Like it or not, Wladimir Klitschko may well be among the greatest heavyweight champions who has yet lived. If longevity and dominance over his era are any indicator, he should rank highly on many historian's lists. But because he's not American and because his knockouts are preceded by long stretches of clinical boxing his accomplishments haven't been embraced, especially in the U.S. But the numbers speak highly for him.
* His current seven year, five month reign is now second on the all-time list behind Joe Louis' 11 year 8 months. Larry Holmes, at seven years three months, is now third.
* He is now 21-2 (17 KO) in title competition.
* He hasn't lost a fight in nearly 10 years and has gone 18-0 (13 KO) in that time.
* His 14 consecutive defenses thus far ranks only behind Joe Louis (25) and Holmes (20) and if one adds his five WBO defenses between 2000 and 2003 his 19 ranks him third all-time, tied with Muhammad Ali's 19 in two reigns. Given the current crop it appears that "Dr. Steelhammer" can rule for as long as he pleases.
However, Klitschko is facing a test in WBA "regular" titlist Alexander Povetkin, who is undefeated in 26 fights and has been looking good as of late. Still, a Povetkin victory over the 37-year-old Klitschko would rank as a monstrous upset but stranger things have happened in boxing.
Statistical factors that may influence the outcome are:
Picking Up the Pace: During one recent stretch Klitschko had sleep-walked through his fights in terms of average output. In stopping Tony Thompson for the second time, Klitschko averaged just 20.2 punches per round while against Jean Marc Mormeck he averaged 39.7 and 42.4 versus David Haye. But in his last two fights against Mariusz Wach (the only fighter ever to boast height and reach advantages) and Francesco Pianeta, Klitschko's once bustling work rate returned as he averaged 57.8 and 46.2 respectively, both above the 45.6 heavyweight average.
Moreover, Klitschko's accuracy soared against Wach and Pianeta. In decisioning the Pole, Klitschko landed 40% of his total punches, 35% of his jabs and 48% of his power shots in amassing connect bulges of 274-60 (total), 153-35 (jabs) and 121-25 (power) while against Pianeta he landed 42% overall, 39% jabs and 45% power and out-landed the Italian 116-24 (total), 56-2 (jabs) and 60-22 (power). He also pumped up his usually jab-heavy offense against Pianeta by achieving a near balance between jabs (144) and power shots (133), perhaps a measure of how overmatched the Italian really was.
That continues a stretch of dominance unlike few others in CompuBox history. In Klitschko's last nine fights he out-landed his foes 1,246-372 overall -- a more than 3-to-1 margin -- and tasted just 4.8 connects per round (nearly one-quarter the 16.6 average). His plus-minus during that stretch is plus-12.5 overall (33.6-21.1), plus-11.8 in jabs (31.1-19.3) and plus-15.4 power (38.8-23.4). He has nearly quadrupled his opponents' jab connects per round (9.9-2.6), nearly tripled their power connects (6.3-2.3) and faced nearly half the total punches (48.1-22.9). Only the SEC in college football could compare to Klitschko's in heavyweight boxing.
Trainer Carousel: In his last five fights Povetkin has had three head trainers -- Teddy Atlas, Alexander Semin and now Hall of Famer Kostya Tszyu. Povetkin's performances under the trio show marked differences.
Atlas had two tenures in Povetkin's corner -- a one-fight stint vs. Leo Nolan (KO 3) and a three-fight stay vs. Nikolai Firtha (W 10), Ruslan Chagaev (W 12) and Cedric Boswell (KO 8). Against Firtha, Povetkin was extremely accurate (45% overall, 37% jabs, 52% power) but not active (32.8 per round) while against the more defensively responsible southpaw Chagaev he was active (44.4) and less accurate (29% overall, 16% jabs, 40% power). Against Boswell, Povetkin performed similarly as the Firtha fight as he was selective (33 per round) but precise (41% overall, 33% jabs, 46% power). But while his offensive performance fluctuated his defensive prowess was consistent:
Firtha: 17% overall, 12% jabs, 27% power
Chagaev: 17% overall, 4% jabs, 35% power
Boswell: 15% overall, 10% jabs, 34% power
Heavyweight average: 36% overall, 29% jabs, 42% power
In his lone fight with Semin, Povetkin was lucky to get past reigning WBO cruiserweight king Marco Huck. Averaging a respectable 46.8 punches per round to Huck's 39, the smaller man was more accurate (35%-31% overall, 30%-19% jabs, 43%-38% power) and he nearly eclipsed Povetkin in total punches (172-165) because he badly out-landed him in jabs (79-41). Povetkin's saving grace was his 131-86 bulge in power connects. The near-upset persuaded Team Povetkin to jettison Semin and hire Tszyu.
In his two most recent fights under Tszyu -- admittedly against inferior opposition against Andrzej Wawrzyk and a 39-year-old Hasim Rahman -- Povetkin has reached a happy medium. He's throwing more punches than under Atlas, less than under Semin and his defensive numbers have returned to normal. Of course, his level of opposition had something to do with that as Wawrzyk's 27-0 record was more a product of matchmaking and the 39-year-old Rahman was light years past his prime. Still, Povetkin did what was expected of him and the numbers bear out his effectiveness.
Against Wawrzyk (who threw just five power punches in three rounds and landed none of them), Povetkin averaged 40 punches per round, amassed connect gulfs of 36-8 (overall), 19-8 (jabs) and 17-0 (power) and landed 30% overall, 27% jabs and 34% power. But against the aged Rahman, who at 256 1/2 was woefully out of shape, an energized and confident Povetkin landed 50% of his total punches, 27% of his jabs and a stratospheric 65% of his power punches (which helped him earn a 33-2 connect gap in that category). That said, those two fights showed that Povetkin can dominate foes who provide token resistance. Klitschko occupies another universe in terms of skill, experience and execution.
Prediction: In this battle of super heavyweight gold medalists (Klitschko 1996, Povetkin 2004), the elder statesman will be at the top of his game both in terms of condition and execution. Nothing Povetkin has faced as a pro could prepare him for what Klitschko will give him -- a frequent, accurate jab, power (if singular) power shots and a world of experience (his 175 championship rounds exceeds Povetkin's 147 professional rounds). Povetkin will try his best but in the end it will be futile. Klitschko by lopsided decision.