It may turn out that Wladimir Klitschko, younger of the wild and
crazy Ukrainian brothers, will rule the heavyweight division one
day. But judging from his performance last Saturday against
Jameel McCline, that's going to be a little further down the line
than we thought. Klitschko is huge, is a skilled athlete, has a
Ph.D. and speaks in the kind of garbled syntax that reporters
love to quote. At the moment, though, he's just not much of a
performer inside the ring--and that's after he knocked out
This is an article from the Dec. 16, 2002 issue
Truth is, until the 10th round, when Klitschko landed a left hook
that crumpled the former gunrunner and caused McCline's corner to
throw in the towel before the next round, the fight had been a
largely desultory affair, slow enough that fans were
reconsidering their investment of time and money (not to mention
Klitschko's reputation). Even the Ukrainian picked up on it. "I
hear in fight, somebody a little unhappy," he said afterward, as
agreeable as always. "It was little bit boring, made frowns."
A few frowns, anyway, although it's hard to assign the fault
entirely to Klitschko. McCline, whom you might have thought was
used to living dangerously after a stint in New York state prison
in the early 1990s, was instead the picture of caution in Las
Vegas's Mandalay Bay Events Center. He refused to bring any fight
to Klitschko and reacted to aggression primarily with fits of
blinking. He appeared to be a victim of Tourette's at some
points, almost seizing up.
But the 26-year-old Klitschko, who is thought to be the better
athlete of the brothers (Vitali, older by five years, is set to
fight Lennox Lewis for the WBC title next spring), did little to
press his considerable advantage. He was content to employ his
athleticism in jabbing and circling McCline. It was a splendid
display for a man who is 6'7" and weighs 240 pounds, but if fight
fans preferred ballet, they'd have been yelling "Bolshoi!"
instead of, well, something else.
Klitschko, while acknowledging his caution, didn't find fault in
it, at least not to the extent the audience did. "Have to be very
careful," he explained. "Don't want to prove my head, how hard it
His promoter, Klaus-Peter Kohl, was a little more apologetic.
Kohl, who has been spoon-feeding the Klitschkos for several years
(Wladimir was riding a crest of enthusiasm after destroying
41-year-old Ray Mercer last June), begged tolerance for his
prodigy. "Give him a little more time," Kohl said, "he will be
Well, he's pretty good, nobody's disputing that--and he could get
better. It's just that Saturday's bout didn't prove anything
except that Klitschko is a charmer with an 81-inch reach. He has
a terrific jab, which seemed to keep McCline off-track all night,
but nobody this side of Transylvania is going to pay to see Wlad
the Impaler. He'll need to explore other ways to impress people
with his gifts than to stick and move.
Yet based on the box-office potential of Klitschko, the fight was
billed as the main event over the rematch between lightweight
champion Floyd Mayweather and Jose Luis Castillo. Mayweather,
undertaking the second fight after critics complained of his
decision over Castillo in their first bout, soundly outboxed
Castillo this time, winning a noncontroversial decision in a
fight that had more action than Klitschko-McCline. Such is the
popularity of heavyweight boxing, though, that the more appealing
bout was mere warmup.
Heavyweights these days may not be better (not with dinosaurs
like Evander Holyfield lingering in the division, long past their
primes), but they are certainly bigger. And as they grow (few
under 6'5" seem to be valued as contenders any longer),
expectations follow. There is a lot at stake in the development
of the Klitschkos--who takes over Lewis's mantle once he
retires?--so it's no wonder they've been nursed so well. But to
make true believers, they need to fight with more heart than they
have so far.
A rundown of the top contenders to dethrone heavyweight champion
1. and 1a. The Klitschkos, Wladimir and Vitali. Although Vitali
is considered too robotic to fully flummox Lewis, he does have
the bigger punch of the brothers.
3. Evander Holyfield. Still explosive after all these years. How
can you discount him among this unreliable crop?
4. Chris Byrd. Goes into every fight (including Saturday's with
Holyfield), knowing he can't possibly hurt his opponent. Slick, frustrating--it's a shame he can't punch.
5. David Tua. Proved how limited he is in a November 2000 loss to
Lewis, how powerful he is in an Aug. 17, first-round knockout of
Michael Moorer. Fact that he's considered at all explains the trouble this division's in.