reason to conclude they are Hall bound is that almost all heavyweight champions in history who were recognized as the best in the world at some point and eligible for the Hall are enshrined. Even those who don’t appreciate the Klitschkos’ cautious style and question their opponents must admit they’ve had one of the more dominating runs in heavyweight history.

Wladimir (54-3, 48 knockouts), who faces Sam Peter on Saturday in Frankfurt, has more or less ruled the division since he took one of the sanctioning-body belts from Chris Byrd in 2006, a period during which he successfully defended it eight times, added a second title and became THE RING champion.

Vitali (40-2, 38 KOs) was at the top of the heap in the mid-2000s before retiring because of injuries and then made a triumphant return after a four-year hiatus, regaining a major title by thumping Sam Peter in 2008.

At the moment, it seems, no one can touch them.

“Floyd Patterson was a good heavyweight, not a great heavyweight, and he’s in the Hall of Fame,” Rold said. “Ingemar Johansson is in Hall for beating Patterson once. Guys who are recognized as the heavyweight champion get in.”

Some other heavyweights in the Hall had relatively weak opposition, including Rocky Marciano.

The most-dominating heavyweight of the 1950s went unbeaten in 49 fights but many believe the four fellow Hall of Famers he faced – Joe Louis, Jersey Joe Walcott, Ezzard Charles and Archie Moore — were flawed when Marciano fought them.

Louis was 37 and badly faded; Walcott was 38 and 39 in their two fights and at the end of a 23-year career; Charles, a great light heavyweight, was not at his strongest in the sport’s glamour division, and Moore was 41.

No one would question whether Marciano belongs in the Hall but his perfect record, not victories over other great fighters, is most responsible for his induction.

The Klitschkos are in a similar situation. The only Hall of Fame-caliber fighter either has faced was Lennox Lewis, who beat Vitali on a cut in 2003. The landscape is barren beyond that, although a peak Chris Byrd and a young Jameel McCline are among Klitschko opponents who were capable.

“A lack of competition works against [the Klitschkos] as it did against Marciano,” Sugar said. “Part of greatness is meeting and beating other great fighters. He faced four great fighters in six fights – Louis, [Archie] Moore, Walcott twice and Charles twice – and they averaged almost 40 years of age.

“I think Marciano is penalized by that. He was great but he might’ve been even greater.”

The Klitschkos have tremendous knockout ratios, Wladimir stopping 84 percent of his 57 opponents and Vitali stopping 90 percent of his.

But that’s not enough for many fans who crave action. The Klitschkos typically slowly break down and then knock out their opponents, rarely taking serious risks in the process.

None of the three experts believes that will stand in the way of their eventual induction, although it could have an impact on whether they go in their first year of eligibility.

“I think they’ll be in the Hall because of their dominance but it might take some time, though,” Sugar said. “They sure as hell won’t bring a large block of people to see them get inducted. They should give them one plaque and let ’em fight over it. At least then they’ll have to fight each other. I was at Wladimir’s fight with [Sultan] Ibragimov. The guy in front of me told me to quit snoring because I was keeping him awake. I’ve never seen a worse fight.

“They did good. They just didn’t do good by the fans.”

Merchant believes the fact they’re brothers also helps their cause.

Dozens of brothers have succeeded in the sport, even if only one pair [Tommy and Mike Gibbons] is in the Hall, but no fraternal tandem has dominated a division as these brothers have. That sets them apart.

“Two guys dominate the heavyweight division for nearly a decade and they came out of the same womb? Is there another story like that in boxing?” Merchant said.

Does one have an edge over the other?

Some experts believe that Vitali is the better of the two, certainly the tougher, but Wladimir is more accomplished. Thus, the latter probably will garner more consideration by the voters.

Wladimir’s knockout losses raised serious questions about his toughness – not to mention his chin and stamina — but he has used his careful, slow-paced strategy to become all but unbeatable.

Vitali has been just as dominating, apparently having never been behind in a fight in his entire career. But injuries will have taken a toll on his legacy.

Also, they were moved slowly early in their careers, both of which began in 1996.

“Wladimir is getting to the point where he has so many wins, where he has been dominant for so long without a gap, that it becomes impossible not to put him in [the Hall],” Rold said. “The fact Vitali has gone [most of his career] without losing a round is pretty impressive. If he didn’t get hurt, though, I’m not sure Wladimir would’ve had a chance to become a Hall of Famer because Vitali would’ve cleaned out the division.

“ÔǪ If Vitali had been moved faster and hadn’t lost four years, he could’ve accomplished much more.”

Of course, they’re not finished yet.

Wladimir, 34, would solidify his position as a lock to reach the Hall by dominating the division for a few more years. Plus, he might have a few live opponents in his future. David Haye, who wears one of the belts, is deemed a worthy challenger. And undersized Thomas Adamek has some respect.

The same holds true for Vitali, although at 39 he is much closer to the end of his career.

It seems almost everyone assumes they would beat anyone with the gumption to step into the ring with them. Even if one or both loses, though, they might’ve already accomplished enough to plan a visit to Canastota.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt about it,” Merchant said. “They’re long-time heavyweight champions. What long-time heavyweight champions aren’t in the Hall of Fame? Hall of Fames tend to expand their mandates from the super great to the great to the outstanding to the very good in all sports. Not everybody is a Babe Ruth or a Red Grange or a Johnny Unitas.

“For heaven’s sake, I’m in the Hall of Fame.”

Michael Rosenthal can be reached at [email protected]