20-20 vision – The greatest fighter from Ukraine: Wladimir Klitschko
Most countries have produced at least one or two special boxers whose ring exploits have been etched permanently in our collective memory. That includes tiny nations like Puerto Rico and behemoths like the U.S. and Mexico, as well many in between.
In this feature, The Ring looks closely at 20 countries with strong boxing traditions and selects the best fighter from each.
The process wasn’t easy. First, we had to select the 20 countries, which proved to be painstaking. Some nations that have produced memorable fighters didn’t make the list. And, second, choosing a single boxer from the countries that did make the cut was easy in some cases – Panama, for example – but excruciating in others.
The countries will be rolled out in alphabetical order one day at a time at The Ring.
Notes: The “five more” listed at the bottom of each capsule were among other fighters in the discussion for each nation. … Some boxers lived in more than one country. We assigned each to the country where they spent their formative years. For example, a fighter who left one country as a small child was assigned to his second country.
Birthdate / place: March 25, 1976 / Zhangiztobe, Kazakhstan
Years active: 1996-2017
Record: 64-5 (53 KOs)
Major titles: WBO heavyweight (2000-03), IBF heavyweight (2006-15), WBO heavyweight (2008-15), Ring heavyweight (2009-15), WBA heavyweight (2001-15)
Greatest victories: Chris Byrd (twice), Ruslan Chagaev, David Haye, Samuel Peter (twice), Alexander Povetkin, Kubrat Pulev
Background: When all is said and done, fellow Ukrainians like Vasiliy Lomachenko and Aleksandr Usyk might be considered the best fighters produced in the former Soviet country. One could even argue that Vitali Klitschko was the better of the two boxing brothers. However, as it stands now, no Ukrainian can even approach the accomplishments of the giant Dr. Steelhammer. The younger Klitschko brother held the WBO heavyweight title for 2½ years in the early 2000s, lost it and then reigned for nine-plus years as the untouchable king of heavyweights. His combined reign of 12 years is the longest in boxing history. Overall he made 23 successful title defenses, second only to the great Joe Louis’ 25. The 1996 Olympic super heavyweight champion hit some bumps in the road on his way to greatness. He was 24-0 and nearing a title shot when he was stopped in 11 rounds by fringe contender Ross Purrity in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, raising questions about his toughness and fitness. Klitchko didn’t let the setback stop him. Two years later, in 2000, he put Chris Byrd down twice and nearly shut him out to win his first title. He successfully defended five times and then ran into big, strong South African Corrie Sanders, who put the champion down four times and stopped in the second round to win the title. Klitschko then won twice before running into more trouble, this time against fringe contender Lamon Brewster, who got up from a knockdown to stop Klitschko in five rounds in a fight for the vacant WBO title. No one could’ve imagined at that point that such a vulnerable fighter would evolve into a dominating heavyweight yet he did. Klitschko, working with legendary trainer Emanuel Steward, solved whatever problems he was having and was all but unbeatable until the last few years of his career. No one could cope with his long, strong jab, punishing right-hand power shots and underappreciated footwork, which allowed him to win 22 consecutive fights after the Brewster loss. Finally, as he approached his 40th birthday, he was outboxed by Tyson Fury to lose his titles and failed in a brave attempt to become champion against heir apparent Anthony Joshua. However, by then, Klitschko had already established his credentials as the most successful heavyweight of his time.
Quote: “He’s the most accurate, single-punch knockout guy I have ever seen,” Emanuel Steward said. “A guy can be completely fine, not hurt, and Wladimir can put his lights out with one shot.”
Five more from Ukraine (in alphabetical order): Oleksandr Gvozdyk, Vitali Klitschko, Andreas Kotelnik, Vasyl Lomachenko, Aleksandr Usyk
Next up: United Kingdom
Ones you missed:
Argentina: Carlos Monzon
Australia: Jeff Fenech
Canada: Sam Langford
Cuba: Jose Napoles
France: Marcel Cerdan
Germany: Max Schmeling
Ghana: Azumah Nelson
Ireland: Barry McGuigan
Italy: Nino Benvenuti
Japan: Fighting Harada
Mexico: Julio Cesar Chavez
Panama: Roberto Duran
Philippines: Manny Pacquiao
Puerto Rico: Wilfredo Gomez
Russia: Kostya Tzsyu
South Africa: Brian Mitchell
Thailand: Khaosai Galaxy
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