So yesterday marked the retirement of probably the best heavyweight boxer of the last 10 years and surely worthy of the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Love him or hate him Wladimir Klitschko has provided boxing and the fans with some memorable moments over the years and today we found it fitting that we look back at some of these moments and really take the time to reflect on what he brought to boxing.
Wladimir had a fantastic amateur career picking up two silver and two gold medals before the cherry on the top, which was the gold medal for Ukraine at the 1996 Olympic Games.
Klitschko turned professional that very same year and even from the beginning his superior jab, right hand combination was evident. 1997 was a very active year for the Ukrainian man having 13 bouts over the course of the year, something not many young fighters in this day age do anymore.
1998 arrived and this was the year Wladimir picked up his first professional title by defeating Marcus McIntyre for the vacant W.B.C. international heavyweight title. He went to defend the title 7 times in that year, again another very active year for Klitschko. Then it came time for his 8th title defence against the inconsistent Ross Puritty.
The bout was something Wladimir had never experienced in what was expected to be a routine win turned out to be a nightmare for the undefeated Ukrainian. Purrity applied constant pressure and was able to get under the infamous jab and continued to catch Klitschko and in the 11th the tiredness of the big man had well and truly kicked in and Purrity caused an almighty upset by stopping Wladimir Kiltschko.
Wladimir bounced back in fashion picking up 10 straight victories and the WBA International Heavyweight & European Heavyweight titles in the process. The first shot at world honors was presented to Klitschko as a result of his recent success but it was not going to be easy as he went up against another well-known heavyweight in Chris Byrd.
The bout took place on the 14th October 2000 was for was Byrd’s WBO heavyweight title. Wladimir dominated the fight, using the physical attributes and strength’s to his advantage and picked up a unanimous decision to claim his first world title.
The Ukrainian giant defended the title on five occasions picking up victories over the likes of Ray Mercerr, Frans Botha and Jameel McClinee. At this point Wladimir was a 41 fight professional with vast amounts of experience and was looking on top of his game, which was until a certain Corrie Sanders got in his way!
8th March 2003, Hannover, Germany and it was time for the sixth defense of the WBO title. Corrie Sanders was also at a similar point in his career but had not picked up a world title. The fight started at a fast pace and not one Wladimir was enjoying, he looked nervous and not his usual self. Sanders unloaded and unsettled the big man flooring him on various occasion before the referee called halt to the fight in the second round, Klitschko had again succumbed to a pressure fighter, but this time lost the world title he had worked hard to get.
After the loss to Sanders it was time for Klitschko to get back on the saddle and back to winning ways. He picked up to victories to finish up 2003. The following year Wladimir was back competing for his old WBO world title against fellow contender Lamon Brewster. The bout was made and set for the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada, this was the first time Klitschko was travelling outside of Europe and the first time he was the away fighter. The fight got underway and Wladimir dominated the first 4 rounds and had Brewster on the canvas, this looked set to be a good night for Klitschko on his American debut however Brewster had other plans.
The 5th round ensued and Brewster came out with a look in his eyes which said “kill or be killed”, all of sudden he started to swarm Klitschko, who was not great at reacting to pressure and the battle was very much underway. After some great exchanges between the two fighters Brewster caught the Ukrainian with two thundering left hooks which sent Klitschko crashing to the canvas, the end of the round was upon us but Wladimir struggled to get to his feet which prompted the referee to step in and called a halt to the fight. Wladimir Klitschko had lost via another knockout and surely this was going to spell the end of his world title challenge.
After having time to reflect on the defeat Team Klitschko decided it was time to shake things up and bring in a new trainer, enter legendary trainer of the champions Emanuel Steward. Steward had guided the like of Lennox Lewis, Oscar De La Hoya and Julio Cesar Chavez Gonzalez to world crowns and was well known for the work he did with creating another heavyweight legend in Lennox Lewis. Under the guidance of Steward, Klitschko adopted his game and started to fully utilize his physical advantages over most of his opponents.
2005 came around and the first fight under Steward had passed by, Wladimir was already looking back to his best. Wladimir then went up against undefeated Nigerian contender Samuel Peter and picked up a vital victory which automatically put him in line for a shot at the IBF and IBO world titles against former foe Chris Byrd. This time round Wladimir went one better than their previous fight and stopped Byrd to become world heavyweight champion once again.
Over the course of the next five years Wladimir Klitschko really started to show his dominance in the division, he ploughed his way through competition and picked up knockout victories over the likes of former for Lamon Brewster, Tony “The Tiger” Thompson, Hasim Rahman, Ruslan Chagaev and Eddie Chambers whilst also picking up the WBO world title along the way. It was clear that other than his older brother Vitali, there was no one in the division that could test him, and the work he and Steward had put in had really paid dividends.
