Can the Klitschko’s Achieve Greatness without Rivalries?
By Ken Hissner, Doghouse Boxing (Oct 28, 2011) Doghouse Boxing
Photo: Wladimir (L), Vitali (R) - Klitschko Brothers
Seven heavyweights seem to stick out starting with Jack “The Galveston Giant” Johnson, 55-11-7 (35), upon defeating “The Boilermaker” James J. Jeffries, 18-1-2 (16), ending the latter’s career. That would begin the “White Hope Era”. When historians go back they usually start with “I’ll fight any man in the house” and that was John L. Sullivan, 38-1-2 (32), unbeaten until his streak ended at the hands of “Gentleman” James J Corbett, ending his career. What greatness has the Klitschko’s achieved?

Except for winning the title over the “Pottawatomie Giant, Jess Willard to win the title in 1919 “The Manassa Mauler” Jack Dempsey, 61-6-9 (50), stood out more in his last four fights though only winning two of them. In 1923 he was knocked out of the ring in the first round by “The Wild Bull of the Pampas” from Argentina Louis Angel Firpo. Without the help of the ringside reporters he may have not made it back into the ring. He would knock out Firpo in the next round. He would lose to Gene Tunney, then 62-1-1, before 120,757 in a pouring rain in Philadelphia. One year later would be the famous “long count” when Dempsey had Tunney on the canvas for well over ten seconds but refused to go to a neutral corner which had just be instated. Tunney would come back and defeat Dempsey putting him into retirement. Tunney himself would make one defense and retire as champion.

In 1937 “The Brown Bomber” Joe Louis, 66-3 (52), would defeat James Braddock for the title. He proclaimed until he defeated the only man who had defeated him at the time Max Schmeling, he would not consider himself the champion. The rematch occurred in 1938 with Schmeling taking a terrible beating and being stopped in the first round. That was a landmark fight for Louis even though he would have 25 successful title defenses after defeating Braddock. His last fight was when he was well over the hill against future champion “The Brockton Blockbuster” Rocky Marciano, 49-0 (43). Marciano was best known for his first fight with former champion “Jersey” Joe Walcott. Behind on all scorecards going into the thirteenth round Marciano landed a right hand to the jaw of Walcott’s that is one of the boxing history’s most pictured punches. The entire face of Walcott was out of shape. Marciano would be the only heavyweight champion to retire undefeated and remain that way.

The next one to stand out was first known as the “Louisville Lip” due to his bragging of what round he would end his fight. This former Olympic Gold medalist would gain the self-proclaimed nickname of “The Greatest’ being none other than Cassius Clay aka Muhammad Ali, 56-5 (37). His name change came upon winning the title from Sonny Liston in 1964. He would make nine title defenses before refusing to enter the military and be out of boxing for over three years. The Ali that came back was not the same boxer but would highlight his career from two of his three bouts with “Smokin” Joe Frazier.

Ali had two bouts before taking on Frazier in 1971 losing a decision in Madison Square Garden for one of the most highly publicized fights in modern boxing history. Before they had their rematch Ali would have two of his three fights with Ken Norton. He had his jaw broken in the first one and went onto lose a split decision. His very next fight he would defeat Norton by split decision, both in 1973. In 1974 Ali had his rematch with Frazier with no title at stake winning over 12 rounds by decision.

In Ali’s next match he re-won the title defeating “Big” George Foreman in Zaire, Africa, in 8 rounds. The third fight with Frazier was in 1975 in “The Thrilla in Manila”, which was one of the greatest heavyweight title bouts in the history of boxing. Ali was ahead going into the fourteenth round with both fighters fighting exhaustion outdoors in the Philippines. Just as Ali was considering quitting, Frazier’s trainer Eddie Futch called a halt to the fight as Frazier looked like he walked into a bee hive.

In 1980 in his next to last fight, Ali, was stopped for the only time in his career, losing to Larry “The Easton Assassin” Holmes, 69-6 (44). Holmes would have to come off the canvas to win a title eliminator with possibly the hardest puncher in heavyweight history in Earnie Shavers, to get a shot at Ken Norton for the WBC title. Holmes would win a split decision over Norton in 1978 for the title. He would once again come off the canvas in a rematch with Shavers in 1979 to go onto stop him.

In a highly publicized fight with Gerry Cooney, in 1982 Holmes made it clear it was about “race” to build up the gate. Holmes to this day feels he has never gained the appreciation he deserves being in the shadow of Ali. Marciano defeated Louis late and never received the same recognition as him either. The “victim” attitude of Holmes has never allowed him to become a popular champion.

In Holmes forty-third fight most felt “Terrible” Tim Witherspoon won the split decision Holmes would receive. Once again Holmes seemed fortunate to get by Carl “The Truth” Williams in his forty-eighth fight. When he lost to Michael Spinks in 1985 in a close fight he proclaimed “Marciano couldn’t wear by jock strap”! As Holmes would admit much later that cost him many endorsements. The only problem is he again showed his bitterness 25 years later saying “what I really meant to say was Marciano couldn’t walk down the same sidewalk I did”. That was meant to sound like a reversal of the down south racist remark held by many blacks against whites down south where Holmes was born in Georgia.

