On Dec. 5, 1998, Wladimir Klitschko looked to add to his impressive 24-0 record with a victory over journeyman Ross Puritty, a Phoenix native fighting chiefly against his own 24-13-1 record.
Puritty, 31 at the time, had already suffered losses to the likes of Hasim Rahman, Chris Byrd, Michael Grant, Corrie Sanders, and Larry Donald, and also had a draw with Tomy Morrison.
At the Palace of Sports in Klitschko’s native Ukraine, a notable upset of the decade took place, as Puritty knocked out Klitschko in round 11.
The future lineal champion Klitschko looked different in this bout. Evidently much younger than in his dominant reign of the mid 2000s and 2010s, he boxed less on his toes and more flatfooted. One could tell that his style was indicative of his training, as his pre-Emanuel Steward style of fighting was unique yet effective.
The initial rounds were all Klitschko. He showed the world his machine gun styled 1-2 and 1-2-3 combinations. Most of his punches were straight and direct. He refrained from hooks and uppercuts. He was active with his jab, followed it up with straight rights and lefts, and forced Puritty to hold his hands back to prevent getting punched.
Puritty, while playing the inside, was not dictating the movement around the ring, but rather Klitschko was, and Wladimir was extremely loose in his shoulders, almost as if he were ready to dance. He would roll them around, staying free, yet his gloves were closed, ready to inflict damage.
Puritty, though less active with his punch count, was clearly looking for opportune moments to counter-punch, and was effective when picking his spots. He kept his gloves up to the top of his head while thwarting off punches from Klitschko — the highest you’ll see a boxer position himself without looking odd.
In the fifth, it turned into more of a jabbing exhibition, and Puritty came alive. He was aggressive and hunting for open shots to the body, but Klitschko was great at using his defensive slide to evade those crosses. This was the first round Puritty made close, but Klitschko still did enough to edge him out.
The sixth was an absolute clinic. Klitschko would pop Puritty’s head back with his jab, and go more to the body. His defense was impeccable, and any momentum Puritty looked to build was extinguished. But through all of Klitschko’s tactical precision, when watching closely you could see that Puritty — save one time in the middle rounds — was not hurt, and was playing the part to look for that perfect time to make Klitschko pay for any mistake he made.
The seventh and eighth rounds told a very similar story: Klitschko tenaciously breaking down the twin pillars that were Ross Puritty’s forearms, and Puritty throwing haymakers and overhands trying to time a knockout blow. Twice in the eighth, Klitschko connected on gorgeous straight right combinations, both of which penetrated Puritty’s defense.
Throughout the bout, Puritty had no — and I mean no — head movement whatsoever. He placed too much confidence in his gloves to defend his face, and paid for it on the scorecards. Conversely, Klitschko was agile, adroit at dipping punches.
But a puncher’s chance is all a puncher needs to shift an entire fight, and that is exactly what happened in the 10th round. In the first round Puritty won, he delivered a nasty set of crosses to Klitschko’s head, circling back for a delivery of uppercuts that caused the Ukrainian to retreat hastily. This prompted a fall that wasn’t ruled a knockdown.
However, you could see in Klitschko’s face that he looked dazed, and Puritty capitalized by throwing two crosses and another uppercut that led to a delayed reaction from Klitschko, who fell several seconds after impact.
Finally, the night ended in round 11 with a barrage of punches from which Klitschko couldn’t recover, his training jumping into the ring, hands flailing in the air to personally stop the fight.
Firstly, Klitschko’s trainer probably should have given the undefeated fighter a little bit more time to fight back or go out on his shield. Yes, the safety of the fighter always comes first, but discretion prevailed nonetheless.
This was a very interesting fight and one that I thoroughly enjoyed watching. Admittedly, knowing the outcome heading in warped my perception of Puritty’s resilience. Perhaps if watched in real time I would have been taken aback by the sudden knockout. Nonetheless, from start to finish, it just seemed as if Puritty wasn’t bothered enough by the scores of punches he was tagged with to the face throughout the fight, despite a bloody mouth.
For Klitschko, supporters got to see the future Hall of Famer dominate a monolith of a fight for nine-and-a-half rounds — all of which he convincingly won. Each of those winning rounds placed next to each other would look like the Spider-Man pointing meme. But, all credit to Puritty, he toughed it out and found a way to turn the tide.
Wladimir Klitschko would go on to win 16 consecutive fights, picking up the WBO crown in the process, before dropping two of four to Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster. Those losses were all it took to set off an immortalized 22-fight run that saw him unify most of the division and become lineal champion and a main attraction in boxing for 11 years.
For Puritty, he would go on to lose more fights than he won, and Klitschko’s brother Vitali avenged his brother’s loss with a knockout of his own in 2001. Check this fight out and witness the growth of a legend, and the chops of a contender.