6 of the best – The defining fights of Wladimir Klitschko’s glittering career
Here, we chronicle the six fights that defined the highs and lows in the career of a fighter who went from Olympic champion to the kingpin of heavyweight boxing.
1. Chris Byrd - Winning the heavyweight title
Klitschko was touted for great things on the professional stage long before he made his debut in the paid ring. After winning super-heavyweight gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, many believed he would be a certain future heavyweight champion.
However, his unforgiving journey to the heavyweight championship suffered a setback when, in his 25th pro bout, Klitschko was knocked out by American journeyman Ross Puritty after becoming exhausted and succumbing to an onslaught in the 11th round.
Following the loss, Klitschko bounced back to rattle off a string of knockout wins and collect a smattering of minor championship belts to put him in line for a shot at WBO champion Chris Byrd in October 2000.
Klitschko defeated the much smaller American by a unanimous points decision to land his first heavyweight crown, realizing his goal of becoming heavyweight champion just four years after turning professional.
2. Lamon Brewster - The end of the road?
Despite winning the WBO title against Byrd, many were unconvinced about whether Klitschko could make it as a heavyweight great. Questions still lurked about his durability as champion, all arising from his KO loss to Puritty.
Nevertheless it was Klitschko’s power that was making headlines. He recorded five stoppage wins in his five defenses since winning the title, including victories over Frans Botha, Ray Mercer and Jameel McCline before taking on South African Corrie Sanders.
In an upset, Klitschko was bludgeoned to defeat in two rounds, being knocked down four times in the process. After the loss, Klitschko enlisted the services of legendary boxing trainer Emanuel Steward in an effort to turn his career around.
But even Steward couldn’t help Klitschko in his quest for redemption when three fights later he fought American Lamon Brewster to regain his WBO title. He was stopped in the fifth round, again exhaustion getting the better of him. Many believed after the Brewster loss it was time for Klitschko to hang up his gloves.
3. Chris Byrd II - Regaining the championship
Despite now having three stoppage losses on his record, Klitschko continued to work with Steward and quickly gained another shot to regain the championship in a second fight against Byrd, who had since won the IBF championship.
This time around Klitschko took the decision out of the judges’ hands and produced a dominant performance to stop Byrd in the ninth round, becoming a two-time heavyweight champion. That began an 11-year reign at the top of the heavyweight division, the second-longest in history, including the third most successful consecutive defenses in history with 18.
4. David Haye - Silencing the Hayemaker
British motormouth Haye represented probably the most dangerous test of Klitschko’s career when they met in 2011. A former undisputed cruiserweight champion, Londoner Haye had notched up a frightening 23 knockout wins from his 26 fights as a professional and was generally regarded as one of the heaviest hitters in the sport.
After moving up a weight to win the WBA version of the heavyweight title against giant Russian Nikolay Valuev and defending the belt twice, the cocksure Haye had talked up a unification bout between the two long before they met in the ring, going as far as to confront Klitschko during the Ukrainian’s visit to the London Excel Arena.
When the two finally met in Hamburg, Germany, the sheer size of Klitschko overwhelmed Haye, who was knocked down once in the 11th round on the way to a wide points loss, unable to impose his power on the much bigger man, who looked every inch the classy champion in victory.
After the fight, Haye blamed the loss partly on a broken little toe, claiming it inhibited him from landing his right hand, much to the bemusement and amusement of Klitschko and boxing fans around the world.
5. Jean Marc Mormeck - 50 not out
One of Klitschko’s less celebrated but most notable wins came against another former cruiserweight champion in Jean Marc Mormeck, a fight in which he recorded his 50th career knockout win.
After losing his cruiserweight titles to Haye, Guadeloupe-born Frenchman Mormeck moved up to heavyweight and reeled off a handful of routine wins against limited opposition before challenging Klitschko, who had acquired Haye’s WBA title in his last fight.
Although heavily unfancied, giving away six-and-a-half inches in height and almost 30lbs in weight, Mormeck vowed to do what Haye couldn’t and relieve Klitschko of his titles. Critics derided his statements almost as much as they did Klitschko for having chosen Mormeck as an opponent.
In the end, the fight went much the way many experts had predicted with Klitschko knocking Mormeck down in the second round and then down and out in the fourth to record a half century of knockouts.
6. Anthony Joshua - Cementing legacy in defeat
After losing his titles to Brit Tyson Fury by unanimous decision in Germany in November 2015, Klitschko returned almost two years later to take on another rising heavyweight sensation in Anthony Joshua, who had won all 18 of his fight by KO, for the IBF and WBA titles at London’s Wembley Stadium.
With a record 90,000 tickets sold for the fight, the action did not disappoint the fans packed into the arena. The contest was a slugfest from the first bell with the two fighters standing toe-to-toe, trading power shots before Klitschko was felled by an accumulation of brutal punishment in the fifth round.
Klitschko used all of his class and experience to cling on and survive the round before coming back to down Joshua in the very next round, detonating a thunderous right hand to send his man crumpling to the canvas.
Joshua valiantly rose from the knockdown and the seesaw action continued onto an enthralling 11th round where Klitschko was dropped a further two times before one of the most exciting fights in heavyweight championship history was waved off.
With the victory, Joshua became a unified champion. In defeat, Klitschko assured boxing fans of his unquestioned heart and bravery to almost knock out the sport’s rising star, cementing his legacy as one of boxing’s true heavyweight champions.