What we saw Saturday in the heavyweight title fight between
We saw Klitschko, the recognized world champion, pumping his left jab with mechanical efficiency from the opening bell. We saw Rahman, the overmatched 11th-hour replacement for
We saw Klitschko tenderize Rahman for five rounds with left-handed jabs and hooks, knocking the challenger down in the sixth and securing a technical knockout victory just 44 seconds into the seventh, when referee
It's just too bad so few others saw it with us, as the heavyweight division hardly commands a fraction of the interest among casual sports fans it once did.
The sport's flagship division has long served as a bellwether for the popularity of the sweet science. As the heavyweights go, they say, so does boxing. But as a bloc of Eastern European technicians like Klitschko consolidates power in the division, the sport's status among American sports fans continues to diminish.
On Saturday, the Ukrainian-born Klitschko retained the IBF and WBO belts. His elder brother
In our insular sporting culture, a sport is seldom popular if an American isn't the best. Remember when men's tennis was a hot ticket during the 1990s, when
Boxing would seem to be a victim of the same trend, as the dearth of viable American heavyweight contenders -- coupled with the rise of homegrown alternatives like mixed martial arts -- pushes the sport further toward the periphery of the national sporting discussion.
Stateside fight fans may never warm up to Wladimir Klitschko, who turns 33 in March and insists he's entering the prime of his career. He's fought mostly in Germany over the past several years, where he's a huge economic draw. Where Americans tend to embrace aggressive, offensive-minded sluggers, Klitschko is a practitioner of risk management -- the classic outside shooter who relies almost exclusively on jabs and hooks to wear down his opponent. No uppercuts. No body punches. Very few combinations. Almost every offensive is directed upstairs, minimizing the risk of a counterpunch to his jaw.
Thing is, Americans might hate his aesthetic, but it's hard to argue with the results. It's been four years since Klitschko lost a fight. He's 52-3 with 46 knockouts. But he'll never get the respect he deserves among American fans until he defines himself against a great champion.
So who is the Great Red White and Blue Hope, the fighter who could regenerate stateside interest in boxing while helping Klitschko define his legacy? Can it be
Only time will tell. Here's hoping American fight fans stick around long enough to see it.