Understand that one of two things would've happened if this most tyrannical man was beside me at ringside in Madison Square Garden for Wladimir Klitschko V Sultan Ibragimov in March 2008…
1.) Myself, and nearly 14,000 others would've been impaled. Or..
2.) Vlad would've found a new way to kill Klitschko for grievous boredom.
What fascinates about a heavyweight champion is conflict. Drama. Nobody wants to witness perfection or the attempt at it. I want to grow through what they go through.
Ali gave us historic risk. Holmes left anecdotes of courage for watching. Tyson, that pulsating adventure of not knowing- but expecting. Lewis, this quiet wrath and a punishing dignity.
I wondered about Wladimir during that cameo with Lennox in “Ocean's 11”. Then watched him get blown up like a German U-boat by Corrie Sanders and sunk like the Titantic by Lamon Brewster.
The first time I'd seen Klitschko Live was against Ibragimov. The next occasion occurred in April 2015 at the Gaaah-den, against a slow simmering Bryant Jennings. Uninspired and lethargic, Klitschko only came alive late when he realized that Jennings finally believed he could win.
Then came the unfathomable loss to the division's fat version of Batman, Tyson Fury.
Knowing the end was near for this era's champion, I wanted to be sure of the dreadful conclusion I'd come to of Klitschko's reign.
So I studied him.
Particularly, after his loss to Brewster and the inaugural fight under the tutelage of great late trainer Emanuel Steward. Slowly, a different Klitschko emerged. One that would explain why he could fill so many arenas in Russia and Germany, while singlehandedly revolutionizing international boxing.
He became a nerdy Phd bookworm version of Ivan Drago, nailing academia and men alike as “Dr. Steelhammer”, with a pride and stoic consistency worthy of total admiration.
Classy and regal, Klitschko wasn't really interested in beating an opponent in as much as he was solving them. Just as there's a cultural difference with respect to the arts in America, it applied to paint jobs presented from Wladimir in Europe.
His was a meticulous craftsmanship displayed in dispatching one heavyweight after another was roundly appreciated. In an era of tattoos and thugs gracing his squared circles, Klitschko was an officer and a gentleman, putting them all in a scientific triangle of defeat.
He stood tall while making sure that you knew the likes of David Haye, Hasim Rahman or Alexander Povetkin were beneath him. He absorbed the teachings of Steward and became a politically correct amalgam of Lewis.
Technically, his reign was greater than that of Ali's and twice the length of Holmes. Of much more substance than Tyson's and much larger in global scope than the reign of Lewis.
With this in mind, because he never fought for money, or used any degree of foulness to promote a fight– regardless if either attribute applied to any opponent over 21 years of combat, Klitschko probably has to be considered the greatest ambassador the sport of boxing has ever known.
By the time he fought the next generational great, Anthony Joshua, in April of this year, I was now a fan. I was also sure that at age 41, he would take a savage beating to close out his ring legacy.
Instead, he produced the finest performance of his career and the best example of a Man boxing's ever seen in sportsmanship. He goes out a loser of his last two bouts, but has never been a bigger winner than right now.
*** *** ***
Ali gave us historic risk. Holmes left anecdotes of courage for watching. Tyson, that pulsating adventure of not knowing- but expecting. Lewis, this quiet wrath and a punishing dignity. Klitschko, incredible integrity and the epitome of will.
So long, champ.