Yesterday, boxing fans saw yet another non-event that passed for a heavyweight title fight, this time from Moscow, where Wladimir Klitschko won every round yet completely failed to impress against Alexander Povetkin, a fellow Olympic gold medalist and previously unbeaten professional who had twice passed on opportunities to lose to Wladimir in 2008 and 2010.
Here in 2013, we got to see the fight. Vladimir Hryunov and his $23 million purse bid made it a reality instead of a dead issue once time came to negotiate. Neither man could pass up that sort of cash. K2 Promotions, Klitschko's outfit, also bid on the fight, offering around $7-8 million, reportedly. Hryunov's bid was a record. And what he got from his money is -- well, let's be clear, he got money back. The fight was a live hit in Moscow, with over 30,000 in the stadium to see the bout, and surely raked in plenty of dough not only from the live gate, but from TV rights sold in Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere. In Germany, the fight aired on RTL, which has a long-term deal with the Klitschko brothers, and one that is very lucrative indeed.
There was money to be made here. It was made. There was also a legacy to secure. That didn't go quite so well.
Povetkin, 34, wasn't really expected to be a serious challenger, but in today's still-woeful heavyweight garbage bin, he was a "serious challenger," at least a hell of a lot more serious than the collection of no-hope also-rans that Klitschko has slapped around since he beat David Haye in 2011. Jean-Marc Mormeck, Tony Thompson, Mariusz Wach, and Francesco Pianeta were a truly sorry bunch, none of them winning a single round against Wladimir.
As it turned out, Povetkin couldn't either. The 37-year-old Klitschko won all 12 rounds. There is little to no debate about that, and even if you're arguing he didn't win every round, the point is the fight wasn't remotely competitive or close.
Yet Klitschko (61-3, 51 KO) gave perhaps the greatest example in victory that he could possibly have given to prove he's not an all-time great heavyweight in this fight. Povetkin (26-1, 18 KO) is no superstar, and has a lot of flaws, but he's a capable fighter with a long amateur pedigree who knows his way around the ring. He had a plan -- it didn't go very well, but he did have a plan.
And a fighter with a plan and some actual boxing skill threw Wladimir Klitschko off his game to the point that the big man looked skittish for the first time in a long time. Povetkin's head movement seemed to baffle Klitschko's timing. The fact that he knew how to take angles and knew how to at least properly hurl himself into real punching range gave Wladimir a headache.
Instead of showcasing some great talent, Klitschko. Held. And held. And held. And pushed. And shoved. And held. It was relentless. Referee Luis Pabon, a noted mediocrity in a profession that doesn't exactly have golden standards, allowed this to go on forever, until the 11th round, when he made a big show out of taking one point from a man who was by then 14 points ahead, two of those points the result of lousy calls made by Pabon in round seven on a pair of bogus knockdowns, making for three in that frame.
Don't misunderstand me here. Klitschko was dominant and he won with ease. But this win looks a hell of a lot better on paper than it did in reality. Klitschko was made uncomfortable early and often by Povetkin. The HBO team tried in vain to make "uncomfortable" seem like "trouble" -- to be clear, Klitschko was never in trouble. There's a big difference. But he was not comfortable early, and outside of the seventh round when he thought he had Povetkin at defeat's door, he never really seemed like he was his normal self in there. And that's not so much because Povetkin is particularly good as it is simply because Wladimir's other opponents have been even worse.
I'm not saying that Wladimir Klitschko isn't a good fighter. He is. He's very good. For the time, he's great. I think he deserves credit for the reasons he's good. As I've said many times before, he's good because he's dedicated, he's always in shape, he hones his craft constantly, and he knows and admits his weaknesses as a fighter. That means he works constantly on his strengths, and he took perfect instruction from Emanuel Steward on how to accentuate the positives and eliminate the negatives.
Steward, for the record, would have been losing his mind during yesterday's performance. Perhaps if the late, great Kronk leader were still here, Wladimir would have been berated into putting the finishing touches on this fight, rather than playing it safe and coasting to the finish line. The last time Steward felt Klitschko was being far too safe, he screamed at him in the corner against Eddie Chambers. Klitschko went out and knocked Chambers out in the 12th and final round.
If Wladimir is pleased with winning a 12-round shutout and stinking out the joint, that's just fine. He has every right to be proud of that performance, I suppose. But if you ever wonder why Wladimir is "hated on" or "doesn't get enough credit," go back and watch the tape of Klitschko-Povetkin, because the fight was a travesty.
It's not wrong to like Wladimir Klitschko. But it's not right to place him among the division's most storied names. Partially because of his own limitations and partially because his era did him no favors, he has not earned that, and he's not going to. But if Larry Holmes is any indication, Klitschko can look forward to overdue props in about 20 years. Maybe they'll even say then that they don't make 'em like Wladimir Klitschko anymore.