“What? Who’s fighting?” This was the general response I got from friends and family at 5 p.m. this past Saturday. That “who” was Wladimir Klitschko, the consensus No. 1 heavyweight boxer in the world today and the owner of the WBO, WBA, IBF, IBO and The Ring world titles.
In the ESPN Showcase fight Klitschko, in a mandatory title defense, took on a grossly overmatched Alex Leapai, who looked like an amateur who had somehow found his way into the ring against the second-longest reigning champion in heavyweight boxing history. The 6-foot-6 Ukrainian heavyweight controlled the distance with astounding ease, hitting the hapless Leapai over and over again with a clanging jab-cross combination, which kept his opponent dazed and off balance before finally being floored by a final thunder right hand in the fifth round.
This was clearly an attempt to promote the vaunted world heavyweight champion and further expose him to a wider viewing audience, but for the most part it went unnoticed and unappreciated, much like the majority of Klitschko’s decorated career. It seems strange when considering the prolific history of the heavyweight division and its impact not only on the world of sports, but on popular culture as well, that such a dominant champion could remain essentially anonymous.
His story of forgotten greatness is not unlike another great champion, Larry Holmes, who despite his dominance and impressive resume, failed to garner the attention of his predecessors like Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and Sonny Liston. Though Klitschko is clearly great, he has had the misfortune of following the exciting acts of Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Roy Jones Jr.and Lennox Lewis, whose dynamic styles during the 90s stirred interest for the sport once more.
Storied champions like Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Rocky Marciano, Tyson and Joe Louis were globally recognized names and faces, but Klitschko, the man who has dominated this historical weight division like no other in his generation, sadly seems destined to be forgotten.