Klitschko's cautious performance against Tony Thompson on Saturday exhibited why there are still a lot of folks that have not, cannot, and likely will not ever warm to the big Ukrainian, who is undoubtedly the best heavyweight in the world right now, and has the skills of an all-time great, but just doesn't...it's a long story.
You know what it is with Klitschko? And I'm hardly the first person to talk about this, but it was in my mind during the Thompson fight. He refuses to be as dominant and entertaining as he could be -- as he should be, really.
Let's look at Klitschko's last five fights:
1. Calvin Brock (TKO-7, 2006-11-11)
American challenger Brock's true power and true skills were a rather unknown quantity still, so Wladimir came out and felt Brock out. Only when he was rather badly cut did Wladimir turn up the heat. You know what happened as soon as he did? Brock -- a good fighter -- was sorely outclassed, and hit the canvas with a thud and a bounce. Out. Done. Goodnight.
2. Ray Austin (TKO-2, 2007-03-10)
Everyone and their mother knew that Ray Austin had about as much of a chance at beating Klitschko as Peter McBride did beating Tyson, but Wladimir still came out pawing and slapping and feeling his way through things. All that really happened was Austin was so unqualified a challenger that Klitschko finished him with a sequence of left hooks in the second round, simply because Austin was such a can that he couldn't stand up to them, defend against them, or anything else.
3. Lamon Brewster (RTD-6, 2007-07-07)
7-7-7 was not Brewster's lucky day in the rematch, but again the faults are there. Brewster was obviously there to collect his paycheck, hopefully not get hurt, and go home. Jab, jab, jab, jab, jab. Wladimir jabbed an uninterested Brewster into submission after six rounds.
4. Sultan Ibragimov (UD-12, 2008-02-23)
This fight has been crapped on more times than you can count. It is a clear frontrunner for Worst Fight of the Year, although that's giving it a gift and calling it a fight. How two heavyweights can cause so little damage and refuse to fight this heartily is astounding. Even Manny Steward was incensed by this travesty, thrust upon the public and billed as an important unification bout. Ibragimov turtled like Claude Lemieux, and Klitschko was no Darren McCarty out there.
5. Tony Thompson (KO-11, 2008-07-12)
Similar to the Brock fight, except Wlad didn't turn it on and start firing on a cut, he waited until he felt Thompson was completely out of gas and on bad legs. Smart? Absolutely. Thompson is awkward and proved tough. But you get the feeling that had he felt like really opening up, he could've won whenever he wanted to. And that's where Klitschko will always fail with much of the casual fan audience and the general public. He doesn't overwhelm, and gives the impression that he can. Is it a fear of his own bad chin? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe he wants to win more than make fans.
If that's the case, you can't fault him. Well, you can and I am, but it's selfish.
2. Samuel Peter (30-1, 23 KO, WBC Titleholder)
He'll talk forever, and I hope he knocks Vitali Klitschko out (this is assuming they fight), but if he fights Wladimir again, I just get the impression that it will be more decided for Wlad this time around. Peter is still loopy with his punches and rough around the edges. That will never change, and while he'll certainly have a KO chance against Wlad or anyone else on the planet, a lack of fundamental skill seems like it will be his downfall against those patient enough. Also, if Jameel McCline can floor him three times, Klitschko can knock him out.
3. Ruslan Chagaev (24-0-1, 17 KO, WBA Titleholder)
A good fighter whose wins over Valuev and Ruiz were disputed by some. He's shown a strong chin and a nice set of offensive skills, but he's slow-footed and will never dominate. He's also injured all the time.
4. Nikolai Valuev (48-1, 34 KO)
5. John Ruiz (43-7-1, 29 KO)
Most interim title fights are stupid, to put it nicely. But Valuev-Ruiz II for the WBA interim title is deserved on both sides and has been made necessary by Ruiz's umpteenth injury, and second while preparing to rematch Valuev.
Valuev seemed like a guy that would disappear as soon as his "0" was gone, but he hasn't, and he deserves credit for that. Despite his freakishness, he doesn't rely on his size. I mean, yeah, he does, but he works hard to improve his talent. He'll never be more than he is, but he's made real strides over his career.
John Ruiz is no one's favorite, but the guy deserves credit. He's tougher than all get out, backs down from no challenge, and has had to win fights to get fights. No one's handing this guy big ones anymore.
6. Alexander Dimitrenko (28-0, 18 KO)
Might be the most ignored heavyweight in the world. He's 26, he's got some pretty good wins, and yet almost no noise is made on his behalf by anyone.
7. Juan Carlos Gomez (43-1, 35 KO)
The 34-year old Gomez is, of course, a former outstanding cruiserweight, and you could do a whole lot worse for a title challenger, no matter the title. His only loss came via first round TKO against fellow Cuban defector Yanqui Diaz.
8. Alexander Povetkin (15-0, 11 KO)
"He fights like an amateur" is the big knock on Povetkin, and if he goes ahead with plans to take on Wladimir Klitschko (exercising his IBF mandatory), he'll get creamed. Povetkin should keep that in his pocket and wait for the proper time, 'cause the proper time ain't now. Even though he's 28, he still has a lot to learn as a pro.
9. Eddie Chambers (31-1, 17 KO)
It's not the most popular opinion, but Chambers should have beaten Povetkin. With his self-admiration after punches, Chambers eventually stopped fighting just enough to go ahead and give Povetkin many rounds, and eventually, the fight itself. Chambers' speed bothered Povetkin early, and then he just took the fight off. It was a strange performance accented by Buddy McGirt yelling at him. He returned by destroying Raphael Butler in June.
10. Tony Thompson (31-2, 19 KO)
A long, rangy, awkward fighter that will trouble just about anybody. He made a fine accounting for himself against Klitschko, and it's hard not to wonder what Thompson might look like as a fighter if he'd started in his youth, as most pros did, instead of his mid-20s.