Sunday, November 29, 2015

Is Fury’s Win Over Klitschko The Beginning Of A New Era In The Heavyweight Division?

When a world champion establishes dominance as a champion through holding a championship for lengthy periods of time and multiple title defenses the obvious question that will be asked among Boxing fans and experts alike is who might come along who can derail that champion. There have been of course many dominant champions in several different weight classes throughout the history the sport who eventually saw their reigns come to an end.

For long-reigning unified IBF/WBO/WBA/IBO Heavyweight world champion Wladimir Klitschko, his second reign as a Heavyweight world champion saw him become the very best the division had to offer. Over nine years since regaining a portion of the Heavyweight world championship in 2006 Klitschko saw his reign extend to eighteen successful title defenses, thirteen of those defenses ending in knockouts and successfully unifying four of five recognized world championships along the way.

For a significant part of that period of time Klitschko shared dominance of the division with his older brother Vitali Klitschko, who held the WBC world championship. The brothers Klitschko have been referred to by this observer as “The two-headed Heavyweight championship monster” over the years due to each brother’s dominance of the division. Following Vitali’s retirement in 2013, the Klitschko dominance continued with Wladimir recognized as the number one fighter in the division.

Although for a long period of time it appeared as though Klitschko would eventually get an opportunity to completely unify the division to become the one and only Heavyweight champion of the world, and could well have remained at the top of the division until he decided to retire, all championship reigns come to an end. For Wladimir Klitschko the end came on Saturday night when he faced undefeated number one contender Tyson Fury at the ESPRIT Arena in Dusseldorf, Germany. Fury was the third consecutive undefeated opponent that Klitschko would defend his championship against after a knockout victory over previously unbeaten number one contender Kubrat Pulev in November of last year and a twelve round unanimous decision over previously unbeaten top contender Bryant Jennings in April of this year.

What made this fight interesting beyond it being a battle of two knockout artists was it was a rare occasion that the 6’6 Klitschko would not be the bigger man in the ring as the 6’9 Fury enjoyed a height and reach advantage over the champion. As has been the case for many previous Klitschko opponents, Fury would have to answer the question of whether he could avoid the focal point of Klitschko’s offense the one-two combination of his jab followed by a straight right hand. The combination that has bedeviled many opponents who simply could not find a way to avoid it.

Fury would answer that question immediately when the fight got underway using head movement and faints to not only avoid the dreaded Klitschko one-two, but also prevent Klitschko from getting into any sort of rhythm. Prior to this fight, this observer stated that although sometimes statistics turn out to be merely statistics, when you get two fighters going against each other, each having stopped 75% or greater of their opponents it suggests that the fight might not go the distance. In this fight however, statistics would not matter.

For twelve rounds Fury and Klitschko engaged in the extremely tactical Boxing match. Each fighter looking to not give their opponent an opening to execute offense. Fury’s defense, along with his ability to nullify Klitschko’s offense and generally being the fighter forcing the action is what won him the fight. Sometimes it comes down to who simply can land more punches than their opponent. In this fight that  fighter was clearly Tyson Fury.

Although many of the rounds in this fight were close due to neither fighter being offensive minded, Fury’s ability to throw more and land more than the champion was the difference. It was not a fight that will go down in the annals of history as being an all-time classic, it will however, go down as a fight of historical significance.

Klitschko’s reign atop the Heavyweight division was a historic one. Klitschko’s eighteen successful title defenses placed him third on the all-time list of successful Heavyweight world championship defenses behind only Larry Holmes, who made twenty successful title defenses in his championship reign, and Joe Louis, who holds the all-time record for successful championship defenses in any weight division in the history of the sport with twenty-five successful defenses.

For the thirty-nine year old Klitschko however, in his nineteenth title defense he simply could not find a way to let his hands go consistently. He could not pull the trigger on his punches. He could not get into an offensive rhythm. For a fighter who is known not only as a knockout artist, but as one of the most accurate offensive fighters in the sport, Klitschko’s lackluster performance against Tyson Fury was one that probably has people wondering if this was merely a bad night at the office for a great fighter, or a sign of a fighter suddenly on the decline.