The heavyweight scene was pretty dire at this point in time and there were very few challengers to Wladimir’s crown, but whilst he was dominating the division there was another man that was making a name for himself and climbed the rankings fast. Former cruiserweight champion David Haye had made the move up to heavyweight and was dispatching of very good opponents with ease. David Haye got his big chance against man mountain Nikolay Valuev this was modern day David vs Goliath, which Haye came out on top and picked up the WBA world title in the process thus setting up some memorable moments with Wladimir.
After months of goading from Haye including the memorable moment where Haye confronted Klitschko in the middle of a busy German shopping centre, the fight was made and set for 2nd July 2011 in Hamburg, Germany. The build up to the fight was fantastic and really got fans talking about heavyweight boxing again. Haye was very vocal in the lead up to the fight and the one moment that sticks out was the press conference in which Haye in an attempt to unsettle Klitschko turned up with a t-shirt showing a decapitated head of Wladimir a move that angered Team Klitschko and certainly brought a lot of attention in the boxing world.
Klitschko ever the consummate professional did his upmost to stay calm and composed throughout the buildup, and was going to let his fists do the talking. Fight night came around and it was easily one of the most anticipated fights in world boxing in years. The fight started similar to most Klitschko fight…tentative for a couple of rounds and then Wladimir started to take control keeping Haye at bay with his long reach and jab. All the talk from Haye in the buildup seemed to be lost on him in the ring and all the promises of a knockout, well they just didn’t seem like they was going to happen. Klitschko dominated Haye over 12 rounds and picked the win and the WBA title to his collection. After the fight David Haye made a move which people will not forget for a long time, he took off his boot and complained of a broken toe which he had got in the lead up to the fight and used this as the reason for his lackluster performance, this move lost Haye a lot of respect and the fans that had bought into the hype.
Wladmir Klitchko had proven he could take on all challenges that he was faced with and continued his dominance in 2012 by picking up two more victories and successful defenses of the 4 world titles he held. However Klitschko’s mental strength was to be tested once again when on the 24th October 2012 legendary trainer of champions and man he called his “friend” Emanuel Steward passed away at the age of 68. This was a devastating loss to Wladimir and the whole of the boxing world who had watched this man single handedly turn fighters into champions and legends just like he did with Wladimir.
Johnathon Banks was the man enlisted to take the reigns as the new head trainer for Wladimir Klitschko, the former cruiserweight world title challenger who himself was coming to the end of his career as a fighter. Banks guided Klitschko through two successful defenses firstly against unknown and undefeated challenger Mariusz Wach Boxing, on what was an emotional night in Hamburg. Klitschko dedicated the victory to his friend Emanuel Steward who had reshaped and guided him through 17 successful fights. The next fight was against another undefeated but largely unknown fighter in Francesco Pianeta, Wladimir continued to show his dominance under new trainer Banks and dispatched of Pianeta via knockout.
There was a new force that had emerged in the division by the name of Alexander Povetkin, the Russian heavyweight had been knocking out fighters for fun and was widely touted as the man to take over the division and end the Klitschko reign. The fight was made and to be staged in Povetikin’s home country giving him the advantage, and we all know how Wladimir didn’t travel very well. The fight itself was a sheer masterclass from Klitschko as always using the physical advantages he was blessed with to dominate the previously undefeated Russian over 12 rounds and in his home country the demons of travelling had well and truly been vanquished.
A few months later and we was in 2014 and Klitschko made another successful defense of his world heavyweight titles against Alex Lepai, this lead on to a fight with another undefeated contender Kubrat Pulev. Pulev had started his career later on in life but had made a great impact on the division knocking out most of the opponents he had faced. This was going to be Wladimir’s biggest test since the Povetkin fight and one he was well equipped and prepared for.
The fight took place in Klitschko’s adopted home of Hamburg, Germany, this was a place the fans had grew to love Wladimir and come fight night’s was like a cauldron much like in the film Rocky 4 where Sylvester Stallone’s character would travel to Russia to face their champion and enter the arena to a chorus of boos and sneers of the home crowd.
The fight between Klitschko and Pulev was an exciting one, Pulev was not known for backing off and he never took a step back. The two men exchanged thunderous blows and Pulev was on the canvas after eating some big right hands. Pulev rocked Klitschko on a couple of occasions but Wladimir had learnt from his defeats and dealt with the pressure well. The fight ended in round five when Klitschko’s right hand was too much and the fight was stopped. Another great victory and another undefeated challenger dealt with.
The following year (2015) Wladimir went back to the USA for this first time since the loss to Lamon Brewster way back in 2004. This time it was to take on undefeated American contender Bryant By-By Jennings at Madison Square Garden one of the world’s greatest boxing venues and also a place Wladimir had dreamed of headlining, a place where the greatest of heavyweights fought. Jennings was a very game fighter and pressurised Klitschko throughout the fight but was unable to land anything significant on the champion due the difference in height and reach. Klitschko again used all his tools and game plan that had seen him undefeated since 2004. This victory set up a clash with another young, hungry, brash British fighter by the name of Tyson Fury.
