This Saturday from Cologne, Germany, Vitali Klitschko will once again defend his piece of heavyweight alphabet title pie against a talented but worrisome challenger from Cuba, Odlanier Solis.
Before we get into it, let me again tell you how you can see the fight, particularly if you're in the United States. If you're in the UK, Sky Sports will have the bout as usual, and if you're in Germany, RTL is again the carrier. But in the U.S., it's a new entrant into the boxing fray, as Epix is going to air the bout live. The bad news there is that the premium subscriber channel is on very few carriers in the States, and Comcast and DirecTV, among other major carriers, do not offer the channel. The good news is that Epix is also available as a subscriber service online no matter what cable carrier you have. Now I doubt anyone is looking to immediately add another subscription service to their bill collection, but you can also sign up for their free trial and see the fight on Saturday. I have done so myself and will be giving the channel a look. I can't vouch for the quality of their product as a live stream, and nobody's paying me to plug them either. This is simply a way to see the fight free and legally on Saturday. Check out their Klitschko-Solis page, where you can sign up for the free trial. You can also watch Hot Tub Time Machine, though I do not recommend doing so.
On paper, the most interesting thing about this fight is the idea that Solis is talented enough to give Klitschko trouble, but while I think he is, the realistic prediction is that Solis is not going to be in peak shape, because he never is, and that when all is said and done this will be his one big chance to cash in as a major challenger. It's not a talent issue. Pure boxing ability, I think he's the best heavyweight in the world. The Klitschkos are good boxers, but their size makes them capable of a lot more. Just in terms of talent, I think Solis should be a better fighter than either of them, at 6'1" and everything.
But he's fat. Let's not sugarcoat it. Solis is fat for a professional boxer, especially a good one. He was applauded by a few for coming in at 260 pounds in his last fight against Ray Austin, a deplorable "WBC eliminator" that Austin didn't deserve. His low weight on the scales as a pro was 246, and he's ballooned as high as 271. Let's not forget that his greatest success came as an amateur heavyweight, where the weight limit is 201 pounds. He also competed afterward at super heavyweight and did well, but he won the Olympic gold medal in Athens in 2004 at the 201-pound limit, and probably would have won the gold in 2000, except Cuba sent amateur legend Felix Savon instead. I'm not saying he should be a cruiserweight, but realistically he'd probably look best around 225 pounds.
To me, the most interesting thing is the legacy of Vitali Klitschko. Since his 2008 comeback, he's been utterly dominant. Let's take a quick look back at his fights since his return from a four-year retirement.
- October 2008, Samuel Peter, RTD-8: Many did expect Vitali would do well upon return, but the question was how well. Would the old injuries crop up? Would Peter's power trouble a rusty, aged fighter? No and no. Vitali routed Peter with a thudding jab to the face all night long, beating the hell out of the Nigerian, who quit after eight rounds. I don't think anybody expected he'd win every minute of the fight. He did.
- March 2009, Juan Carlos Gomez, TKO-9: Gomez, a Cuban defector like Solis, came to ugly it up and try to get a win that way. Giving up a lot of height, Gomez probably felt he couldn't try to slug with Vitali, but he missed some opportunities to score. Klitschko looked stiff as a board in this one, probably his worst performance since the return. But in the end he loosened up and battered Gomez into defeat.
- September 2009, Cristobal Arreola, RTD-10: Another dominant win, this time against an undefeated Mexican-American brawler who was as game as they come, but just couldn't deal with Klitschko's size and skill advantage. Arreola took a big beating and had to be convinced to give up the ghost after 10 rounds.
- December 2009, Kevin Johnson, UD-12: I'd rather not dignify this "fight" by saying much about it, but "Kingpin" Johnson turned in the worst heavyweight "title" fight performance I've ever seen. He has since disappeared back into obscurity fighting journeymen.
- May 2010, Albert Sosnowski, KO-10: Klitschko could find no suitable opponents, so the overmatched Sosnowski took the fight. I was incredibly harsh on the fight at the time, but I'd like to say again as I said then that at least Sosnowski had the stones to take the fight, and he did his best. He never had a chance, though.
- October 2010, Shannon Briggs, UD-12: Again a mismatch, this time with a worn-down American veteran whose right hand has always been his only real weapon. Briggs took 36 minutes of major punishment and though he wobbled, he would not go down. I understand the people who want to stop fights like this, and generally speaking I do, too, but it wasn't stopped and Briggs wound up giving the sort of brave performance that you remember. It still should have been stopped at some point, though.
So here we have Solis, and the question is preparation. It's not talent this time. He's a country mile better than Sosnowski, Briggs, Johnson, and Peter in terms of boxing skill, much better than Arreola, and better and more lively than the version of Gomez that fought Vitali. This is the best opponent Vitali Klitschko has faced since his comeback.
How can Solis win this fight? He has to be in better shape, and he better be prepared to go a difficult 12 rounds. He's not going to knock out Vitali Klitschko. A lot of Solis' superior skills can be kept at bay by the Klitschko jab for much of the fight. Sure, Solis could weave around it and do some damage in close here and there, but I don't think he's going to totally take it away from Vitali no matter how good he is. The Klitschko brothers are both jab-pumping machines who know the value of keeping their opponents aware of the blow even when they aren't really looking to do damage with it. Vitali looked positively spry against Briggs, so I even would say that he has the advantage of using the ring better, which is usually something you'd want a smaller heavyweight to be able to do against a guy six inches taller than him. Making the big man chase and leave himself vulnerable would seem an effective strategy for Solis, but Vitali has been bouncy in some of these fights when he needed to be.
The other idea, to pressure Vitali, is as always easier said than done. Arreola tried and found himself at the end of a jab all night. Same with Peter. Solis is smarter and more skilled than those two fighters, but how much smarter and more skilled does one have to be to avoid losing round after round? Klitschko's rounds have not been hard to score. He dominates them. No one's even gotten close to being "in the fight" for any length of time against him since '08. Solis has to not just be better than those guys, but incredibly better if he hopes to win.
And I think he has the talent to be that guy, but I don't think he has the mindset, the dedication, or the passion to be that guy. The Klitschko brothers are not unbeatable. They look that way because the field around them is a largely sorry lot that is tailor-made for them to dismantle. Solis is interesting and has me genuinely excited to watch the fight. But I think when all is said and done, he meets the same fate as the rest of the would-be challengers. Klitschko dominates, and once again forces an opponent or his corner to say enough is enough. Klitschko RTD-9