Klitschko vs Pianeta preview: Realities of the modern heavyweight division

Alex Grimm

Wladimir Klitschko has won 17 straight fights with trouble coming in only one of them. Francesco Pianeta is next up for Klitschko, and likely won't be any different than other recent challengers.

It's a statement on the modern heavyweight division in boxing when the near-unanimous choice for the world's best heavyweight and true heavyweight champion, Wladimir Klitschko, is grossly overshadowed on the date of his next fight by a couple of welterweights.

Klitschko will face Francesco Pianeta on Saturday in Germany, but the fight just isn't being talked about. Mayweather vs Guerrero, of course, is the superstar fight that has buried the big boys in terms of coverage, and while Klitschko remains a reliable house draw anywhere he fights, the lack of competition, and the fact that he's run through pretty much all of it along with brother Vitali, has made for fights that are more routine than event.

Wladimir fights again, everyone knows he'll win, almost nobody expects it will be competitive, and the world turns before, during, and after. The Klitschko supporters will express their great and reasonable belief that the brothers don't get enough credit for their exploits, but at this point, even the most diehard Klitschko fans must turn up to see these fights with a total lack of intrigue.

There's nobody out there to challenge these guys, and we all know it. Last best hope David Haye was humbled over 12 rounds that were as non-eventful and easy for Wladimir as his wins over "lesser" challengers like Sultan Ibragimov and Eddie Chambers.

As we've said many times over, it is not Wladimir Klitschko's fault that this is the way things are today. He's got a highly lucrative career doing this act, and while it does not really captivate interest in the American market, and leads the heavyweight fetishists frustrated, and certain that the lack of a useful glory division is the reason for boxing's overall decline in the States, it's really just not that big of a deal anymore.

Once upon a time, the decline of the heavyweight division mattered. Now, it's just a reality. Expectations for anything interesting to come along have been destroyed by the two big Ukrainians, who have made mincemeat of foes since Vitali returned to the sport in 2008.

Wladimir (59-3, 50 KO) fought three times last year, two of them utterly embarrassing mismatches. His wins over undersized, old Jean-Marc Mormeck and aged and disinterested Tony Thompson were one-sided nothings, ending in four and six rounds. In November, he at least had a wall of a man to punch for 12 rounds, as Mariusz Wach had basically no success but ate punishment, earning some respect for his gigantic, iron jaw. (Wach later tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, but the idea that they give you a better chin is debatable at best.)

His fight on Saturday with Italy's Pianeta (28-0-1, 15 KO) excited few upon announcement, and still hasn't drummed up much major interest. But fans will turn out in Mannheim, and they will appreciate their chance to once again see a modern master do his job.

Pianeta, a 6'5" southpaw with a little power, isn't any more a hopeless pretender to the throne than other choices would have been, if we're being totally honest. Even Alexander Povetkin, unbeaten WBA "regular" titlist likely to face Klitschko in September, no longer seems a legitimate threat to the brothers. We're talking about the difference, it seems now, between someone having a 0.2-1.5% chance or 5% chance. The results all seem inevitable, it's just whether or not there's a stoppage, or 12 methodical rounds of domination.

The familiar names on Pianeta's résumé are standard fare: ancient Oliver McCall, Matt Skelton, Zack Page, Robert Hawkins, a draw with Albert Sosnowski. Nothing on his sheet suggests he will be a challenge for Klitschko, with only Wladimir's advancing age, now 37, a possible hope that the shock upset could come.

That 37 is a young 37, though. After learning that he didn't have the best chin earlier in his career, Wladimir and the late, great Emanuel Steward perfected a style that has protected Klitschko, who has barely taken punishment since he was decked three times in a win over Samuel Peter back in 2005.

If Pianeta is going to win this fight -- and, quite frankly, he's almost certainly not -- he's going to have to do it by knockout. That's the only real chance anyone has with Wladimir. Not only is he tall, and incredibly strong, with dynamite power in both hands when he really uncorks a shot, but he's a very smart, very good boxer. Size aside, there aren't many guys in the division who really have his skills, and that's not a Steward creation. This is an Olympic gold medalist. He can box, and when you combine that with his dimensions and his intelligence and ability to not screw up, he becomes the major force he's been for the better part of the last decade.

Pianeta is not truly undeserving of this shot. It's hard to fault Klitschko with his choice of opponent here. It's a big, in-prime southpaw, unbeaten thus far, and there are precious few higher-regarded contenders who have not already been demolished by one of the brothers Klitschko.

If Pianeta can shock the world, then there's a major story here. If, as expected, he cannot, it's just another fight for Wladimir Klitschko, unappreciated or not. Reality trumps all, and reality is that Klitschko has shown no signs of vulnerability.

Klitschko vs Pianeta will air on EPIX and stream on EPIXHD.com for American viewers. BLH will have live coverage on Saturday.

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