Wladimir Klitschko unified one half of the heavyweight title Saturday night but he left at loose ends who is truly the heavyweight champion of the world.
Klitschko added the World Boxing Organization title to the International Boxing Federation belt he already held by winning a lopsided decision from a guy whose battle plan, apparently, was not to engage in a battle if one could be avoided. Not to be disrespectful but former clutch-and-grab champion John Ruiz would have looked like Arturo Gatti compared to the performance put on by Sultan Ibragimov Saturday night.
In the final days leading up to the first unification fight in nine years, Ibragimov insisted he knew how to beat the towering Klitschko. If he does, he kept the secret to himself. "He was very careful,"Klitschko said diplomatically of Ibragimov, who could have legally changed his name to I -grab-enough. "He was very difficult to fight because he kept backing off. He kept leaning back. He didn't come to engage."
The judges certainly agreed. Don Ackerman gave Klitschko all but one round, scoring him a 119-110 winner while Steve Weisfeld had it 118-110 and Chuck Giampa scored it 117-111. No one could have quarreled with that.
It was unclear exactly what Ibragimov (22-1-1) came to Madison Square Garden to do but clearly it wasn't to risk it all for a moment of glory. Standing at least a half foot shorter than the 6-6-1/2 Klitschko (Ibragimov may claim to be 6-2 but that's only if he's standing on a stool) and giving up six inches in reach, Ibragimov spent the entire night in the worst of places - at long range. What that guaranteed was that he could never land often enough to hold off Klitschko, whose long jab rapped him repeatedly and whose right hand, though not evident very often, strafed him just often enough to convince him that this was a night to be a defensive specialist.
That Ibragimov was but he was no Willie Pep. He was more like Willie Pepless.
"Wladimir could have thrown more punches but I'm not disappointed because Ibragimov kept leaning back all night," said Emanuel Steward, Klitschko's trainer. "He's such a difficult opponent to fight. He tries to get you out of position. That's when he's dangerous."
Unable to ever do that, Ibragimov instead spent the night back on his left foot like a man warily looking for attackers from all angles. His jab was repeatedly a yard short of Klitschko's chin and the few times he did lunge forward it was only to grasp Klitschko around the waist. That was a strategy that led the crowd of 14, 011 to boo regularly throughout the second half of the fight, cheering only the few times Klitschko let his powerful right hand go. Most often it missed but the few times it did land it seemed to thud into Ibragimov in such a way as to remind him that staying back on that left foot was a wise, though not a winning, strategy.
Yet later Ibragimov would contend it was not he who chose not to attack but rather the man who had just slapped him around.
"He didn't jab me he chopped and grabbed the whole fight," Ibragimov said. "But I did feel he won."
Klitschko knew fairly early he was in control of the situation even though he was seldom able to get into position to fire off the right hand that had stopped the majority of his 44 knockout victims. He tried, occasionally, but Ibragimov was so often not in the 212 area code that it was all but impossible to land it.
"I wasn't always in position to land the right hand," Klitschko (50-3) admitted. "I didn't throw it more often because I was not in position. You're not always going to win by knockout but the result counts."
Indeed it did, making Klitschko the first heavyweight to unify any portion of the four-pronged title since Lennox Lewis held all the belts in 1999 after defeating Evander Holyfield. At that time there was no question who the heavyweight champion was. Even after outpointing Ibragimov however, it remained difficult to argue that Klitschko's claim to the title was any more secure than the ones made by World Boxing Council champion Oleg Maskaev and World Boxing Association belt holder Ruslan Chagaev.
Klitschko conceded as much, saying he needed to "continue beating everyone with a belt"to unify the title. As he spoke, the last man to do it, Lewis, stood outside the ring as part of HBO's broadcasting team and discussed what he'd just seen.
"What I noticed about Klitschko is his defense, not so much his offense,"Lewis said kindly. He was smiling as he spoke but not as broadly as he did a minute later when he was asked if watching the kind of display he'd just seen made it difficult to stay retired.
HBO WCB - Feb. 23, 2008