In the last decade, there has been one constant who sat atop Boxing's Heavyweight division as the division's central figure. Longtime Heavyweight world champion Wladimir Klitschko. Klitschko, a two-time world champion began his second reign as a world champion in April 2006 with a knockout over longtime champion Chris Byrd in their second encounter, ruled over the division for nine years compiling eighteen successful title defenses, and successfully unifying the IBF, WBO, IBO, and WBA Heavyweight world championships along the way.
What made Klitschko’s second reign as a world champion so dominant was few opponents were able to put up a significant challenge to Klitschko, who would win the majority of his fights with a basic, but effective weapon, the left jab followed by a straight right hand. With the one-two combination combined with his 6’6 frame and technical Boxing style, the question that was often asked prior to a Wladimir Klitschko title defense usually centered on whether the challenger would be able to negate Klitschko's height, reach, and his ability to dominate a fight with the one-two combination.
Although Wladimir as well as his brother Vitali, who himself had three separate and successful reigns as a Heavyweight world champion in his own right, have been labeled as “Boring” to watch by some due to their technical styles, both fighters will go down as two of the most dominant fighters in the history of not just the Heavyweight division, but of the entire sport. Wladimir’s second reign as champion was also the third longest championship reign in Heavyweight history in terms of successful title defenses behind Larry Holmes and Joe Louis. The reign, which as time went on was called a march towards history by this observer came to an end when Klitschko lost his unified crown to undefeated number one contender Tyson Fury in November 2015. In what was an extremely tactical fight that was fought at a slow pace Fury, a fighter who had a height and reach advantage, a rarity for most Klitschko opponents, was consistently able to force the combat and simply out landed Klitschko to earn a twelve round unanimous decision to take the crown from Klitschko.
Following the loss of his championship, Klitschko invoked his right to an immediate rematch with Fury. Due to a plethora of circumstances however, the anticipated rematch between the two did not take place. It was due to those circumstances that ultimately resulted in Fury opting to relinquish the unified Heavyweight world championship and in the process send the Heavyweight division into a state of limbo with several of the championships that comprised of the unified crown being vacated and in some circumstances, new champions determined between each respective organization’s top contenders.
After undefeated contender Charles Martin won the vacant International Boxing Federation (IBF) crown in January 2016 with a stoppage of Vyacheslav Glazkov, Martin defended his newly won world championship against undefeated “Knockout Artist “ Anthony Joshua in April of last year. Joshua would score a convincing second round knockout of Martin to win the championship.
Joshua, the 2012 Olympic Super-Heavyweight gold medalist entered that fight unbeaten as a professional with all fifteen of his wins coming by way of knockout. Although the subject of at what stage in a fighter’s career will that fighter be ready to challenge for a world championship is one that will likely stir some debate, Joshua has shown following his knockout of Martin in two defenses of the IBF world championship that he was not only ready for the challenge, but after two dominant knockout wins over challengers Dominic Breazeale and Eric Molina that he is a player in the discussion as to who is the best Heavyweight in the division currently.
Joshua’s win over Molina in December of last year, set up a collision with the former longtime kingpin of the division Wladimir Klitschko in an encounter that will take place on Saturday night at Wembley Stadium in London, England. In addition to Joshua’s IBF world championship, the vacant World Boxing Association (WBA) and International Boxing Organization (IBO) world championships will also be at stake per Klitschko being owed a mandatory challenge of both championships from his contractually obligated rematch with Tyson Fury, which never occurred.
The political elements of the sport aside, this fight is a classic battle of youth versus experience. A young world champion whom some feel has not been tested thus far in his career against a former longtime champion looking to become part of only a handful of fighters to have won a version of the World Heavyweight championship on three separate occasions.
The questions that I have as this fight approaches all center around the former champion Wladimir Klitschko. Although there is no disputing his dominance prior to losing his championship to Tyson Fury, it is important to remember that a casualty of the rematch with Fury falling through in addition to throwing the division into a state of limbo for a period of time is that Klitschko has also been inactive since he lost his championship to Fury in November 2015.
It is certainly understandable how one could question if potential ring rust might be an issue for Klitschko given not only the length of time he has been out of the ring, but also given that Klitschko is forty-one years old. In addition to the subject of ring rust, Klitschko must also answer the question of whether his performance against Tyson Fury, where he was never really able to get into a consistent offensive rhythm was a case of having a bad night at the office under circumstances where he was facing a fighter who was taller than himself and was also at a disadvantage in terms of reach for a rare time in his career, or if his sporadic offense was a sign of possible decline.
