Why The Klitschkos Should Not Fight

The moribund heavyweight division could be reignited “with a master class in gentlemen jabbing,” argues Shaun Assael in a recent ESPN the Magazine article in which he takes the position that heavyweight champion brothers Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko should forsake their previous vows to never fight and go all Civil War for heavyweight supremacy.

The great Axl Rose once sang, “I don’t need your Civil War.” As usual, Axl and I agree.

If gentlemanly jabbing could truly revive the stagnant division and regain public interest, then surely Wladimir would have amassed a Justin Bieber-size following after enacting the phrase for 36 excruciating minutes against Sultan Ibragimov at Madison Square Garden in 2008, a performance which strongly influenced his becoming persona non grata on United States television until this summer.

I don’t believe the Klitschko brothers should fight, but whether or not I think it would be “ghoulish” or “gruesome,” the objections to the fight that Assael primarily focuses on, is almost irrelevant given the numerous other reasons for not wanting to see the Battle of the Champion Brothers (I don’t want it to sound too much like I’m bashing on Assael or his article; he takes a pretty difficult position and argues it persuasively and eloquently, I just don’t agree with his position).

Despite unifying all titles and determining the undisputed champion of the storied division (although most observers, including Ring Magazine, regard Wladimir as the linear champ), the fact that neither brother wants the fight (which Assael notes himself) ensures that the fight itself would be terrible. The heavyweight championship of the world simply should not be decided between two men who have powerful motivations to not hurt one another, and no two men in the sport currently have a more powerful motivation to refrain from hurting one another as the Klitschkos. The very idea goes against the entire principle of the title.

Remember how Manny Steward had to plead with and berate Wladimir Klitschko to unleash his devastating right hand against Eddie Chambers (among other instances) before Wladimir finally responded with a chilling 12th-round knockout? Against his brother, I have no doubt that Wlad would refuse to pull the trigger. And were Vitali to at some point connect with Wlad’s questionable chin and leave him wobbly, I cannot image Vitali closing in for the kill as he has in 39 of his 44 professional fights.

The result would be that fans would pay $60 for a glorified sparring session. Boxing history would see the heavyweight titles unified in said sparring session. The bloodthirsty, the action-hungry, the historically minded, the casual observer, the promoters and networks and participants – Assael quotes Wlad as saying, “we’d both be losers,” referring to himself and his brother, but, in fact, the fight would leave us all losers.

Not only would the fight likely be terrible, the critical reception of the fight would be terrible for boxing. Mainstream media already tends to talk about boxing, when they can be bothered to acknowledge it at all, in a negative way (except when Manny Pacquiao is involved). Two brothers beating the crap out of each other to decide the heavyweight championship? Yeah, they’ll love that.

I can already see the Pardon the Interruption ten-second breakdown of the fight: Kornheiser: “Wilbon, heavyweight boxers the Klitschko brothers have announced that they will fight each other for the heavyweight championship. Your thoughts?”

Wilbon: “Disgraceful. Disgusting. Disturbing. I’ve been saying for years that boxing is dead, and this is another new low.”

Kornheiser: “What if one of them winds up like Benny Paret? What will their mother think? Just another nail in the boxing coffin.”

Boxing gets enough bad press without actively inviting it, which is exactly what a Klitschko-Klitschko showdown would do.

Besides, the Klitschkos may not long be in position to decide the heavyweight championship within their own family. David Haye presents the most formidable threat to Wlad’s championship yet (also, to be fair, noted by Assael) on July 2. The promotion has featured lots of bad blood and trash talk (two important elements to boxing promotions that would also be completely absent from Klitschko-Klitschko) and is a far more realistic contender to revive the division. The odds on Klitschko-Haye going to decision are remote, as it features two hard-hitting knockout punching heavyweights who despise one another; the odds of Klitschko-Klitschko going 12 boring rounds are off the books.

Beyond that, should Wladimir prevail, Tomasz Adamek could provide a stern test for Vitali in the fall. Should Adamek upset Vitali (an unlikely but not impossible proposition, especially given that the fight is in Adamek’s native Poland, Adamek has never been stopped, and Vitali has gone the distance twice in his last four fights, notable for a guy who had heard the final bell once in his first forty fights), Wlad could challenge Adamek to restore his family honor, unify the division, and fill a massive stadium in Europe.

Without any interfamily bloodshed.

While I happen to hold the opinion that demanding a fight between the Klitschko brothers is unnecessarily gruesome, I do not think that is the primary objection to the fight anymore. It would be bad in the ring, bad for the public perception of boxing, and it will not be the solution to the lack of a clear, undisputed heavyweight champion for long, one way or another (I know most of us rightly acknowledge Wladimir as the champ, but clearly not everyone does or there would be absolutely no reason to demand this matchup). Even if both brothers are victorious in their upcoming fights, Vitali could easily retire soon and concede the throne to his brother.

Here’s hoping the “gentleman jabbing” remains an unrealized fantasy, and that Wladimir and Haye provide the true spark that reignites the heavyweight class when their rivalry hits the ring on July 2.

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.