Over the course of 61 professional fights dating back to 1996, Wladimir Klitschko has enjoyed at least a slight -- and usually more than that -- height advantage in all of them except for four. Carlos Monroe (1997 and 1998), Derrick Jefferson (2001), and Jameel McCline (2002) were all listed at 6'6", the same as the smaller of the two Klitschko brothers, who have now ruled the heavyweight division with iron and steel fists since Vitali came back to the sport in 2008.
Tomorrow, though, as Wladimir closes in on his 16th full year in the pro ranks, he faces something he never has before: A taller, bigger man lining up across the ring from him.
Poland's Mariusz Wach stands just under 6'8" by listings, a mountain of a man who isn't out of shape, isn't weak or old or beaten up, isn't too small, and isn't going to be physically bullied by Wladimir, or at least that's the perception due to his size.
What Wach lacks, unfortunately, is very clear when you watch him. He doesn't have the skills necessary to beat Wladimir Klitschko.
There has been a very common misunderstanding over the years about what makes Wladimir and Vitali as good as they are. Size is too often given as a reason or excuse or even a fault to blame for their dominance in the ring, but anything more than a disgruntled, American flag-waving, "Where have all the
cowboys heavyweights gone?" cursory glance at their performances tells a different story.
For one thing, unlike many of their peers, they stay in great shape all the time, and have never shown up for a fight in less than top physical condition, save perhaps some creakiness in Vitali due to age and old injuries in some of his fights the last few years.
What's more, though, is that they know how to fight. They have both learned exactly how to take advantage of their gifts, and for guys their size, they're extremely talented. They will never be confused with the more athletic, more nimble heavyweight greats of yesteryear, and comparing them to the likes of Ali will, quite frankly, never make them look particularly good. They are neither as stylish nor as memorable, and they can never be that iconic. Of course, few human beings will ever live up to Ali's level of greatness or superstardom, but most of us aren't heavyweight champion boxers, either, so we probably won't get the comparisons that the Klitschkos have to live with.
And the reason they're compared so frequently to the Alis of the sport's rich history is because they've made it so that there's really no comparing them to their contemporaries. They've taken over the division to the point that neither of Wladimir's two opponents this year -- a grossly overmatched and undersized Jean-Marc Mormeck, and Tony Thompson on his second try -- even seemed like they really wanted to be in the ring.
Mariusz Wach is intriguing in his way because he is a huge man, and because he is a fresh opponent. If you try hard enough, you can ignore the footage available on Wach, and go into the fight having never seem him fight, probably, and imagine some Frankenstein monster with pulverizing power who might crack the Fabergé egg that supposedly is Wladimir's chin.
But it's hard to do that if you really care about this stuff, so let's be real here: Mariusz Wach seems like a really nice guy, and he's a better opponent than Wladimir's last two, but he would need a miracle shot here, and it would be the Upset of the Year if it happened. Hell, it would be an early and very strong contender for Upset of the Decade.
Wach (27-0, 15 KO) is perhaps most known for his big-time KO of Kevin McBride in July 2011:
McBride was 38 years old, out of shape, and had won all of one fight in five years when this happened. Wach has since also stopped Tye Fields, himself a one-time giant hypejob who fell apart well before he could reach the level of getting stopped by a Klitschko in embarrassing fashion.
It's almost depressing to have to say this, but Wach is no better than the usual Klitschko opponent, just bigger. And it's not like he's Nikolay Valuev, either, some complete freak of nature who might somehow be a weird enough physical matchup that Wladimir might have had to think more than normal.
Most likely, we'll see Wladimir tentative early, as he feels out what Wach might or might not have to offer. If he's looking to impress, he should be able to get a read on Wach without much trouble; this is not a fighter who's going to pull out any surprises in the way he approaches his task. Wach will need to outslug Klitschko in a brawl, and it's pretty much that simple. He cannot box with Wladimir. He's not talented enough.
If Wladimir is aiming to impress, he'll stop Wach eventually by landing one of his big shots. We also have no idea what sort of intestinal fortitude Wach has, or what sort of punishment he's willing or able to endure. But the smart money is that if Wladimir can do his usual -- demoralize and then destroy -- Wach won't last the distance.
There is a chance that Klitschko will never stop on the gas enough to end it early, which we've seen a few times, but not many -- for all the guff he takes for not having a killer instinct, he rarely needs one. Usually, he busts an opponent's will to keep fighting enough that eventually, they'll just stop. The only two men to go the distance with Wladimir since 2005 are Sultan Ibragimov and David Haye, both of whom completely refused to participate in the fight.
None of this is meant to take a dump on the fight, really. Sure there are better contenders out there, but most of them have already fallen at the hands of one of the brothers by now, or have shown no interest in actually getting in the ring with them, and at least you can say Wach brings something colorful to the fight with his size, and he seems like a real gentleman who is happy to get the opportunity, and at least intends to make the most of it. There's something to be said for willingness. We'll see how much of it Wach has after four or five rounds.
Prediction: Wladimir Klitschko via TKO-9