It is logical to assume both given Klitschko's inactivity and the champion’s reputation for scoring quick knockouts as he has only been stretched as far as seven rounds twice in his career thus far that Joshua will look to test Klitschko early in the fight. An element to also consider is that both fighters will be equal in height at 6’6 and nearly equal in terms of reach as the champion will only have a one inch advantage at 82” to Klitschko's 81”.
The approach that I envision Klitschko taking in this fight is one where he might look use his experience to extend Joshua into the middle and late rounds while gradually stepping up his offense as the bout progresses. Klitschko is known for having a tactical Boxing style, but he is also a fighter whom in his sixty-eight fight professional career, has scored knockouts of fifty-three of his opponents registering a career knockout percentage of 78%. It would also be logical to see the challenger look to use the twenty-seven year old Joshua’s aggression against him by looking to make him miss and counter the champion as he comes forward in an attempt to set up a possible knockout as the fight progresses.
One element that surrounds this fight to also consider is it will take place in the legendary Wembley Stadium where an estimated crowd of 90,000 spectators are expected to be on hand. Although sometimes estimated attendance figures do not match or exceed expectations prior to a marquee Boxing event, the crowd that will be in attendance will be massive and one might question how the young champion will respond to what is the definition of “The Big Fight” atmosphere. Klitschko, who has regularly fought in front of sold out arenas and stadiums throughout his career will likely not be awed by the occasion, but for Joshua, who has fought in front of sold out arenas, the question of whether he could freeze in front of a crowd of the size expected at Wembley Stadium for this fight is a fair one to ask and one that will likely be answered early in the fight.
In terms of the business aspects of the sport the Joshua-Klitschko bout will make history in the United States as for the first time two of the sport's major television players and longtime rivals Showtime and HBO will each produce separate broadcasts of the fight on the same day due to each network having exclusive deals with the fighters involved. Showtime, who has a deal as the U.S. Broadcaster for Anthony Joshua's fights, will broadcast the fight live, while HBO, who has a similar deal as the U.S. Broadcaster for Wladimir Klitschko’s bouts, will air their broadcast later in the same evening.
Although the networks are certainly no strangers to each other as they famously co-produced two of Boxing's biggest pay-per-view events the Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson bout in 2002 and most recently the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao bout in 2015, this particular situation is unique and it is refreshing to see that a compromise was made where both networks would be involved rather than one network stepping aside or worse both networks electing not to televise the encounter in any form, something that has been an ongoing issue with regard to the lack of U.S. television coverage of a good majority Boxing's international scene for years. We will have to wait and see if the unique circumstances that have Showtime and HBO doing separate broadcasts of the same event is something that is a one-off or something that could lead to more of Boxing's international scene being showcased to American audiences on a regular basis. For now, this observer feels this is a step in the right direction that is long overdue.
Whether or not the actual fight lives up to the anticipation and magnitude of the event remains to be seen. Boxing history however, is full of stories of longtime champions who have lost their crowns attempting to reclaim their status against a young world champion who represents a new generation/era of a division and/or the sport. Will this fight signal a return to the top for a fighter who was considered the best Heavyweight in the world following a loss of his crown and lengthy absence, or will this encounter signal a true changing of the guard to a young unbeaten “Knockout Artist”, who may ultimately prove to be the face of a new era of the Heavyweight division? We will get the answer on Saturday night.
“And That's The Boxing Truth.”
Joshua vs. Klitschko takes place Saturday April 29th at Wembley Stadium in London, England. In the United Kingdom, the bout can be seen on a pay-per-view basis on Sky Box Office for €24.95 HD/€19.95 Standard Definition beginning at 6 PM (Local UK Time). For ordering information please visit: https://my.sky.com/orderboxoffice/
In the United States, the bout can be seen live on Showtime beginning at 4:15 PM ET/1:15 PM PT and will also be available on the Showtime and Showtime Anytime apps. For more information about Showtime, Showtime Sports, the Showtime and Showtime Anytime apps and a list of compatible devices please visit: www.sho.com. HBO will also be broadcasting the fight on a tape delay basis later that evening beginning at 11 PM ET/PT. For more information on HBO, HBO Sports, and HBO Boxing, please visit: www.hbo.com and www.hbo.com/boxing.
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