TQBR Roundtable, Electric Boogaloo: Wladimir Klitschko, Great Champ Or Groan-Inducing Chump, And Whether Boxing Judging Should Be Modified

So concludes our marathon coverage of one of the biggest fights of 2011, Wladimir Klitschko-David Haye on July 2. Previously: the stakes of the bout; the keys to the fight, part I and II; a preview and prediction.

Welcome once again, tweakers and geeks, to the biggest (sorry folks, it’s long), baddest, fightingest edition yet of the TQBR Roundtable, where we discuss Wladimir Klitschko’s legacy leading up to his heavyweight title showdown with braggadocio David Haye and whether we would suggest any changes to boxing’s judging system after a couple more controversial decisions this past weekend.

(This homage to David Haye’s famous t-shirt was brought to you by the Mexican cartels and Heisenberg.)

Joining us for this edition of the Roundtable are Mike Coppinger, Corey Erdman, Andrew Harrison, Gautham Nagesh and Tim Starks. Answers are in the order in which they were received.

So no half-measures here; let’s dive full bore into a world only slightly less unpredictable and corrupt than the meth trade — the wonderful world of boxing.

1. How would you describe Wladimir Klitschko as a fighter and heavyweight champion? Is he a great fighter stuck in a lousy era, or is he an overrated bum who lucked into fighting in a lousy era, or is he something else? How does he stack up to Larry Holmes, another long-reigning champ in a lackluster era for heavyweights? Is there another fighter you would compare him to for historical perspective?

Andrew Harrison – Klitschko is an uninspiring bully, one who has generally folded when confronted with adversity. A remarkably gifted athlete, his physical attributes have left him so far ahead of the field (barring brother Vitali, of course) that he should have blown a hurricane through this current crop of heavyweights who, have no doubt, are the poorest shower of big men ever to have wobbled into existence. The interregnum between the reigns of Gene Tunney and Joe Louis mimicked The Depression, so I guess we should have anticipated that economic strife was right around the corner when Klitschko lifted the heavyweight championship a couple years back in the most insipid way imaginable. It depressed the hell out of me, that’s for sure.

I only hope to buggery that none of my esteemed colleagues are tempted to try and squeeze Klitschko into the same bracket of fighter as Larry Holmes, a legitimate great, or TQBR will lose so much credibility, we’ll be deemed unfit to carry Eastsideboxing.com’s jockstrap by the time Saturday comes around.

Technically, Klitschko is quite evidently excellent; however, he’s rarely been challenged against a procession of fall guys who were rendered sitting ducks after they packed dead weight onto their frames in a misguided attempt to match his bulk. The fact that he has been wiped out on multiple occasions in spite of this can’t be brushed under the carpet either, against a level of opponent which only serves to compound matters and contributes glaring negatives against any notion that Klitschko is anything other than a competent champion ruling in a moribund era. A functional and systematic winning machine totally devoid of any artistic flair, it’s little wonder that he’s adored over in the land of Michael Schumacher and Lothar Matthaus — yet he’s always lacked the fighting heart it takes to be a great fighter.

Tim Starks – Well, Andrew, I’ll risk being unfit for jockstrap-carrying duties ever-so-slightly. There is a rough parallel between Holmes, a somewhat uninspiring champion in a somewhat uninspiring era, and Klitschko. But the differences are more numerous than the similarities. The best opponent Holmes beat, let’s say Ken Norton, was 10 to 100 times better than the best opponent Klitschko has beaten — uh, Ruslan Chagaev, maybe?

I always wonder how Klitschko would do, were he lifted and jammed into a different era. On one hand, he’s developed a tremendously difficult style to beat, with his enormous size and how he uses it and the ways he protects his china chin from harm. I can imagine that giving a lot of people trouble, through the heavyweight ages. On the other hand, he’s not fought anyone who’s had the right combination of abilities and skill to overcome that difficult style, and I can just as easily (if not more easily) imagine prime Mike Tyson — whose legacy as a heavyweight great is debatable — wrecking him with ease.

That’s what makes the David Haye fight so intriguing. This is the best opponent of his career by a long shot, and flawed as he is, he prospectively has the right combination of abilities and skill to overcome that difficult Klitschko style. I’ve always liked the idea of Klitschko more than the reality: a dominant champion in one of boxing’s most important divisions, a good guy with some charisma, someone willing to take on all comers. If he beats Haye, he’ll get more respect from me, and maybe I’ll like his place in history a bit better. But gawd do I hate watching him fight, and I don’t see that ever changing.

Corey Erdman – Wladimir Klitschko is a future hall of famer, and would be a difficult fight for any fighter in any era. I won’t attempt to make a definitive argument on whether he or the current crop of heavyweights are better or worse than any other era.

Great heavyweights have benefited from different things throughout the years. The earliest heavies could voluntarily avoid black fighters. The “golden era” never had to face the great amateurs from the Soviet Bloc who defeated them.

It is possible that Wladimir could have beaten the folks Larry Holmes did? Sure. Is it possible that Wladimir could have beaten the piles of unknowns Rocky Marciano beat on his path to glory? That’s even more possible.

Does he match up in the “eye test” against “golden era” heavyweights? No, he is not a picture of fluidity that a generation of fleet-footed, fast-handed heavies were. He’s also stoic, white and not American.

Despite that, his opponents don’t stand a chance. But because of all that, he stands no chance against anyone who is posed this question.

