Following the news that former heavyweight world champion Wladimir Klitschko has taken the decision to hang up his gloves a question keeps floating around social media, should he be remembered as a great of the sport or not?
Largely this is a subjective question based on an individuals preference as how can you really compare fighters of different generations? Nonetheless, a generalisation can be formed based on the majority’s opinion. For such a question to be answered fairly a deeper analysis of Klitschko’s career and legacy is required.
Now aged 41 from Kiev, Ukraine, Klitschko has had an extremely successful career that has seen him win Olympic Gold as an amateur and become a multiple time world champion as a professional collecting the IBF, WBO and WBA titles along the way.
Having turned professional in 1996 Klitschko has amassed a 69 fight career with a record of 64 wins (53 KO’s) and 5 losses. He dominated the heavyweight division for over a decade and holds 23 successful title defences only second to the legendary Joe Louis with 25.
When looking at statistics alone it is hard to argue that he has to go down as great of the heavyweight division but when delving deeper there are those who suggest that he was lucky to have competed in a weak era.
During his time as champion Klitschko faced series of fighters who many believe would have never challenged for a world title in years gone by. It is true that the division lacked the stacked talent that it has done in the past but can that really be used against Klitschko?
You can only beat who is in front of you and around at your time and not only did Klitschko defeat all comers for years on end but he hardly lost a round in the process. Under the tutelage of master trainer Emanuel Steward, Klitschko was able to develop a safety-first yet highly effective style that systematically broke opponents down.
Klitschko became an expert at keeping his opponent at range on the end of his long, spiteful jab and for many a year hardly had to take a heavy shot. His cagey style may not have been to everyone’s taste but was mightily effective.
The likes of David Haye who was regarded as a huge threat with his speed, athleticism and knockout power were rendered near useless from an offensive viewpoint and beaten without huge trouble.
Steward was instrumental in Klitschko’s huge success as he took a man who suffered terrible knockout defeats to the likes of Ross Purity, Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster and turned him into a winning machine.
Yes, the defeats to those mentioned above will always remain a stain on his resume but they are not the most telling aspects of his career. The vast majority of fighters no matter how great they are, suffer losses at some point in their careers but it is how they recover from them that is important.
In the case of Klitschko, he improved as a fighter and came back stronger than ever, that is the true mark of a champion.
Klitschko now leaves the sport with successive losses against Brit’s Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua but in many ways, his reputation is enhanced rather than dented.
The Tyson Fury loss was a bad one for Klitschko in which he looked slow, old and lacking in ideas. Huge credit has to go to Fury but Klitschko was not right that night. For Klitschko to have come back from such a poor display after a year and a half out of the ring and perform as he did against Joshua was remarkable.
Klitschko once again showed the doubters that he is a class act and along with Joshua produced one of the most entertaining heavyweight fights seen in many a year. Klitschko so nearly beat Joshua and as a result, fans will remember him more fondly than they would have done should he have retired following the Fury defeat.
It is strange to say that a defeat can actually enhance a legacy but the manner of Klitschko’s defeat appears to have done so.
Klitschko has proved himself the perfect professional over the years with dedication, humility and gentleman-like conduct always present. He is a highly intelligent, articulate man who largely showed great respect for his opponents and did his talking in the ring.
He is in many ways the perfect role model. He shows that setbacks in life do not have to define you and that you can reach the top with hard-work and professionalism.
In terms of assessing Klitschko as an all-time great of the sport, it is hard to argue that he is not. If you are the best fighter at your weight for a considerable number of years then surely you are to be regarded as great?
Whilst the defeats to what some may consider as lesser opposition earlier in his career combined with dominating in a weaker era than the likes of Muhammad Ali or Lennox Lewis may well see Klitschko not rated as a top 10 heavyweight of all-time, he most certainly is a great fighter.
On a personal note whilst a defeat may not be the most fitting way for a great champion to bow out, the fight with Anthony Joshua does seem to be the right moment for Klitschko to say goodbye. He has done himself proud and many see the fight as the passing of the torch from the one great champion to the next.
Wladimir Klitschko can hold his head high following an outstanding career that is likely to be respected more as time goes by. He is a great of the heavyweight division and I wish him all the best in the next chapter of his life.