At last the world gets a decent heavyweight title fight on Saturday July 2nd. The recent press tour saw Wladimir Klitschko and David Haye continue their war of words, with Wlad's tactics to be charming, articulate and witty whilst David chose to adopt a brooding, 'actions speak louder than words' stance.
The bookies are certainly giving Haye a better chance of beating Klitschko in July than they were doing when the fight was first scheduled two years ago. 3/1 was the offer for a Haye knockout at the time - I distinctly remember as I had a slice myself. That same wager is now best priced at 2/1 indicating a slight shift towards Haye although Wladimir remains a solid favourite.
Many commentators have been reaching for the statistics in the build up to this one - both men's knockout records are certainly impressive. I've chosen to reach for the DVD and VHS collection to take a closer look at Wladimir's weaknesses. Digging out the discs and tapes was a deliberate choice, as trying to piece this together using YouTube would only have resulted in me being distracted by videos of skateboarding cats or something similar.
We’re focusing particularly on the twelve knockdowns Wladimir has suffered in his career to date (it has been widely reported that he has been decked eleven times, but I have found these twelve official counts). That statistic alone may surprise some, as the caveat to this article is that Klitschko the younger has looked pretty much bulletproof since a mid-career crisis had him considering retirement five or six years ago.
Indeed Klitschko has stated that a Boxing News front cover with the headline "Broken Men", featuring a shot of him looking up from the canvas against Lamon Brewster served as motivation to continue and rebuild. You could argue that many of his recent opponents have fought with zero ambition, but the fact remains he has been as solid as a rock since Samuel Peter dropped him three times back in 2005.
So, in chronological order, here is a dossier, of sorts, on how to find Wladimir's chin.
Knockdown #1 versus Steve Pannell 1998: A youthful, slender and it has to be said, more fluid Klitschko suffers the first knockdown of his career. Journeyman Pannell, on five days notice, feints a jab to get closer, lands with a surprise left hand and throws a quick right hand which turns Wlad 180 degrees onto all fours. The combination was similar in execution to the left-right Lennox Lewis threw to destroy Hasim Rahman in their rematch. Up at the count of one, it appeared that Wladimir saw the right hand coming but could not get out of range in time. It was a minor success for Pannell who was stopped in round two.
Knockdown #2 versus Ross Puritty 1999: The first career disaster for Klitschko, as he is handed his first pro defeat by the unfancied Puritty. At the end of round ten, a big right hand has Wlad in trouble and backing away before another right clips him and he falls to the canvas. Referee Daniel van der Wiele calls no knockdown but Klitschko is all over the place. With no legs, and an empty tank, no hurtful punch lands but a left-right uppercut combination followed by a left to the side of the head sends him backwards and to the canvas for a genuine knockdown. At the start of the eleventh, Klitschko defenselessly ships half a dozen head shots before his coach Fritz Sdunek enters the ring to stop the fight.
Knockdowns #3, #4, #5 and #6 versus Corrie Sanders 2003: (pictured) Wladimir's shocking defeat to South African Sanders was in danger of defining his career at one stage. The ease in which Sanders blasted out Klitschko was all to do with speed. Possessing lightning hands for a huge man, southpaw Sanders catches Klitschko with a long left as Wladimir admired his own work in round one. Then Klitschko is floored heavily with a rapid straight left as he untidily reached in with his own right hand. Another left inside as Klitschko tried to hold on made sure. Rising at eight on unsteady legs, another Sanders burst has him falling to the canvas again at the end of the first, the damage seemingly done by the southpaw straight left. At the start of round two, Wlad tries a jab but Sanders slams in another straight left bang on the chin which puts Klitschko down for the third time. Klitschko's right hand is still not tucked in next to his chin and that gap is ruthlessly exploited by Sanders. Closer inspection of that third knockdown shows Sanders digging his right foot into the canvas for full leverage as the brutal left hand carried Sanders' significant bodyweight behind the shot. The fourth and final knockdown sees Sanders chasing Klitschko across the ring to land two more left hands which sends the already disorientated champion to the floor and the fight is stopped.
Knockdowns #7 and #8 versus Lamon Brewster 2004: Another disaster for Klitschko as he is stopped by American Brewster. Klitschko dominated the first three rounds, slamming Brewster with jabs and hooks. Klitschko knocked Brewster down in round four, and only a good chin and heart kept Brewster in the fight. In round five, Klitschko's tiredness was noticeable - mouth open and hands low. Brewster lands a solid jab and throws a left-right-left which sends Wladimir reeling. Another left hook has Klitschko falling against the ropes, which referee Robert Byrd rules a knockdown and administers a mandatory eight count. Wladimir is now lumbering cluelessly around the ring being stalked by Brewster. A left hand sends him pitching forward to the canvas at the end of the round. Byrd takes a look at Klitschko's glassy eyes and stops the fight. The manner of Klitschko's defeat in this fight was shocking and raised questions around his stamina as well as his chin. The bizarre explanation from the Klitschko camp blamed the fighter’s blood/sugar levels for his sudden demise.
Knockdown #9 versus Davarryl Williamson 2004: Klitschko's crisis of confidence carries forward into an open-air Caesars Palace fight against Davarryl "Touch of Sleep" Williamson. In round four Klitschko once again exposes a flaw - Klitschko's liking for leaning in to throw a right hand. But on the way out Williamson counters with a sharp straight right of his own and puts Wladimir down. Although only a flash knockdown, leaning in and missing with the right hand meant Klitschko left his chin completely exposed and Williamson took advantage. An horrific Klitschko cut in round five ended the fight, with Wladimir taking a technical decision victory.
Knockdowns #10, #11 and #12 versus Samuel Peter 2005: Onto the last fight in which Klitschko tasted canvas – an unconvincing decision win over Samuel Peter. Although he was in control for most of the fight, it was Peter who looked the most dangerous, albeit in short bursts. Round five was where the trouble started – a clubbing right from Peter as Klitschko tried to tie him up. A left hook and another right hand had Klitschko falling forwards to the floor. Peter pursues Klitschko around the ring and a third clubbing right sends him down again. Desperately trying to clinch and hang on, Klitschko’s demeanour is a million miles away from the fighter who would brutally destroy the same Peter five years later. Fast forward to round ten, and Peter continues to march forward. An overhand lead right hand connects and Peter unloads power punches whilst Wladimir is trapped on the ropes. As he escapes a long right hand from Peter catches him in range whilst backing off and over goes Dr. Steelhammer for the last time in his career to date. Up at the count of four, he looks disorientated and ready to go, but the round ends and another crisis is averted. All three judges eventually deem Klitschko the winner 114-111.
So Wladimir Klitschko can be hit, can be hurt and can be knocked out. The question remains, can Haye cause Klitschko enough problems for those earlier insecurities to resurface? Or has Wladimir found the formula over the past six years which maximises his physical advantages and minimises opportunities for his opponent?
His abysmal, risk-averse performance against Sultan Ibragimov is certainly testament to that. And his formulaic beatdown of Samuel Peter in the rematch is evidence of disciplined strategy, however monotonous as a spectacle.
My suspicion is that both Haye and Klitschko have less than gung-ho intentions in this one, such is the grudging respect for each other’s respective wallop. Perhaps more akin to Holmes versus Spinks than the Foreman versus Lyle being promised.
Let's hope not.