Wladimir Klitschko has been THE heavyweight champion for about eight years now, exceeding every reign except that of Joe Louis. Yet Klitscho (61-3), the holder of the WBA, IBF and WBO belts, is nearly always dissed no matter how he goes about his business, and Saturday’s victory in his long-awaited bout with unbeaten Russian Alexander Povetkin was no exception.
The bout in Moscow, aired on HBO, was marred by way too much hugging, and many are casting this as Klitschko’s fault, even though it played havoc with Klitscho’s clear-cut intentions to control the fight with his jab and use it to set up his prodigious power punches.
He landed many of those anyway, but it wasn’t pretty, and indeed it wasn’t a very satisfying victory, considering all three officials scored all 12 rounds for Klitschko and considering he officially scored four knockdowns..
Povetkin (26-1), four inches shorter and 15 pounds lighter than Klitschko, had little choice but to repeatedly lunge toward Klitschko, winging one looping power shot in each foray and sinking his head into Klitschko’s midsection to limit return fire.
Klitschko’s retaliatory strategy, probably discussed years ago with the now-deceased trainer Emmanuel Steward, was to lean forward onto Povetkin’s head and neck until the combatants were separted and hope Povetkin couldn’t clock him with a roundhouse from Turkmenistan.
It wasn’t Klitschko’s fault that the tone of the fight was tedious, but it was his fault that the knockdowns were ugly.
There was a knockdown late in the first round that no one but I seemed to notice, although Klitschko must have thought so, too. Povetkin proved then how adept, for a fighter who’d never been down before, he was at clinging to Klitschko instead of hitting the mat.
Klitschko scored a clean knockdown in the second with a short left hook and landed a thunderous one-two early in the sixth that convinced Povetkin that he’d been smart to fight in such an ungainly style..
But the three knockdowns in the seventh round were more like the unnoted first-rounder, except whenever Klitschko felt Povetkin was not fully on his feet, he would hurl the burly challenger to the mat.
It’s much more savory to simply let a stunned opponent cling to, or slide down, your leg than to hurl him to the mat, but Klitschko needed to get credit for the knockdowns lest he be judged to be losing rounds in which Povetkin’s lunging resulted in any significant-looking blows. The tactic ended up costing Klitschko a one-point penalty late in the fight, which is why the scorecards read 119-104 instead of a perfect 120.
Klitschko has never been a perfect champion. Because his competition has been so negligible, he doesn’t really have a signature fight along the lines of his brother Vitali’s thriller against Lennox Lewis. Even eight years since Wladimir last suffered a knockdown, even his supporters still think he’s vulnerable to a stunning comedown at any time.
But his time has not passed. He still looked mighty stout, years away from being deposed, and even more years, therefore, away from being properly credited for being a great champion.