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IS THE HEAVYWEIGHT DIVISION BETTER OFF WITHOUT WLADIMIR KLITSCHKO?

By Kuda Love | April 25, 2014
IS THE HEAVYWEIGHT DIVISION BETTER OFF WITHOUT WLADIMIR KLITSCHKO?

Wladimir Klitshko is clearly a talented and dominant champion. It is no slight on his ability when people suggest, as I am about to, that boxing, specifically the heavyweight division, is better oFf without him. It's just that it has been so long since it has even seemed possible that any current heavyweight could beat him, that I wonder what the point of his fights are. On Saturday, he faces off against Alex Leapai, a fight he will enter into as a 66 to 1 betting favorite. That kind of mismatch goes against what fans cherish in championship fights. Anything can happen, of course, but this upcoming fight, like a lot of recent Klitschko fights, should turn out to be not much more than a glorified exhibition; Klitschko showing off his physique for a few rounds, commentators marveling at his ability to fight this well at age 38, with polite claps from the German fight fans setting the mood, before Wladimir gives us the anti-climax by knocking his opponent out the minute he decides to. Surely all this cannot be good for heavyweight boxing, can it?

TOO MANY ADVANTAGES

Wladimir is so much better than every one else in his division that there are no interesting match-ups involving him that can be made anymore. Not only does he possess far more talent than most of his competition, he also has far more experience than any of the other talented fighters in his division. He has over 25 championship victories, while his last 5 opponents average just 2 title fights fought at the time they fought him. Klitschko opponents aren't afforded the luxury of building up their experience at championship level before they are pressured to step up and fight the best fighter in the division. This is just one of the factors that give Klitschko a head start in most of his fights. 

The heavyweight division is unlike any other in the size disparities there can be between opposing fighters. Wladimir is a big heavyweight. He is taller than most and outweighs almost all of his opponents. The combination of his greater size and incredible punching power condemns most fighters to a knockout defeat as soon as he lands a power shot.

To compound his natural advantages, Wladimir Klitschko always fights at home, where the officiating has historically been questionable. In Germany, we have witnessed (incidentally or not) that the referees always seem to officiate the fight in a way that favors the Klitschko's style (restriction on inside fighting, constant clinch allowed). With the prospect of outboxing Wladimir to a decision victory in Germany almost unimaginable, the remaining chance of defeating Wladimir is by knockout. The task of knocking him out is made near impossible when the referee won't let his (usually) shorter opponents fight up close. This extra protection allows Klitschko to fight on the outside, using his (often) superior reach and defensive footwork to keep his opponents from launching meaningful attacks. Add to this the extra advantages that Klitschko is able to extract out of negotiations, like rematch clauses, ring size, etc., and you'll realize that even if he were not as talented as he is, the chance of winning against someone with that much in his favor are slim to none.

HOW IS THIS DIFFERENT THAN FLOYD MAYWEATHER?

Wladimir isn't the only dominant champion whose biggest problem is finding worthy opponents. It would seem that Floyd Mayweather has the same problem, and many will liken Klitschko's situation to that of Mayweather, but in my opinion, there are several decisive differences.

There is a far deeper talent pool in Mayweather's weight class. There are many more fighters capable of causing Mayweather trouble at welterweight than there are heavyweights that can force Wladimir to break a sweat. Mayweather also has neighboring divisions that can produce future opponents. Recent Mayweather opponents Ortiz, Guerrero and Maidana originally made their names below 147. De La Hoya, Canelo and Cotto fights were at 154. In effect, Mayweather has a pick of opponents from at least 3 divisions: 140, 147 and 154. Wladimir Klitscho can only fight heavyweights; any cruiserweights coming up are so disadvantaged by the size disparity that it is a pointless mismatch.

Mayweather is physically challenged. He is a relatively small welterweight and a comparatively light puncher in a division with many naturally bigger men and stronger punchers. Mayweather is also challenged in different ways stylistically, so he tends to show us more. The aesthetic side of the sport is subjective of course, but it seems to me that Mayweather's greater array of tricks, superior talent, grace, versatility, and out-of-the-ring entertainment makes him the worthy face of boxing; nothing like Wladimir Klitschko in this sense.

Mayweather opponents are also allowed to have extensive world title fight experience before facing him. The fact that fighters have to prove themselves by either winning a championship or winning a big fight against a credible opponent gives them more heading into a fight than a Klitschko opponent can have. For the majority of the last 5 years, all the world championship belts have been in Klitschko possession, making title fight experience scarce.

So what do I, and other boxing fans, want from Wladimir Klitscko? Better fights is the simple answer. Meaningless processions like the ones he's had recently do nothing for the sport or its fans. Wladimir needs to either reduce his level of activity to allow the division to grow or find a way to make his fights more meaningful. I, like you, am a fan of the sport above all and so naturally prefer that the best fighters remain active, but the Klitschko case is an exception. Wladimir just has so much going for him that his presence only serves to strangle the heavyweight division.

Take a couple of years off Mr. Klitschko! It just may do your legacy a world of good.

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