By Johnny Walker
In the wake of another dominant performance—maybe one of his best ever at age 40, no less—by WBC heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko in stopping game Polish challenger Tomasz Adamek last Saturday, it has become clear that the only foes the Klitschko brothers have yet to knock out are in the sports media, and especially the boxing media.
More and more boxing fans are starting to realize that the Klitschkos are indeed the real thing and would have given any heavyweight in history a very hard time of it. But many boxing writers still seem to be unable to write an article giving them any kind of credit without also trying to denigrate them. Most of the compliments they get in the US sports press are very much of the backhanded variety.
This phenomenon is something seldom seen in sports history, and the people responsible for it should be ashamed of themselves. Imagine if, for instance, when Tiger Woods was making everyone else in the golfing world look like amateurs, every single article about him started out with, “Tiger Woods is a great golfer, but….” followed by the inevitable caveats about the weak era he was playing in, and how a prime Jack Nicklaus would have surely beaten him easily.
Or if every article on tennis great Roger Federer, when he was racking up Grand Slam after Grand Slam, had to include qualifiers about how he was just beating up on the tennis version of tomato cans and how a prime Jimmy Connors or John McEnroe would have cleaned his clock.
Crazy? Yet that is exactly what the Klitschko brothers, Vitali and Wladimir, have to contend with every time they post another lopsided win.
A new media low was hit this past weekend in an ESPN blog posting by Richard Fletcher in which the writer noted Vitali’s superiority over Adamek and then spent the rest of his time bashing the Ukrainian fighter.
“No disrespect, but the elder of the two Ukrainian brothers, who have had the heavyweight division on lockdown for what seems like an eternity, is dull, technically awful and has zero charisma,” Fletcher writes.
No disrespect? I’d hate to see what Fletcher writes when he does want to disrespect someone.
Personally, I enjoy watching the Klitschkos demonstrate their unique skills and dominate some very good boxers, but I’ll give Fletcher the first point. Excitement is subjective, so if he doesn’t enjoy watching the Klitschko brothers, fine. I didn’t really enjoy watching Manny Pacquiao’s last couple of fights, either, so I know how he feels.
But “technically awful?”
It’s a fair to say that Vitali Klitschko, who was also a kickboxing champion before becoming a professional boxer, has forgotten more about fighting than Richard Fletcher ever knew. Apparently when Floyd Mayweather goes through a fight and avoids taking punishment, it’s demonstration of great boxing skill, but when a Klitschko does it, it’s just dumb luck.
But of course, it isn’t, and during the HBO telecast last Saturday, Emanuel Steward pointed out why in expert fashion.
As Steward noted, Vitali uses subtleties to tease the opponent into throwing punches, often leaning forward and then backward with his hands down, sometimes taking a small step back as well. Vitali’s anticipation and reflexes are such that the opponent usually misses his target entirely or hits his shoulders, as Adamek found out. And then come the brutal counter-punches that rattle the poor Klitschko victim to the bone. “Speed is power,” Adamek said before the fight, but as he found out, anticipation kills speed.
Actually, Vitali Klitschko is far better defensively now than he was when he fought Lennox Lewis and Corrie Sanders. He controls distance better, and takes far less punishment than before. To say that Vitali is “technically awful” is just pure ignorance and a big insult to all the work the man has put into his fighting career and to the great success he’s enjoyed.
And about Fletcher’s next charge. Vitali has “zero charisma?” Again, this seems like a cheap shot, an ad hominem attack. Too often, the media today confuses bad behavior with charisma. “Excitement” equals getting busted with drugs and guns and getting caught staging dog-fighting contests. In the reality TV era, tawdry personal behavior often equals a sad kind of fame, a fame acquired with little or no talent or substance behind it.
The Klitschkos are the opposite of that.
Oddly, the Klitschkos seem to represent everything Americans claim to honor (and yes, Fletcher is a Brit, but he’s writing for an American audience): hard work, discipline, familial loyalty. Yet the media here seems to find two heavyweight champion brothers with advanced educations far less interesting than the dysfunctional Mike Tysons of the boxing world. One gets the feeling that maybe if Wlad or Vitali smacked someone down in a nightclub and then pulled out a gun and shot the place up, they would be better liked in America, and thought to be more “exciting.” Which is more of a statement on current American society than on the Klitschkos.
In my next column, I’ll look at some of arguments that Fletcher and others make to try and downgrade the Klitschkos’ place in boxing history, such as the idea that they only win because they are big men, and the claim that their opposition is far weaker than in previous eras.