Saturday, April 25, 2015

Just How Good Is Wladimir Klitschko?

Just how good is Wladimir Klitschko, the one and - let's face it - only heavyweight champion of the world? Well, for starters, he's close to matching Joe Louis' record for longest title reign. That counts for something, right? Not to some people, actually.

The truth is that while Klitschko is enormously popular in Europe, he's not well regarded here. It isn't that he's hated. He just isn't thought about much. What's more, when he is, people don't view his skills in a positive light. Some, of course, argue that Americans just don't like Klitschko because he isn't American. Yet one look at Manny Pacquiao's popularity here in the states shoots down that theory.

The fact is that Klitschko was getting on Americans' radar about a  decade ago. He was a knockout king and some of us were getting excited for a superfight between he and heavyweight honcho Lennox Lewis. A crushing loss to Lamont Brewster, however, trashed people's high hopes for the man. And frankly, they never returned.

Even though Klitschko has fixed the flaws in his game plan since that time, he's fought largely in Europe, and against Europeans. Indeed, he's been completely off the radar. Perhaps more telling, however, is the fact that Klitschko learned to play it safe, to not put his chin on the line after tasting the canvas. In short, many Americans have found the man boring and unsatisfying to watch.

That all may change tonight when Klitschko gets it on with Philly's own Bryant Jennings in Madison Square Garden. Then again, it may not. It doesn't matter, though, at least not in the context of this article. What matters is how good Klitschko really is in the ring. Not how entertaining he is. Not how popular he is. How good he is.

And the truth is that he's very good indeed. Let's face it, there's no one out there who can beat him, save for a fluke. No one. That's saying something. Oh, people can argue that he's benefitting from a weak division, but the same was said of Louis and Marciano. Yet they're still remembered and Klitschko will be too at the rate he's going.

As far as where the man stacks up to the all time greats, I'm not so sure. He's big and talented, true, but could he beat Lewis? Or Tyson the night "Iron Mike" faced Michael Spinks? Or the slippery Cassius Clay who bested Sonny Liston? It's hard to say, frankly. I wouldn't completely write the man off, though.

And that, in and of itself, is saying something.

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