Tuesday, February 26, 2008

No Country for Old Heavyweights

Vitali Klitschko, the nearly 37 year-old brother of Wladimir Klitschko, says he will return to the ring later this year in an attempt to win back his WBC title.

Joel and Ethan Coen's movie, "No Country for Old Men" won four Academy Awards the other night and the brothers shared the award for best picture, best director and best adapted screenplay.

The Academy Awards show ceremony got me to thinking about brothers and shared success.

I only watched a few rounds of the insomnia curing Wladimir Klitschko versus Sultan Ibragimov unification skirmish this past Saturday because that was all that I could stand before I felt a sudden need to poke pins in my eyes. And then I drifted off to sleep.

However, when I awoke, I learned the 31 year-old Wladimir Klitschko showed the skills that allowed him to win that fight hands down. Lots of pundits out there don't like the Klitschko's and they didn't like the manner in which "Dr. Steelhammer" went about beating the game plan out of Ibragimov, but he has to be considered the best heavyweight on the planet until he's thrown in with somebody that can prove otherwise. Looking out over the horizon I'm not sure who that somebody is or if that somebody even exists.

What I do know, however, is that Wladimir should be given the chance to prove that he's the best heavyweight in the world and he should be allowed to fight all the other titlists to unify the championship without an old heavyweight - namely his creaking big brother Vitali - stepping back into the heavyweight sandbox.

The Klitschko brothers, Vitali is on the left, have always been close and supportive of one another.

Vitali, known as "Dr. Ironfist" will be 37 years old in July and he has not been seen in a boxing ring since he pounded poor Danny Williams to a pulp in December 2004.

When Jose Sulaiman, the head of the Mexican World Boxing Council cartel, named Vitali a "Champion Emeritus" it was a terrible injustice. The designation allows the elder Klitschko to return to the ring at any point that he so desires and receive an immediate and undeserved title shot against whoever is using the WBC belt to hold up their trunks.

On March 8th in Cancun, Mexico, Oleg Maskaev, the WBC belt holder is going to face off against WBC interim titlist Samuel Peter for full bragging rights. It is fully expected that Vitali is going to exercise his "right" to a title shot not long after the dust settles in the bull ring where Maskaev and Peter will play their matador games.

And that, my friends, is a damn shame.

For boxing fans that salivate for a unified heavyweight champion, they're now slobbering like Pavlov's dog as young Wladimir holds the IBF and WBO belts. Wlad, who is likely in his prime, has already beaten Samuel Peter and would probably do so again. Wladimir has improved since he first met Peter while the oafish Nigerian has become a sloth-like lummox in boxing trunks. Peter's performance against fringe contender Jameel McCline, in which he was decked and seconds from being knocked out, have not inspired the confidence that "Big Sam" is anything more than a one dimensional, plodding, clubber with stamina problems.

Current WBC titlist Oleg Maskaev (left) will meet WBC interim titlist Samuel Peter next month in Cancun, Mexico and then Vitali wants to face the winner.

Wladimir would likely mash Oleg Maskaev into oblivion if they ever fought. Maskaev will be 39 a week before he steps into the ring with Peter and he has endured a series of injuries as well as a 15-month period of inactivity.

On the WBA side of the coin there's Ruslan Chagaev who fights out of Germany. He has put together a decent string of wins, but Chagaev is another smallish heavyweight in the mold of Ibragimov who would be dwarfed by the towering Klitschko. And Wlad would likely handle him with the jab, too.

The whole problem here is that the Klitschko brothers have a stated dream of being simultaneous heavyweight champions of the world. Vitali figures that he can return from a long retirement, forced by many supposed training injuries, and annex the WBC title, thus allowing he and little brother their chance to realize their "dream" of holding the titles at the same time.

Oh, and there would be no chance of those two ever facing one other like women tennis star sisters Venus and Serena Williams. The Klitschko brothers promised their mother they would never fight each other.

Wladimir currently holds two of the four available heavyweight belts (IBF/WBO). Vitali, on the right, wants to get his old green belt back from the WBC.

While this little fairy tale is great for Vitali, one now gets a whiff in the air that the simultaneous championship dream may have become a nightmare for young Wladimir.

"I'm ready to fight again as soon as possible," said Wladimir on Saturday night just after he won the decision over Ibragimov. A slight tinge of disappointment could be seen in his eyes when he realized that he may never become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world by holding all four belts due to his brother re-entering the blurry heavyweight picture.

"I fought twelve rounds, but I didn't get hurt and I wish I could get another champion," said the eager Wladimir. "Next month we have Samuel Peter and Oleg Maskaev fighting so we'll see what's happening there, but my brother Vitali will be stepping in so we'll let him handle it. The WBA situation is Chagaev fighting somebody so we'll see if we get a chance to unify all the titles."

By any one's measure, Wladimir has been on a helluva run since he resurrected himself from the ashes after inexplicably burning out like a cheap light bulb against Lamon Brewster in 2004.

Since that loss, Wlad has gone 8-0 (5) KO's and he's won two heavyweight title belts. He got his feet back under himself against DaVarryl Williamson and Eliseo Castillo, squeaked by Peter, bludgeoned Chris Byrd, knocked out Calvin Brock with one punch, avenged the loss against Brewster and humiliated a hapless Ray Austin.

Then he basically beat Ibragimov with one hand the other night. Combined, the opponents he has faced since losing to Brewster in 2004 have had a won/loss record of 209-10 and four of those fighters were undefeated.

Wladimir should be allowed to continue his ascent without big brother stepping in his way. Wladimir's halfway there, he has a chance to make history by becoming the unified champ and it would be an opportunity for boxing, after all of these frustrating years, to finally point at one young guy and say, "There's the heavyweight champion if the world."

The other issue is that even if Vitali does manage to win the WBC title, he would likely only keep the belt just long enough to satisfy his own personal self-interests before he once again retired. He'd then give up the belt and throw it back to the jackals and put it back into the control of an unscrupulous sanctioning cartel that will ultimately sell the title to the highest bidder - and not the most deserving contender.

Wladimir could probably push his way past all of the other belt holders and become the unified champ if big brother Vitali wasn't getting in the way.

The heavyweight championship was once the greatest prize in all of sports. Now, with old Vitali coming back, it's like he's using the once hallowed title as a trophy case keepsake that he will one day point to and tell his grandchildren about.

The heavyweight championship should be about one man and one man only.

Vitali should do the right thing. He should step aside, stifle his ego and allow his younger brother the opportunity to unify all of the titles.

The heavyweight championship is no place for an old man.

February 2008

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