Tyson Fury made his name largely in the UK, but with the UK being the hotbed for boxing around the world his name was started to be on the lips of fans as a potential opponent for Klitschko. Fury had become increasingly frustrated with big fights falling through after twice missing out on a fight with David Haye, due to Haye pulling out. His character is brash and he prides himself on being a fighting man, so when the call from Team Klitschko came he immediately took the opportunity.
This brought another build up that entertained fans and critics alike with memorable moments such as Fury dressing up as Batman at a press conference. Fury was supremely confident that he was going to take all the belts from Wladimir and has never been one to mince his words. Klitschko as usual was the consummate professional, but made sure Fury knew he was going to be in a fight.
The fight itself took place on the 28th November 2015 in Dusseldorf, Germany. Fury started the fight well, using his physical advantages over Klitschko, something that was unfamiliar territory for the Ukrainian man as he was always the bigger man in most of his fights. Something was not right, Wladimir was not throwing many punches and Fury grew in confidence as the rounds went on. In the latter stages of the fight Klitschko started to throw the trademark right cross but it was too little, too late as Fury was already well up on the scorecards. The fight went the full 12 rounds and you got the sense that maybe father time had caught up with Wladimir Klitschko as he succumbed to the younger man in Fury thus putting an end to his 11 year and 22 unbeaten fight reign.
After the defeat to Fury, Wladimir took two years out and was contemplating retirement, meanwhile in the UK a hot heavy weight prospect named Anthony Joshua who was making lots of noise and knocking out all of his opponents. Joshua captured the IBF title in 2016 and had well and truly burst on to the world scene picking up victories over Prince Charles Martin, @Dominic Trouble Breazeale and Eric Molina. Joshua was more than ready for a big test. Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn made a deal with Team Klitschko and the fight was set for a 90,000 sell out at Wembley Stadium in the UK.
This was to be the first time Klitschko had fought in the UK and was very much looking forward to being back on the big stage. A reinvigorated Klitschko looked phenomenal in training and at 40 years old still looked in peak condition. Joshua is well known for his physique was set for the biggest fight of his career against a man he had sparred with not 2 years earlier. There was nothing but respect from both camps in the build up to the fight with Klitschko offering to help Joshua return once he had defeated him in battle, he even went as far as to make a video prediction and put it on a USB stick, which to this day we still don’t know what was on the stick. All this was an attempt to unsettle the younger man, but Joshua seemed to take it all in his stride and was fully focused on the job at hand.
The 29th April 2017 was the date of the fight and Wembley Stadium was the venue, a sell-out crowd of 90,000 fans were in attendance and in the process breaking the record for the biggest fight attendance in the UK surpassing the previous record held of 80,000 fans which were set by the Carl Froch vs Saint George Groves second fight.
The fight got underway and Klitschko surprised a lot of people as he looked as sharp and agile as man half his age he was moving around the ring well using his legendary jab to take the early rounds against the lesser experienced Joshua. By the end of the 4th round Joshua was down on the cards and looking to find a way through the Klitschko jab.
Round six ensued and all of a sudden the fight exploded when Joshua caught Wladimir with a right hand which hurt him and then continued to unload until he sent Klitschko to the canvas, much to the delight of the 90,000 fans. Klitschko got up and Joshua continued to unload everything he had, the experience Wladimir had from previous fights kicked in and he survived the round, however Joshua looked spent. Both men came out for the sixth round and Joshua looked very tired after putting his full efforts into finishing the fight in the previous round, Joshua seemed easier to hit and Klitschko sensed this and started to apply pressure. A jab followed by a thunderous right hand landed on the chin of the previously untested Joshua, and for the first time in his career he was on the canvas, Joshua showed great strength in getting up at the count of eight, and managed to survive the onslaught from the Ukrainian.
The fight continued back and forth with both men winning their fair share of rounds, the 11th round was already upon us both men came out from their corners to battle in the middle of the ring and straight away big blows were being thrown. Joshua landed one of the most venomous uppercuts you will ever see which sent Klitschko reeling, Joshua pounced on his man and sent him to the canvas again. Much credit to Klitschko as he got up again, but this time Joshua was calculated in his shots and the referee had no choice but to step in and call a halt to the fight, leaving the fans and millions watching around the world in complete rapture. What we all witnessed that night was one of the greatest heavyweight title fights in boxing history and by far the most exciting fight of Klitschko’s fantastic career.
The crowd at Wembley gave “Dr Steelhammer” his final curtain call and the respect for the show he had put on and it was well deserved.
Now that we can sit back and reflect on Wladimir Klitschko, a man that became the second longest reigning world champion and also holding the record for the second most successful title defences (23) only behind legendary fighter Joe Louis (25) we can honestly say that this man has brought so much and has been a fantastic ambassador for the sport of boxing. There are only two words that we can end his story on and that is