This observer is not sure if Klitschko is all of a sudden a fighter on the decline, but the little offense that he was able to land on Tyson Fury did not have much effect. Two things that stuck out in my eyes was not only Klitschko’s inability to land his jab or his right hand with consistency, but also a clear lack of offense to Fury’s body.

Whether this was due to Klitschko not being used to facing a fighter bigger and taller than himself and not really needing to rely on going to an opponent’s body before due in large part to having a size and reach advantage over the majority of his opposition is a question that only he can answer. It is understandable however, if some were of the opinion that Klitschko simply may have let this fight get away from him as it progressed.

Over the course of the fight as Fury began to pull ahead, I had thoughts of Larry Holmes’ first fight against Michael Spinks in September 1985. The fight that signaled the end of Holmes’ seven and a half years atop the Heavyweight division. It would also be the first loss of Holmes’ career, who was attempting to tie Rocky Marciano’s record of 49-0. Holmes, who went into his first fight with Spinks with a pinched nerve in his neck was reluctant to throw his right hand over the course of that fight.

Although many including this observer, feel that Holmes still did enough in that fight to retain his title, Spinks would earn a fifteen round unanimous decision. Much like Holmes, Klitschko seemed reluctant to throw his right hand with consistency in his fight with Tyson Fury.

Whether this is due to an undisclosed injury or a respect for Fury’s punching power is a question that only Klitschko can answer, but it was clear to this observer that for whatever reason the Wladimir Klitschko who entered the ring to defend his title on Saturday night was not the same Klitschko who has dominated the Heavyweight division for most of the last decade.

At the end of the twelve round championship bout, unofficially I had Tyson Fury winning the fight 9-2, with one round even in rounds or 116-111 in points. Although many of the rounds, particularly in the first half of the fight were close due to the sporadic offense of both fighters, it was clear by the second half of the fight that Fury was the one who was dictating how the fight was fought and Klitschko simply could not find a way to turn the momentum in his favor.

Although this fight could best be described as one that did not provide much excitement and one where one fighter simply did more than the other, an interesting question coming out of this fight is was Fury’s victory, a lopsided twelve round unanimous decision over Klitschko the beginning of a new era for the Heavyweight division?

This observer is not sure, but the more interesting question in my mind is whether or not we will see a rematch between Fury and Klitschko in 2016. After all, Klitschko was a long-reigning champion and it is customary for champions who have had long reigns with a world championship to be entitled to a rematch. Even though the fight did not provide excitement, it would be interesting to see if Klitschko would be able to make any tactical adjustments the second time around. Perhaps having to fight a fighter who is bigger and taller was something that Klitschko is simply not used to and maybe the second time around Klitschko might find a way to let his hands go more consistently.

Although there is no comparison really between Klitschko’s loss to Tyson Fury and Larry Holmes’ loss to Michael Spinks in 1985, beyond perhaps a similarity in Klitschko’s inability to throw his right hand consistently, one should remember that Larry Holmes did receive his rematch against Michael Spinks in April 1986. Much as was the case in the first fight, many including this observer felt Holmes deserved the decision, but it was Spinks who would retain his title via fifteen round split decision. Whether or not a similar result between Fury and Klitschko would happen if a rematch takes place remains to be seen.

As this observer stated prior to the fight however, regardless of the outcome of the fight, Wladimir as well as his brother Vitali will go down as two of the greatest and most dominant Heavyweight champions in Boxing history. Although both brothers have been labeled as “Boring” by some, numbers do not lie.

In regard to Wladimir Klitschko after eighteen successful title defenses he has put himself in the elite company as one of the top three most dominant champions in the history of the Heavyweight division. Even though Klitschko’s performance against Tyson Fury was lackluster and although his march towards Boxing history in what might have been a potential challenge of Joe Louis’ all-time record has been derailed, no matter what may be in store for Klitschko going forward, this observer would like to say job well done Mr. Klitschko, you have been a great champion. You have nothing to be ashamed of.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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