by Johnny Walker
This coming Saturday, one of the two most dominant heavyweights of the present era–and indeed of all time if one consults the statistics–Vitali Klitschko, will take on obscure challenger Manuel Charr in Moscow, Russia in what has been billed as “possibly” the Ukrainian champion’s last fight before retirement.
While one can argue about the relative merits of Vitali’s opposition in comparison with that of other past greats (keeping in mind the human tendency to overvalue the past and undervalue the present), there can be no questioning the magnificence of Klitschko’s own achievements to this point.
Vitali Klitschko has never been knocked down, much less knocked out, as a professional. His 86.96 career knockout percentage is currently a close second behind Rocky Marciano’s high-water 87.76 mark. Even more impressive is the fact that Klitschko spent over three years out of boxing due to injury only to come back and reclaim his WBC heavyweight championship belt in his first fight, making Samuel Peter quit on his stool, then going on to thoroughly dominate his opposition in successive title defenses, seldom losing a round.
Klitschko’s only two losses so far came as a result of injury: he was easily defeating Chris Byrd when a severe shoulder injury forced him to stop, and likewise was ahead of Lennox Lewis when the referee decided to end the fight (much to Vitali’s dismay) due to deep cuts around Klitschko’s eye.
While the Klitschkos, like Lennox Lewis before them, have some very dedicated detractors (Lewis’s reputation has greatly improved in retirement), anyone who isn’t blinded by the kind of agendas for which some boxing “experts” are famous (the late Bert Sugar, a Klitschko-hater in extremis, being one example), surely has to admit that Vitali Klitschko is one of the most fearsome heavyweights of all time; it’s hard to think of any fighter in history who would have had an easy time with the 6′ 7″ tall, iron-chinned Ukrainian at his best.
Which brings us to Vitali’s next opponent. It is notable that while some of those around him, like K2 impresario Bernd Boente, have intimated that this might be Vitali’s last fight, the man himself hasn’t sounded like he’s ready to quit. In a recent press conference, Klitschko said that due to his spartan lifestyle, he feels closer to 25 rather than his actual age of 41, and claimed he would only stop fighting when his venerable trainer Fritz Sdunek tells him he is slipping.
Manuel Charr may well be a decent heavyweight: undefeated so far, he’s got a couple of notable names on his resume, and size-wise he is not exactly small at close to 6′ 4″ tall with a beefy, muscular frame.
However, a fight with the relatively unknown Charr seems inappropriate for a man of Vitali Klitschko’s celebrated stature to retire on. More likely, if Vitali does as most expect and disposes of Charr with little difficulty, the WBC champion will look toward at least one more bout, perhaps even more than one if his current run for political office in Ukraine falls short.
Charr, then, is more likely a tune-up for Vitali’s swan song, rather than the swan-song itself. Tune-up for who? Well, perhaps not coincidentally, the WBC recently announced that British heavyweight David “Hayemaker” Haye, who had been on the organization’s blacklist following his press conference brawl with Dereck Chisora in Munich, has metaphorically kissed and made up with boss-man Jose Sulaiman, and is now welcome to fight the WBC heavyweight champion at any time.
When it comes to exit scenarios, Vitali putting long-time family enemy Haye “into the dust,” as he has often threatened to do, certainly dwarfs anything one can imagine happening between Vitali and Charr (at least anything minus the challenger staging a highly unlikely upset).
Both men would go into that high-profile fight highly motivated, with something to prove: Vitali was taken the distance and even pressed at times by Chisora, while Haye stopped the eccentric heavyweight via knockout; Haye lost in embarrassingly one-sided fashion to Vitali’s younger brother Wladimir and has yet to prove he can deal with the really big boys of the heavyweight division (Haye’s win over Russian giant Nikolai Valuev was far less than convincing).
Vitali versus Haye would thus be a fitting (and highly lucrative) spectacle for a great heavyweight to end his career on.
Saturday’s fight with Manuel Charr should tell us just how close that spectacle is to becoming a reality.