Mike Coppinger – I think Wladimir Klitschko is quite overrated as a heavyweight. He has thrice been defeated by less than stellar opposition, all by knockout. He was in trouble in a bout with “Touch of Sleep” Williamson that, luckily for Wlad, ended abruptly, due to a cut. He was dropped three times in a win over the clubbing, plodding, Sam Peter.

I have always thought Vitali was the superior Klitschko — a far better puncher with a granite chin. Nonetheless, Saturday’s bout will go a long way in determining Wlad’s place in history.

Gautham Nagesh – I’ve never considered either Klitschko individually; rather they’ve always been an amorphous Eastern European blob that jabs lesser men into submission. Individually it’s clear that Wlad is the lesser of the two brothers. I’d place him somewhere in the neighborhood of the 90s contenders that were a cut below Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis and the other bold-faced names. Twenty-five years ago he’d be on the fringe of the Ring’s top 10 in heavyweights. Beating Haye would improve things, but without a marquee win against the likes of Lewis he can never claim to be an all-time great.

Scott Kraus – As someone pretty firmly planted on the “pro-Klitschko” side in the debate over his merits, it should come as no surprise that I’m a little more generous towards him than some of my esteemed colleagues. I do find it interesting that so many seem to question Klitschko’s ability to respond to adversity, when from where I sit he’s done that both in the macro sense of his career (rebounding from multiple knockout losses to ascend to the top of the division) and, in the first Sam Peter fight, in the micro sense of facing his biggest weakness (his chin) in a fight and persevering. I don’t think Klitschko is in the league of Larry Holmes, so don’t worry too much, Andrew. But I do think that he has earned his status as the top heavyweight in the world against the best guys out there who don’t share his genetics, and that’s worth something to me.

2. With judges’ decisions making as many headlines as the fighters themselves recently (yet again), do you think it’s time for boxing commissions to introduce changes to the way fights are judged? If so, any suggestions for how to tweak or revamp the current system? Or do you think the system is fine as is, and if so, why?

Andrew Harrison – Any system which allows for the promoter to pay the expenses of the judging panel requires a rethink, but without regulation, who exactly holds enough clout to force the commissions into addressing the problem? I’ve often wondered whether the fact that contests generally last four, six, eight, 10 or 12 rounds means that we find ourselves on a sticky wicket even before the first bell — surely it’d be easier to split a close fight if there were an odd number of rounds?

The current system is probably fine — let’s face it, we’re all pretty quick to tweet how we scored a controversial decision in line with the consensus after the event — there are merely good judges and bad judges and poor scoring should be examined and reviewed, with judges receiving feedback in the same manner that football referees do in the U.K.

Tim Starks – I wish there was a way for someone other than the promoters to pay the judges. It’s not that I think there’s rampant corruption, because there’s no evidence of that. But there are so many things that could subconsciously or subtly affect a judge, from the crowds to them knowing who pays the piper. On the other hand, it’s not like there’s a better option out there for how judges are paid, at least not one I’ve heard. If state commissions paid them, how many states would just say, “Screw it, that’s one more expense for hosting boxing that we don’t need?”

I’m not as worried about the number of rounds for a fight, although I get where Andrew’s coming from. So few fights end in draws that it doesn’t strike me as a big problem. But it’s not like it’d be a bad thing to have odd-numbered rounds. I also liked Scott’s suggestion a while back about having judges view fights away from ringside.

Corey Erdman – I suppose a “half point” kind of system to avoid fighters who utterly dominate from round eight onward from losing decisions would be ideal, but I don’t think Lucas Matthysse losing a controversial decision is going to influence any commission to amend the rules of judging boxing.

Do you know how many weekends one could find throughout the history of the current three judge system during which there were controversial decisions? Maybe when Kid Gavilan got a gift against Billy Graham in 1951 because of an overreacting, pro-Gavilan crowd, we should have given judges earplugs. Instead, we have Devon Alexander winning decisions sixty years later for the same reason.

I have a feeling that we’ll be doing it this way for a long time, unfortunately.

Mike Coppinger – I think the main problem with boxing scoring is the number of rounds. It’s completely absurd that there is an even number of rounds, I would love to see it go back to 15, though it’s not happening. Furthermore, I like Corey’s idea of adding a half-point.

But there really is no perfect system with something as subjective as boxing judging. The most important thing is to hold judges accountable.

Gautham Nagesh – All sports with judging will inevitably have issues. The main problems I see are: 1., The lack of a central board of control to hold judges accountable and 2. The fact judges rely on promoters to get work. Establishing a national athletic commission like Britain’s that assigns judges seems like a no-brainer. I plan on pestering members of Congress about this for the rest of the year.

Scott Kraus – Well, we’re all much more in line here, in that we recognize that there are issues with judging but are somewhat lacking in solutions. I like Corey’s half-point idea; it’s an interesting solution to the even-round dilemma that Andrew brings up (and that has bothered me in the past), and the issue of nicking a round being considered equal to clearly controlling a round. I definitely feel that new technology should be incorporated, even if it starts with monitors next to judges at ringside so they have something to look to when their view is obstructed. Accountability, as Mike directly addressed and others touched on, is the big issue here – and since the structure of boxing resembles anarchy more than anything, accountability is a very tall (and, sadly, probably unrealistic) order.

Well, that’s it folks, another edition of the Roundtable is in the books. Since I peppered this entry with allusions to Breaking Bad for no other reason than because I’m counting the days until Season 4 (July 17, baby!), I leave you with one of the greatest opening segments in television history. And for the curious, Tim is the Heisenberg around these parts. I’m closer to a combination of Saul Goodman and Gale. Poor, poor Gale. Enjoy!

About Tim Starks

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