I watched Wladimir Klitschko completely dominate his challengers during his 9 year reign as world heavyweight champion. A brilliantly skilled heavyweight, a master of distance, a wonderful, varied jab and knockout power in both hands. Outside of the ring he behaved impeccably, even when confronted with boorish and distasteful behaviour he responded in a mature and diplomatic manner with all the tolerance of a saint. He is the perfect role model; articulate in a number of languages, cultured and PhD educated. The man deserves respect.
All these qualities should have made me a fan. It didn’t. Instead I watched his fights urging his opponents to live up to their title of ‘challenger’ in the ring and provide the champion with a stern test. For someone to come and dethrone him, maybe knock him down, for goodness sake at least lay a damn glove on the man. During contests, frustration would soon set into me, as his superiority would soon be made clear, but rather than put the sitting duck out their misery he would seemingly toy with them. Jab, grab, hold, lean, push. His safety first approach is understandable considering his 3 knockout defeats early in his career, but as a fan I didn’t care about that. I didn’t just want to watch the boxing purely for the element of skill and dominance. I wanted drama, entertainment and for my lust of savagery to be satisfied. I appreciated his level-headed and unperturbed personality in the face of obnoxious juvenescence. Although sometimes I just wanted to see him snap and respond with vicious verbal vitriol to put the cocky pretenders in their place.
The fact was I struggled to connect with him, as he came across robotic both in and out of the ring. Even in defeat to Tyson Fury, he looked like a man trying to piece together a puzzle for 12 rounds without realising that none of the pieces actually fit, such was the calculated nature of his boxing. In doing so he was befuddled, by the unpredictable Fury both in and out of the ring. Although an intelligent man, the Fury defeat taught Klitschko that not every situation can be meticulously planned and predicted. Sometimes when in a perilous position you just lay it on the line, show some vulnerability, personality and JUST GO FOR IT!
Leading up to his fight against Anthony Joshua he demonstrated unwavering belief, despite many declaring Joshua as the younger, bigger fighter with an air of invincibility. However, he was doggedly determined. No, scratch that. He was #Obsessed. Disgusted by his lacklustre surrender of his belts to Fury over a year ago, he wanted to make amends and felt he was better than the form he last showed. Although genuinely respectful towards the young champion during verbal confrontation, he seemed to attempt psychological advantage during the recording of “The Gloves Are Off” by stating “If you win, I will congratulate you. When I win I will help you come back.” Such a bold and certain claim to make amid such a respectful and diplomatic buildup of a perceived 50-50 fight. Joshua didn’t seem to know how to reply.
Then came the fight. Up until the 4th round it was even. Klitschko applied superb skills, moving fluidly around the ring and popping out his famed jab in a variety of ways to offset the young champion. The older man was looking good, but then in the 5th round Joshua charged at Klitschko and hit him with a barrage of punches: CRASH, BANG WALLOP, AND DOWN GOES KLITSCHKO! On his hands and knees, scrambling to find his senses, I thought he was finished after being overwhelmed by Joshua. On the contrary he rose to his feet, his obsession to regain his titles being his elixir for recovery. Thoughts of his limp display against Fury meant he wasn’t about to relent so easily this time. With over 2 minutes remaining in the round and a prowling Joshua licking his lips like a predator that’s about to feast on his prey, urged on by 90,000 expectant fans baying for blood, Klitschko had to respond. Then it happened, rather than the grab and hold safety first tactics I was so used to seeing, he fought back valiantly. Lashing out with punches, he was the archetypal ‘dangerous wounded animal,’ hurting Joshua and almost claiming the victory he so desperately craved in the 6th round, landing with a monstrous punch that put the behemoth sized Joshua on his back. So close was he to achieving something momentous I found myself cheering for him. This old man, written off by many, on the floor just a few minutes earlier had managed to find the strength and will to get up and fight for what he most desired.
Unfortunately the fairy tale ending was not meant to be for Klitschko. By the 11th round he had built up a lead, at least on my score card but was then caught by a thunderous uppercut, from which he was lucky to still have his head attached to his body. He was put down twice more but had the gall to get up on his feet once more. Following another painful knockdown, came the end. Stood against the ropes, resisting to go down again, despite being swarmed by punches, the referee showed the mercy that Klitschko refused for himself.
At the close of the fight I felt a sadness. Ironic and strange considering for many years I wanted nothing more than to see his dull reign ended. I took some time to think about why this was and then it dawned on me. As champion, he could do no wrong. Out of the ring he was clean-cut, intelligent and courteous. In the ring he dominated his opponents with efficient ease. He looked like a perfectly built robot sent from the future, for which everything he did was so simple. For a mere mortal like myself who see’s imperfections when looking in the mirror, Klitschko was someone I just couldn’t connect with. But in seeing him courageously fight back after being put on his backside time after time, I found his efforts endearing. Rather than solely depend on his calculated, skillful use of the sweet science, it was passion and emotion that poured from his performance. I saw a man endure difficulty and suffering, by going out on his shield but displaying inspiring human spirit in attempting to achieve his dream. I empathised with him for his crushing loss. His robotic, Mr Perfect mask had slipped and underneath was a face which an ordinary Joe like myself could see a bit of myself in. I always respected Wladimir Klitschko as a champion, but following his gallant effort in defeat, I also admire him as a man.