Terrible Tim Witherspoon twice won the heavyweight world title at a time when good fighters went bad, and on Saturday night he sat with me in a TV studio shaking his head watching Wladimir Klitschko.
"The art of boxing has been lost and that's because nobody teaches the real skills," moaned Witherspoon, perhaps best known for finally waking up after 10 rounds and stopping Frank Bruno in the 11th of a world title fight at Wembley in 1986. I like to remember Witherspoon for calling the crazy and drug-addicted heavyweight world champions from the Eighties the "lost generation".
Klitschko retained his heavyweight titles when he hit the freakishly brave Mariusz Wach for 12 rounds. Kiltschko could not stop or drop Wach and concentrated his thunderous punches on Wach's giant jaw.
"Look at that," Witherspoon screamed all night. "Wlad never throws a body shot, never switches down. How can you be the heavyweight champion of the world and not throw a body punch?"
Frank Maloney, manager of Lennox Lewis, went a step further: "Klitschko is a robot. Tim would have knocked him out, Lennox would have knocked him out." Fantasy boxing is fun because there are no records as universal markers, no solid facts, and that leads to a lot of bold claims. "I would have taken Wach out, make no mistake. He was hurt and confused and ready to go, but Wlad never took the opportunity," added Witherspoon, which is not ridiculous.
It was Klitschko's 22nd world title fight, compared to just 17 for his big brother Vitali, and it had some fine moments, but Witherspoon does have a valid point. The Klitschko brothers only ever do what is fundamentally necessary and avoid risks at all times; on Saturday Wlad had to land jabs, straight rights and not get hit to win a lopsided decision.
It was the first time since April 2004 that Klitschko had fought without his trainer Manny Steward, who died last month, in his corner. It was Steward and his foul-mouthed urgency that helped Lewis stop Mike Tyson in their 2002 showdown and perhaps he could have injected some urgency on Saturday night.
However, the reality is probably more prosaic because Steward always extracted the simple best from the fighters he worked with. Maloney, who is now the manager of British and Commonwealth heavyweight champion David Price, was also critical of the Klitschko opponents.
"Modern challengers never have a go," he said. Maloney has a point; being stupidly brave, taking a beating and not winning a round is not the same thing as "having a go".
In recent years, Dereck "Del Boy" Chisora's fight against Vitali in February was arguably the best heavyweight title fight since Lewis-Vitali in 2003. In December 2010 and April 2011, fights between Wladimir and Chisora were both called off. "Chisora is a good fighter and will come to win," Steward warned me before the Vitali fight. I then asked Steward about the two postponed fights between Chisora and Wlad. "Let's just say that I'm glad they never happened," added Steward with a chuckle.
Klitschko won without art, in a fight dominated by the loser's guts and perhaps in modern boxing that is enough.Reuse content