Seven years in, Klitschko still solidifying heavyweight reputation

By Lyle Fitzsimmons | CBSSports.com

Wladimir Klitschko faces Alexander Povetkin this Saturday in Moscow. (USATSI)


He stands 6-foot-6, sports an impeccably conditioned physique and speaks four languages.

Yet, when it comes to widespread acclaim for what's been a dominant seven-year title reign for heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, it's more often a chronic case of, "yeah, but…”

Now 37 years old, the Kazakhstan-born big man – unbeaten since age 28 – faces another dangerous litmus test Saturday in Moscow, in the form of unbeaten Russian challenger Alexander Povetkin.

The fight will be broadcast live on HBO at 3:30 p.m. ET, and shown again later as a lead-in to the Miguel Cotto-Delvin Rodriguez main event the network is airing live from Orlando on Saturday night.

The rebroadcast begins at 9:45 p.m. ET.

The Moscow fight matches a pair of former Olympic super heavyweight gold medalists and will be contested in a stadium constructed for the 1980 Summer Games. Klitschko won his gold medal in 1996 in Atlanta, while Povetkin was champion of the 2004 Games in Athens, Greece.

Povetkin, 34, turned pro nearly a year after his Olympic win and is unbeaten in 26 fights, with 18 wins coming by knockout. He picked up the World Boxing Association's (WBA) second-tier heavyweight title belt in August 2011 – Klitschko is the organization's "super"champion – and has defended it four times, most recently with a third-round TKO of Andrzej Wawrzyk on May 17.

Meanwhile, the fight marks Klitschko's 15th defenses of the International Boxing Federation (IBF) and International Boxing Organization (IBO) titles he won from Chris Byrd in 2006, the 11th defense of the World Boxing Organization crown he grabbed from Sultan Ibragimov two years later and the fifth risk of the aforementioned WBA super belt he captured from David Haye in 2011.

He's not lost since a fifth-round TKO against Lamon Brewster in April 2004, a result avenged when he stopped Brewster in six rounds of a July 2007 rematch. Incidentally, Povetkin's dubious championship claim came thanks to a 12-round decision over Ruslan Chagaev; exactly two years, two months and seven days after Klitschko had stopped the German-based Uzbekistan native in nine rounds.

Still, in spite of the jam-packed resume – Klitschko has more consecutive title defenses than any heavyweight champion outside of Joe Louis (26, 1937-49) and Larry Holmes (19, 1978-85) – his accomplishments are often downplayed, if not ignored entirely by a fickle boxing public.

In fact, the Klitschko fight most desired by fans and writers – a match with his older brother, Vitali, who holds the World Boxing Council title – is one both siblings have steadfastly declared as off limits. Without that as an option, he's left to a middling crop of American heavyweights and a series of lightly regarded European challengers deemed unpalatable by U.S. television networks.

"What has hurt (Klitschko) has been his lack of visibility on U.S. television and the one-sidedness of his fights," said Randy Gordon, the former New York State Athletic Commission chairman and ESPN/USA Network fight analyst, who how co-hosts a weekly SiriusXM radio show with two-time heavyweight title challenger Gerry Cooney. "Emanuel Steward told me a long time ago that Wladimir Klitschko is a great fighter. Steward said that Wladimir possesses more offensive tools than any fighter he has ever worked with. Wladimir wins and he wins easy and seemingly without much effort."

Seven of Klitschko's 15 defenses have come against reigning or former world title claimants – six heavyweights, one cruiserweight – and he also had a five-defense run as the WBO's champion from 2000 to 2003 that was ended by an upset two-round TKO loss to journeyman Corrie Sanders.

Povetkin is ranked No. 1 among title challengers by the IBO and No. 3 by the WBO. The IBF and WBC do not rank him in accordance with a policy that prevents them from ranking other organization's titleholders. He is 9-0 against fighters who were in the top 50 at the time of their fight, according to the IBO's computerized rankings, and has wins over the No. 5 contender (Marco Huck) and No. 2 contender (Chagaev) among his last five victories.

Klitschko is 26-3 in his career against top 50 fighters and has beaten contenders ranked fourth, first, 12th, fourth, 16th and 13th in his last six bouts dating back to 2010.

"I often think of what the result would have been had Wladimir Klitschko faced the likes of Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Ken Norton, Michael Spinks, Evander Holyfield, Riddick Bowe, Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis,"Gordon said. "I can see Wladimir beating Norton, Spinks, Holyfield, Bowe, Tyson and Lewis, while losing to Ali, Frazier and Foreman.

"I find a matchup against Tyson intriguing, especially in the first four rounds, when Tyson was at his best. If Wladimir could get the fight into the fifth, I see him dominating Tyson and stopping him."

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