I should know better than to be excited about a heavyweight fight. The last time I dared to feel eager anticipation for one, I was let down in the most tragic of ways: one man didn't fight at all and the other, even in victory, destroyed all illusion of his potential. I shouldn't hold out hope that the recently signed deal between Wladimir Klitschko and Alexander Povetkin will deliver boxing fans the type of excitement, tension, and significance that they once received on a regular basis in heavyweight title fights. I shouldn't. But I'm a glutton for punishment.
Despite my reservations, there are good reasons to think that the October 5th heavyweight clash will produce something special. One reason, this is sad to say but we might as well get it out of the way, is that Povetkin isn’t American. Yeah, I said it. It had to be said. The fact of the matter is that the United States hasn't produced a heavyweight champion (held the WBA, WBO, WBC, of IBF belt) since 2007, when Shannon Briggs held the WBO title for about a year. Before him there was Hasim Rahman and Lamon Brewster. Briggs retired after the savage beating Vitali Klitschko, Wladimir’s older brother, gave him in 2010. Wladimir knocked out Brewster in 2007 and Rahman in 2008.
Of the active U.S. born heavyweight hopefuls (there are precious few) none is anywhere near ready to take on the refined, albeit sometimes boring, knockout machine that is Wladimir Klitschko. The only thing worse than feeding a raw U.S. talent, like Deontay Wilder, to either Klitschko brother right now would be to dig up an old U.S. champion down on his luck, like the once great Riddick “Big Daddy” Bowe, to see how he’d fair against the Ukrainian champions. Thankfully, no one is trying to make that happen, especially after Bowe’s recent tragic decision to try out professional Muy Thai fighting.
Povetkin is another animal entirely. Povetkin is the first man that's been put in front of Klitschko since David Haye or Sam Peter (the first time), that poses an actual threat. Many of Klitschko’s opponents in the recent past, like Francesco Pianeta or Jean Marc Mormeck, have seemed like a part of Klitschko’s own "bum of the month" club. That phrase was originally coined to describe the legion of men that came one after the other to be summarily dispatched by the late great Joe Louis during a portion of his title reign in the late 1930s. But where Louis also fought and beat great fighters like Max Smelling and Buddy Baer, Klitschko is lacking marque victories and performances. Povetkin might offer that.
Povetkin is a 2004 Olympic gold medalist, he was trained for a time by standout corner man Teddy Atlas, has displayed solid punching power (over 60% his victories have come by KO) and a determined come-forward style that has been the undoing of many big men’s sharp long jabs.
And when you’re fighting Wldamir Klitschko that’s what you’re really competing against: a thunderous highly effective jab. It’s a jab taught by the late Emanuel Steward to Wladimir and all-time greats like Tommy Hearns and Lennox Lewis. Employed in the Steward style, the jab not only lands hard and sets up the straight right, it also keeps tall fighters boxing tall (as opposed to hunched over) and away from the punches of shorter opponents. When there questions about your chin as with Klitschko (see little regarded Steve Pannell put down a young Klitschko a round before being KO'ed himself, the Corrie Sanders's KO, and Lamon Brewster KO as examples) fighting tall and keeping your chin away from the torque shorter fighters can generate is an absolute must.
Will Povetkin find a way to defeat Wladimir Klitschko? Will he find a way around Klitschko’s stiff jab? Will he, for the first time in a long time, be able to land flush power punches on Klitschko’s chin? I’ll save a full breakdown of that for another time. The point here is that Povetkin is armed with the tools to do all of that.
Povetkin isn’t a pug getting a shot at the title and hoping to win on heart alone. In Chris Arreola’s 2009 fight against Vitali Klitschko, Arreola showed that in boxing, to be a champion more is required than just heart. Heart is necessary but not sufficient. Inside the ring, few can claim the grit and force of will that Arreola demonstrated in his fight against Vitali. I have little doubt that given the opportunity Arreola would have been carried out on his shield, a fallen warrior in a futile attempt to dethrone the champion. Thankfully, however, Arreola’s trainer stopped the punishment in the tenth round. Arreola’s complete demolition was a brutal warning to the contenders and pretenders that to compete at boxing’s most elite level, the fight game requires diligence and discipline inside and outside the ring. It’s not enough to lay you life on the line on fight night. The heavyweight championship of the world demands that you change your life between fights—foregoing much of the hedonism afforded by the spoils of boxing victory. Povetkin has the amateur pedigree and pro victories to show that he’s done that, and unlike Arreola, done so without the rumors of binge eating or overindulgence in Tecate.
Because of that, not only has Povetkin earned his title shot, but for the first time in a long time, should Wladimir come away with another decision or knockout, he many earn the praise of critics that have until now only begrudgingly acknowledged his dominance. Come October 5th, Povetkin will bring not just his heart, but savy boxing and an overhand right that isn’t to be taken lightly. Let’s just hope that Klitschko decides to meet his challenger aware that this may be one of his last opportunities before hanging up his gloves to show in one fight how good he’s been over his entire hall-of-fame career.
A former college wrestler, Taekwondo black-belt, and wannabe boxer, Paul Navarro (aka Fight Like Sugar) is now a full-time lawyer, part-time fight scribe, and high school wrestling coach.