The Lost Opportunity of Wladimir Klitschko

First of all I want to take the time to praise the work of my colleague Tim as his exceptional coverage of the Klitschko-Ibragimov battle was top notch entertainment. 
I must admit that I am still miffed at how such a fight with so much promise failed miserably to produce anything in the way of action. 
The insufferable performance displayed in the highly anticipated heavyweight unification bout between Wladimir Klitschko, the IBF champion, and Sultan Ibragimov, who held the WBO version, perhaps seemed more uninspiring when followed by HBO’s superb documentary chronicling the life of Joe Louis. 
How fitting that on this weekend the NFL held its annual scouting combines in Indianapolis, IN while fight fans and media descended upon New York to scout what most considered being the heir to the heavyweight throne.  And while ESPN has been inundated with the giddy exuberance of reporters waxing poetically about the potential gridiron stars of tomorrow, boxing fans were treated the listless performance of a boxer who has the tools and skill to really make an impact on the sport but continues to fall short on the big stage.   

Though the old saying of “how the heavyweights go, so goes boxing” is about as antiquated and incorrect as thinking the world is flat, there is a hint of truth to the saying as nothing drums up interest in the casual observer quite like a galvanizing lead fisted heavyweight.  In Klitschko, boxing fans had a glimmer of hope for a universally recognized champion sanctioning organization’s shenanigans aside.  Here we had a six foot six inch heavyweight with model good looks, an Adonis defined body, and an engaging personality who in spite of being in the “hurtin’ business” held a PhD as well as an active member in various global charities. 
It’s these very reasons why HBO, the sports largest media outlet, has hitched their wagon onto the broad shoulders of Klitschko.  And who could blame them for it?  See my afore mentioned comments for their rational and if anyone could market a fighter to the masses it would be the brass at HBO.  Unfortunately in his recent outings Klitschko has failed to live up to the lofty expectations that he was all to willing to accept.  There was his blow out of Chris Byrd in Germany to win his IBF strap and while he won it in crowd pleasing brutality, the truth was that Byrd was a shell of his former self.  His title defense over Calvin Brock was less than scintillating until Klitschko lowered the boom that left the Boxing Banker face down and out.  His previous defense over Ray Austin was perhaps one of the biggest disappointments as Austin offered as much resistance as a wet paper bag. 
All of this brings us back to Klitschko’s dominating yet excruciatingly boring performance this past Saturday night over Ibragimov.  The stage was set for this fight to have been Klitschko’s coming out party.  You had the incredible media push and the fact that the fight was playing on the most hollowed ground in the pugilistic world, Madison Square Garden.  Klitschko even had a critically acclaimed appearance on the Conan O’Brian show that cast him in a more personable light and not that of a cold ex-Soviet Ivan Drago clone.  His opponent Ibragimov was the perfect foil for his showcase.  A talented but limited fighter, Ibragimov would offer some resistance but not enough to upset the apple cart.  Plus the fact that this fight would represent the first heavyweight unification since 1999 when Lennox Lewis did battle with Evander Holyfield added a hint of hope that we would be one step closer to having an identifiable heavyweight ruler. 
Then the fight unfolded and while Klitschko utilized his jab with surgeon like precision nothing else followed.  While Ibragimov practically begged to be bludgeoned by the piston like right hand of Klitschko, the money punch never came.  Then when Klitschko actually decided to throw his dangerous right, it landed on the button near every time.  But Klitschko rationed his right hand like a lost man in the desert rations water.  It was beyond frustrating and not because I am some masochistic monster but rather because the implications of an impressive victory would have done wonders for boxing here in America. 
When pressed about his lack luster performance after fight, Klitschko admitted that while his performance may have been less than captivating you never got the feeling that he feels like he owes it to the fans to not only win but to win impressively. 
It was the perfect opportunity to make his mark as the ruler of the division.  A fact that seemed not to be lost on his trainer Emmanuel Steward who practically pulled his hair out imploring his charge to knock out Ibragimov or at the very least be more exciting.  But Klitschko stuck to his cerebral game plan that Ibragimov simply had no answer for much to the detriment of the fans who paid good money to witness what was to have been an exciting moment at the Garden.  Instead a chorus of boos rained down upon the fighters who seemed oblivious to the sleep inducing action they were generating. 
This was not a good night for boxing and one where you pray that no casual observer stumbled across for fear of driving them away from the sport forever.  Klitschko had the perfect opportunity to make a defining statement and he failed miserably.  But take heart boxing fans; at least we have Vazquez-Marquez III to waken us from our collective coma. 

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.