Top heavyweight Wladimir Klitschko was in about the most entertaining fight he’s been in for a while in his win over Tony Thompson Saturday, and if that sounds like a compliment, it’s a back-handed one. The awkward Thompson forced Klitschko out of his jab/back up or clinch/right hand pattern, the one he sometimes uses to either A. win a boring decision or B. set up a big knockout. It looked like he was on his way to A. but in the 11th round Klitschko took plan B. And, because Thompson disrupted Klitschko’s pattern, there were enjoyable moments before it ended so very, very conclusively… with that big straight right hand of his, of course. Too bad there weren’t more of those moments until the end.
Anyone who walks away from watching this fight anything other than mildly impressed is far more charitable than I. Klitschko shows so much at times that fighting significantly better than he did when he fought so awfully in February against Sultan Ibragimov isn’t good enough. Thompson exceeded my expectations, but if he was the best American heavyweight, that isn’t good enough. Oh well. At least we’ve got Fight of the Year candidate Miguel Cotto vs. Antonio Margarito coming up in just a couple weeks. Anyone who likes action but is still hung up on heavyweights ought to turn their gaze about 50 pounds south on July 26.
I gave Thompson two rounds — the 1st and the 5th. In both, he was landing his straight left more than Klitschko was landing his straight right, both to the head and body. In fact, Thompson landed more punches in a round — 21 — than anyone ever landed against Klitschko in the 5th. By just a little over the halfway point, Thompson had landed more punches against Klitschko than anyone had ever. Too bad Thompson doesn’t punch that hard. If he did, that all might have added up to something. In the 7th, Thompson began to slow, and Klitschko had begun to find his second win after looking tired himself around the 5th. By then, Thompson was telling his corner to trust him, that he saw something, that he knew what he was doing. What he looked to be doing to me was to land one big, counter, overhand left. It never came, and probably wouldn’t have done much if it had. Did I mention how it was too bad Thompson doesn’t punch that hard? Honestly, Thompson did as well against Klitschko as anyone has since Sam Peter in 2005. I don’t mean to dump on the guy. It’s just that if he could crack more, he might have won. As it happened, he only cracked enough to bust up Klitschko’s face and rip a cut over his eye, which, if you lose almost every round anyway, isn’t — that’s right — good enough.
Klitschko was immediately flummoxed by Thompson. Klitschko doesn’t like southpaws. He didn’t seem to like the way Thompson kept his gloves so high. The combination meant that Klitschko couldn’t land his jab basically ever. Then, Thompson was long and awkward enough that Klitschko couldn’t back up or clinch enough to avoid shots the way he usually does. Klitschko offset some of this in a couple different ways. The first was to cheat. Every fight I’ve ever seen where one boxer held an arm out stiff-arm style to keep an opponent away, that boxer got warned. You’ve got to throw a punch. Instead, Klitschko used his stiff arm to set up punches, make it difficult for Thompson to throw his jab around it and just generally annoy the piss out of me. Referee Joe Cortez, who’s on something of a refereeing slump, didn’t get around to warning Klitschko until it was too late. The other thing Klitschko did, which was legal, was the old Emmanuel Steward-trained big man trick to lean all over his man and wear him down. In between all that, he landed some very good straight rights, then, GASP! — Klitschko threw some body punches. That actually set up more straight rights. By the 1oth, when Klitschko scored a wrestling take down, Thompson just had nothing left. Klitschko, to his credit, moved in for the finish in the very next round despite being so clearly ahead on points. Big, big right hand. Goodnight. I’d have given him more credit for doing it a lot earlier, because with all his skill and power, he probably could’ve. I guess he wouldn’t be the Klitschko we’ve come to know if he didn’t fight with an excess of caution, even against a guy who clearly couldn’t hurt him like a lot of other heavyweights who might test his shaky chin could.
I must say I really like those giant white canvass rings they use over in Germany. And that it was funny the way Klitschko, in the pre-fight feature, said as a child he’d longed to see “black people.” And the little dance party in Thompson’s dressing room before the fight walk was charming. Yeah, it’s like that. Screw the heavyweight division — I really think it’s permanently compromised. Once again, I urge anyone who still cares about it to give up hope and pay attention to the weight classes where boxing is one of the really good athletic option for people of a certain size, which is anyone below 200 lbs. Cotto-Margarito! July 26!
Next for the loser: $500,000, which even after the guvmint’s and his manager’s take, ought to be enough to fix his dishwasher and all the other appliances he uses to take care of his wife and seven children. Despite my disappointment in the heavyweight division, Thompson is a tremendously likable chap and I hope he gets some more good paydays. He can take a shot, he tried to make things happen for as long as he could muster it and that’s a good thing in a division where long hugs are more the norm than actual punches, so it’s not like he’d be a charity case. I think he’d beat some other top-10 heavyweights if given a chance, maybe even sneak away with one of the belts, and make as fun a match as one can in this particular disaster zone.
Next for the winner: Here’s why it’s misguided to want a fully-unified heavyweight champ. Klitschko just defended one of his two belts. If he wants to keep the other, he has to fight Alexander Povetkin later this year, which, last I checked, was his current plan. Povetkin’s a decent prospect, but I think he’d be easier pickings than Thompson. Imagine if Klitschko got another couple belts — he’d be defending his belt against mandatory challengers for the rest of his career. Instead of fighting, say, Peter, the #2 contender, in a rematch that would establish a more true Ring magazine belt-holding champ. Which he doesn’t want to do anyway, because his brother, Vitali, is scheduled to fight Peter this fall. So, Povetkin it is. And I couldn’t care less.