Consistency and dominance are the two traits that have defined Wladimir Klitschko's eight-year run as the world's best heavyweight, which began when the younger of the big, robotic Ukrainian brothers regained a major title, beating Chris Byrd in April 2006, bringing himself back to the top of a division it once seemed he may have been too fragile to own.
Klitschko, now 38, is the brother left standing following Vitali's retirement last year to focus on his political career in their home country. Wladimir now has no argument from anyone as the world's best in what once was the sport's glamour division, now relegated to title fights on ESPN, which sounds better than it may really be. Not long ago, it was something called "Epix" that tried its hand at being the United States' main outlet for heavyweight title fights. That lasted roughly as long, as my dear old granny would say, as a fart in a whirlwind, and with no notable success.
Klitschko's problem is that he's dull. He probably doesn't see it as a problem, though, and that's fair enough. He's gotten to where he is by not taking risks in the ring, letting his size and skill, as well as his dedication, pay off.
Consistency is a good thing professionally, and has made him successful, but Wladimir has never captured the American public's attention, never struck our fancy. There was a time when he seemed more exciting than he is, with the belief that his supposedly glass chin would always be an issue too great to overlook.
Wladimir, however, has gone so long without being floored, wobbled, or even truly troubled by an opponent that the fragility that once made him appear vulnerable is all but gone. Sure, he might not take a punch all that well, but he's learned how best to not take hard punches at all.
Jab, defend, and hold. There's the Klitschko mantra. It should be repeated in the gym the way the Money Team barks out, "Hard work! Dedication!"
That's why Klitschko (61-3, 51 KO) is an also-ran in U.S. boxing headlines. But his dominance has made him a star in Germany, where he'll face Alex Leapai this Saturday, once again defending his IBF, WBA, and WBO titles, as well as the Ring Magazine championship.
Leapai, 34, is a "contender" the same as all the others. Whether talented, crafty, or powerful, best possible options or "who's a better option?" choices, tall or short, flabby or sculpted from marble, they all do about the same against Wladimir Klitschko these days. The only mystery is in whether or not Klitschko will mercifully end the fight early, or if we'll once again plod with him through 12 laborious rounds of jabs and clinches in fights that are all but over after the first three.
Leapai did fight his way here, at least, which is more than can be said for the likes of Mariusz Wach, Francesco Pianeta, or Jean-Marc Mormeck. With a November upset of previously-unbeaten Denis Boytsov, Leapai (30-4-3, 24 KO) made his case for this fight. It doesn't make him any better a contender than he would have been before, as that fight more exposed Boytsov than told us anything new about Leapai, but it was a legitimate win, and there have been worse pretenders that have ridden in vain up to Klitschko's castle.
But like Wach and Pianeta and Mormeck, or Povetkin and Haye and Ibragimov, the end result will surely be the same. Leapai, listed at an even six feet tall, will be dwarfed by "Dr. Steelhammer," and though he may throw himself at the big man with a variety of wild power shots, the best result will probably be simply not getting embarrassed by a fighter who is on another level.
Klitschko is a 16-to-1 favorite in this fight, and that may be kind to Leapai. Those hoping for a massive upset to shake up the heavyweight landscape will once again leave disappointed. And Wladimir Klitschko will march on, embarking on what he feels can be another decade in the sport. And at the rate he's disposing of his opponents while taking no greater punishment than the occasional nick under the eye, what's to stop him?