Holmes was not too flattering toward Ali either calling him “an average fighter”. Holmes was one of the only heavyweight champions to have a non-title fight when he fought Marvis Frazier who was only 10-0. The WBC would not recognize it as a title fight so Holmes would fight for the newly created IBF title next defeating James “Bonecrusher” Smith in 1984. Smith was 14-1. Next up was David Bey 14-0 and Carl “The Truth” Williams who was 16-0. He told promoter Don King he was “tired of fighting these young lions”. So when he was defeated by Spinks who was the light heavyweight champion at 27-0 he blamed it on racism though Spinks was also black. Ali nicknamed him “Peanut Head” and no one has to ask why.

In the Spinks rematch Holmes seemed to be short changed losing again but this time by split decision. It would be twenty-one months before he would fight again challenging the new WBC, WBA and IBF champion “Iron” Mike Tyson, 69-6 (44), who at the time was 32-0 in 1988. The ending had Tyson hitting Holmes so hard his feet were off the canvas similar how Foreman had Frazier off the canvas in Jamaica. Holmes would not fight again for three years and got two more title chances losing to Evander Holyfield and Oliver McCall. He even ended his career making Eric “Butterbean” Esch, 65-2-3, in his seventy-first fight of being the “King of the 4 Rounder’s” agreed to a ten round fight. Only in Esch’s third fight did he have a six rounder. Holmes goal had to be to humiliate the 334 pound white-fighter from Alabama. Holmes got the decision, but found himself on the canvas in the tenth and final round.

Tyson would be our last heavyweight to stand out winning the WBC title in 1986 over Berbick, who in trying to get up from the canvas fell down twice. Tyson would gain the WBA title in his next fight defeating “Bonecrusher” Smith and two fights later take the IBF title winning over Tony “TNT” Tucker. He was a man of destruction in and out of the ring. In 1990 he suffered one of the biggest upsets in the history of boxing losing to James “Buster” Douglas two rounds after having Douglas on the canvas.

Tyson would regain the WBC title in 1996 stopping Frank Bruno. Next he won the WBA title stopping Bruce “The Atlantic City Express” Seldon. In his next fight he was defeated by Holyfield in eleven rounds. Many consider Holyfield one of the top champions. In the rematch Tyson after receiving a cut from an accidental head butt bit the right ear of Holyfield. Referee Mills Lane instead of disqualifying Tyson called a halt. It looked like Tyson’s people threatened Mills to this writer though I have never seen it reported. Mills then ran over to the Executive Director Marc Ratner who said “we can’t stop a fight of this magnitude”, said Mills. That director would move to the UFC as its vice president for regulatory affairs in 2006 some nine years later where he belonged. The next bite from Tyson took off a portion of Holyfield’s left ear causing Lane to finally stop the fight on his own.

So, overall we have JACK JOHNSON, JACK DEMPSEY, JOE LOUIS, ROCKY MARCIANO, MUHAMMAD ALI, LARRY HOLMES and MIKE TYSON. This brings us to the brothers Klitschko. The younger brother now 35 is Wladimir Klitschko, 56-3 (49), who won his first world title in October of 2000 defeating WBO champion Chris Byrd who had defeated the now 40 year old Vitali “Dr. Ironfist” Klitschko, 43-2 (40), six months earlier for the title due to injury.

When one brother lost it was not unusual for the other brother to defeat that fighter. Wladimir lost to Ross Purrity in December of 1998 for his first loss. In December of 2001 Vitali defeated Puritty. Wladimir lost to Corrie Sanders in March of 2003 and Vitali defeated Sanders in April of 2004. After Vitali losing to Byrd as previously mentioned Wladimir not only defeated him in 2000 for the WBO title but again in April of 2006 for the IBF title. After losing to Lamon Brewster in April of 2004 for the vacant WBO title he would defeat Brewster in October of 2007 in defense of his IBF and IBO titles.

The only boxer to defeat either brother without losing to them later was Lennox Lewis who retired after defeating Vitali on a cut while behind on all score cards 58-56 at the end of the sixth round in June of 2003. It was evident Lewis did not want a rematch with Vitali who was the much fresher at the end. Vitali made two defenses of his WBO title and has made nine defenses of his WBC title. He has not lost since the Lewis fight in 2003 winning eleven straight with nine by knockout.

Wladimir holds the IBF, WBO, WBA Super and the IBO titles. He has not lost since 2004 that to Brewster. He is scheduled December 10th to defend against former WBC and WBA Super cruiserweight champion Jean Marc Mormeck. He has five WBO title defenses, the IBF ten times. He won the WBA Super World title in his last fight.

The Klitschko’s have only improved over time. Neither one had a series of fights with a well known opponent that would elevate their status. It will probably be said they came along at the right time. Unbeaten Alexander Povetkin is the new WBA champ and might be a future opponent for Vitali. Whether they will ever be the stand outs the other seven are only time will tell!

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