Sharkie’s Machine: The Heavyweight Show - Klitschko Neutralizes Ibragimov
By Frank Gonzalez Jr., Exclusive to Doghouse Boxing (Feb 25, 2008) Photo © Bob Kolb, DHB  
Heavyweight. The highest regarded of all divisions in boxing. For all the hype bestowed on the Heavyweight Division, it’s interesting to note that it’s traditionally one of the weakest divisions in boxing. Why is HW so big a deal? Because they’re bigger? Yes, exactly. But it does beg the question: Is bigger better and what’s the source of the measure? The answer to this one is…it depends. What is the criterion for ‘better’ in boxing? Is it simply about size, fighting skills, undefeated records and quality of opponents, the most popularity or knockout ratios? It must be the drama that the fight can end from one punch at any time.

For a very big man at six feet, six inches tall, Wladimir Klitschko fights with the athleticism of a Middleweight, which makes him a most dangerous proposition for anyone in his division.

Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, between 33rd and 34th Streets, it felt more uptown, like Showtime at the Apollo, as the fans in the stands booed constantly between rounds of the Wladimir Klitschko (50-3, 44 KO’s) vs. Sultan Ibragimov (22-1-1, 18 KO’s) Heavyweight Title fight. The winner would own the IBF, IBO and WBO titles and move towards Unification. An exciting notion. Too bad the fight wasn’t as exciting. I think boxing is the only sport that doesn’t have a unified champion in any division. Having a unified Champion at HW would improve the stock of boxing in general.

There were big expectations for an quick, explosive conclusion in this fight but it turned out to be more a chess match kind of boxing event, with both guys pawing their jabs, rarely mixing it up and when Ibragimov got a bit aggressive, Klitschko neutralized his aggression and it went back to ‘more of the same’ for twelve rounds. Ibragimov looked very small and was rarely able to get close enough to land any meaningful punches. Klitschko landed his jab at will but didn’t
get very willful until later in the fight.

Klitschko looked very big, often measuring with his jab to counter the jab of Ibragimov. It worked like a charm because Ibragimov could hardly get close enough to score and Klitschko managed to land his own jab throughout the fight. Once in a while, after the fifth round, Klitschko would shoot a right hand and pop, it would land. It was effective but he rarely used it, which had his trainer Manny Stewart in maniac mode late in the fight, telling him after the 11th, that he needed to, “knock him out or it’s going to be bad.”

Stewart’s frustration had to be commercial. If Wlad couldn’t knock out a guy with such a limited game plan, what did that say about him commanding any potential Pay-Per-View events? It seemed to escape Manny that Klitschko was winning by a mile. But for Manny, it was about reinforcing the power of the product. You should have both I suppose. Though this wasn’t an entertaining fight per se, from a sportsman’s point of view, I saw it as a strategic win for Wladimir, who recognized from experience that anything can happen if you forget to be careful. He fought a careful, technical fight and won by lopsided margins.

Though he’s a very tough fighter, Ibragimov proved to be a one trick pony Saturday night against Wlad. He did the same thing over and over predictably, jabbing a few times, then rushing in with a left to the body, or sometimes upstairs. On the rare occasions that he scored, it was never anything clean. There was no blood, there were no butts, there weren’t many clinches, there wasn’t very much of anything save for Wlad’s patience and Sultan’s guts.

Ibragimov is a tough guy. He came to fight, he came to win. The problem was that he never made any adjustments to change the momentum of the fight. His corner gave him good advice early on when they gave it but it looked to me like Sultan needed a Russian voice in his corner to better interpret his instructions. It has to be extra tough to be concentrating on the fight and having to interpret English into Russian for sixty seconds after each round. Jeff Mayweather, Ibragimov’s trainer did tell him to use the feint more to lure Klitschko into an opening but Ibragimov either didn’t understand the instruction or didn’t have anyone saying it in a way he’d best understand it and get to it. It was good advice but he didn’t use it. Either way, no plan B ever came forth.

Wladimir fought very cautiously, keeping Sultan away and controlling the ring. Ibragimov tried to clinch and the clinches would turn into wrestle holds, one that saw both men fall to the canvas compliments of an Ibragimov tackle. In the end, it was Klitschko’s jab that had won him another belt for his collection. The scores were 119-110, 117-111 and 118-110 all for Klitschko.
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Now Wladimir needs to adhere to that noble spirit of competition and go directly after Ruslan Chagaev, the WBA champ, who isn’t scheduled to fight anyone at this time and should be available within a reasonable time. If Wladimir beats Chagaev, he must immediately fight the winner of Maskaev vs. Sam Peter and take that last major title belt. If he can win those two fights, he will be THE Champion. There can only be one. You can’t have four, three, or even two, only one. Of course we can all be champions in our hearts but you know damn well that’s not what I mean.

At 31 years old, Wladimir is still young. He has plenty of time to conquer the division if he can. I’d like to see him try as soon as possible, who knows, it could inspire a new generation of Champions in all the divisions instead of multiple (lower case) champions. Wlad seems the most formidable fighter in his division because of how well he uses his advantages in height, reach and strength. The variable is that he’s vulnerable, he can be beaten, it’s happened before at the hands of lesser skilled fighters.

Let’s hope his brother Vitali doesn’t come back until Wlad gets a chance to truly unify the titles. Though his fight was boring Saturday night, it proved that Wladimir has enough skills to win without taking risks against risky fighters. If he uses that to win all the belts, he’ll be the undisputed Champion and have no choice but to let it all hang out to keep it. And we’ll all be the beneficiaries who get to see it!

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