Kevin Garside: While brother Vitali pursues the presidency of Ukraine, Wladimir Klitschko reveals himself again as boxing’s greatest ambassador
The Way I See It: Klitschko’s misfortune has been to campaign in an era when boxing lost its allure
The line of the week came from Wladimir Klitschko, delivered in style while having his hands taped before a sparring session at his Florida training base.
Into the gym blustered Shannon Briggs delivering that tired old boxing cliché, the callout. Briggs, who has not fought for four years since being swatted aside by Klitschko’s brother, Vitali, wanted it known that he was back, and that he was coming for Wladimir.
The absence of a notable past from which to return did not seem to trouble Briggs, a minor mauler in historic terms, who failed at his “peak” to shine in arguably the least threatening epoch the heavyweight division has known.
“Let’s do it now,” Briggs urged, removing his shirt to reveal, at the age of 42, an impressively ripped torso. The Briggs advance on Klitschko was intercepted by a cluster of gym staff, who redirected the loose cannon towards the exit. Briggs managed to let go a shoe in the vague direction of Klitschko, who barely looked up during the fracas, never mind move. “Step outside,” screamed Briggs as he was bundled out of the door. “I’m coming,” said Klitschko, “just give me 45 minutes.”
It has been Klitschko’s great misfortune to campaign in an era during which boxing lost its back-page allure. The main event goes on but is no longer a staple of mainstream sport. The retreat to the margins has coincided with the decline of the great American heavyweight. The latter phenomenon is, indeed, a major contributor to the former.
For years American promoters and broadcasters sought a white heavyweight to contest the hegemony of black supremacy in the ring. When he finally pitched up in the shape of the Klitschko brothers, the black athlete had already turned his back on boxing.
Pity. Not only has Klitschko been denied a rival against whom to test his imperious credentials, the sport has lost an opportunity to showcase a fighter who might just be its greatest ambassador as well as a hall-of-famer.
Klitschko is preparing to undertake, in Germany a month from now, the 16th defence of a WBO title he has held since 2006, the second-longest reign in the history of the division and the third-longest in boxing. Alex Leapai is a game opponent but nothing more. Four weeks after that Klitschko’s countryfolk in Ukraine go to the polls to vote in a presidential election in which his brother stands as a candidate.
When Klitschko left Kiev on 11 February to begin his training camp there was no sense of the scale of the upheaval that was about to erupt. His engagement with the process is not as visceral as Vitali’s but he is just as committed to the cause and has sought the association and support of powerful figures in the United States, including former president Bill Clinton, as Ukraine seeks an end to the Soviet-style politics of corruption and coercion.
His obvious passion for and articulate defence of the Kiev spring, delivered fluently in half a dozen languages, shames the puerile postering of Briggs, and for that matter our own Tyson Fury, who continued his boorish contribution to boxing theatre by tipping over a table in Manchester on the same day “The Cannon” went off in Florida. Affronted by the late arrival of Dereck Chisora and his soporific attitude at the top table, Fury rose to his feet to address the audience in his now familiar conference style: “Listen, I’m Tyson Fury, I’m the best heavyweight on the planet, this idiot is getting knocked spark out and I’m sick to death of this.”
Set that against Klitschko’s broader concerns and appreciation of global events and immediately Fury and Briggs are reduced to pantomime dullards. Neither can hold a candle to Klitschko in terms of boxing ability, intellect, athleticism, speed or deportment.
The truth of that might be demonstrated soon enough in Fury’s case. The July bout with Chisora in Manchester entitles the winner to challenge for Klitschko’s WBO, WBA and IBF belts.
Fury has already beaten Chisora, a rum slugger whose limits were exposed two summers ago by David Haye in the appositely rudimentary setting of Upton Park. Though neither is world class in the historic sense, Fury’s greater range ought to be enough to earn his passage to the big show that he so craves.
That is when delusion passes through the reality mincer. Klitschko’s dismantling of Haye, a gifted fighter who lacked only the physical dimensions to compete on equal terms when the pair met in Hamburg, presages doom for Fury’s inflated ego.
The correction can’t come soon enough. Fury’s tiresome badinage, the endless confusion of bombast with substance has run its course.
A lesson in humility as well as boxing awaits, perchance in Kiev, with President Vitali looking on.
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