By Adam Berlin on December 1, 2015
Most fighters cement their legacy with a win. Klitschko’s legacy is cemented with this loss.

It wasn’t age. It wasn’t a bad night. It was Wladimir Klitschko being Wladimir Klitschko. That’s who he is. That’s who he’ll always be…

For almost ten years Wladimir Klitschko has held at least one version of the watered-down heavyweight title. And while I’ve knocked him throughout his career, he deserves praise for carrying himself like a champion outside the ring. He is respectful. He is articulate. He walks around in fighting shape—there’s something to be said for looking the part when you’re the supposed king of the world; Dr. Steelhammer has kept his body in steely definition, a counterpoint to some of the lard-bellies who fight in a division that doesn’t require cutting weight. And Wladimir has taken on all comers. They’ve been a less-than-stellar lot, but that’s not his fault. 

But inside the ring, Wladimir Klitschko has never been great. He has been big. He has displayed an impressive jab that’s as stiff as his ring movement, especially impressive because of his 81” reach. And he has fought carefully, relying on his physical attributes to wear his rivals down. Aside from his jab, Klitschko has made leaning on smaller men (and most of them have been smaller) an art. Jab, hold, lean was always Klit’s on-canvas mantra, and eventually the man in front of him was too tired to keep his guard up and then, and only then, did Wladimir unleash his power punches. What Wladimir has never had is a steely resolve. Look at his face during the middle rounds of any fight, when he has not fully figured out his opponent and when his opponent has to yet succumb to fatigue, and you’ll see worry. And this worry, this fear of getting hurt, has been the true foundation of Klitschko’s safety-first fighting style. It’s a rational style. It’s a logical style. It’s a careful style. But it’s not the style of a great fighter who believes he can weather adversity, who can face the hard truths so brutally exposed in the ring, and come out the winner. Winning was always on Klitschko’s agenda. But remaining unscathed was paramount. And while a methodical approach to boxing can lead to success (and less damage), it never leads to greatness, to legacy. Some of the greatest champions have been ring technicians, but there were moments in their fights, defining moments, when they put logic and safety and self-preservation aside, when they tested themselves, man on man, putting their bodies in harm’s way to secure their legacies as great fighters. Klitschko never did. 

Last Saturday night in Dusseldorf, Germany, Wladimir Klitschko faced a man who revealed how one-dimensional the reigning champ always was. Going into the fight, I didn’t expect Tyson Fury to have a chance. He is gangly. His footwork is suspect—he’s often off balance, and smaller men have knocked him down. And he doesn’t punch particularly hard or well. But he’s big, perhaps not as big as advertised, but he is a super-tall heavyweight with a freakish 85” reach. Fury fought the fight of his life on Saturday, keeping his distance, throwing enough punches to win at least ten rounds, an easy task against Klitschko, who landed a pitiful average of less than five punches per. But the real reason Tyson Fury won the fight was articulated by Roy Jones, Jr, who has come of age recently as an insightful commentator. Against smaller men, Klitschko’s jab/hold/lean formula worked, but against Fury, it looked ridiculous. Yes, Klitschko has fought tall men before, but none of them made him pay inside. Fury was able to slip out of Klitschko’s grasp—smaller men can’t, taller men can—and smartly use his time inside to throw close-range punches to Klit’s body and behind his head.  Klitschko would then step back, or be pushed back by the ref, too far away to land his own punches while Fury could use his four-inch reach advantage to raise his punch count above the lethargic Klitschko’s. Did Fury get into Klitschko’s head before the fight? No. Klitschko is a veteran of press-conference nonsense and meaningless pre-fight stare downs. Did Fury get into Klitschko’s head during the fight—yes, as so many other fighters have done. 

Despite his corner’s admonitions, despite his older brother’s pleas, Wladimir Klitschko refused to test himself, to break his pattern, to put himself in harm’s way and dare to fight, really fight, the man in front of him. Some defenders of Wladimir will say he’s too old, that age finally caught up to him on Saturday night, but that’s an easy lie. Wladimir has protected himself so well over the years that he’s a young 40—he has suffered little damage. And if you look at Round 12, when desperation trumped disposition for a few seconds, Wladimir had plenty of energy to throw some power shots. This was not an old man sinking from fatigue. This was a strong man afraid of fatigue. In this way, Klitschko seems the classic bully. For so much of his career he leaned on smaller men, made them tired, and then and only then, when they were too tired to defend themselves, he puffed up his chest and pounced. But like a bully who picks on the weak to cover his fears, Wladimir has always been afraid of fatigue, which, as the adage goes, makes cowards of us all. Wladimir Klitschko saved his energy and saved it and saved it, eleven rounds of saving, and that’s why he had energy in the last round. Again, he refused to test himself, to stand up to fatigue, to stand up to his safety-first nature, to stand up against an opponent who, let’s be honest, is not a beast in the ring. Instead, Klitschko stood down and paid with defeat.

As these two big men moved across the McFit logo emblazoned on the canvas, I couldn’t help thinking of another Mc-something. McFit is a fitness gym for the masses.  McDonald’s is a burger joint for the masses. Mickey D’s may have the best commercials, images of Big Macs and Quarter Pounders with Cheese dolled-up to look delicious. But the truth is, bite into any McDonald’s burger and you won’t find anything Grade-A. It’s homogenized beef without substance. That’s what Wladimir Klitschko has been all along. He looks the part, but he isn’t the part, not in his heart. And perhaps that’s the reason Wladimir Klitschko never gained the kind of fame a decade-long champion should have gained in the States. Germans follow orders. They rarely stray. I’ve stood at crosswalks in Germany with no cars in sight, but the Germans will wait until the light says Walk. In our cities, we cross against the light, taking chances. Perhaps that’s foolish for pedestrians, but for fighters, real fighters, taking chances, seizing moments that have the potential to define careers, even when it means breaking rules of safety, even when it means working outside the parameters of boxing’s cerebral adage Protect yourself at all times, well, that’s the mark of greatness. I wonder if the overly-polite German crowd recognized the truth of their overly-hyped hero while he was getting his ass kicked. 

Thank goodness Larry Holmes remains above Wladimir Klitschko in title defenses. Thank goodness Joe Louis reigns supreme in this heavyweight category. These two men, like countless other heavyweight champions, fought smart but they also took chances, they also fought beyond themselves when it was necessary (they’re fighters, after all!), and they secured their legacies. Wladimir Klitschko was never great. He was merely very good during an era when the rest of the heavyweights were a little less than very good. Most fighters cement their legacy with a win. Wladimir Klitschko’s legacy is cemented with this loss. His previous three losses were all stoppages, all against mediocre opponents. Wladimir came back from those defeats, and that’s commendable. But in this loss, he didn’t even fight. It wasn’t age. It wasn’t a bad night.  It was Wladimir Klitschko being Wladimir Klitschko. That’s who he is. That’s who he’ll always be. That’s how he’ll go down in history. 

Adam Berlin is the author of the recently published boxing novel Both Members of the Club (Texas Review Press/winner of the Clay Reynolds Novella Prize). His other novels are The Number of Missing (Spuyten Duyvil), Belmondo Style (St. Martin’s Press/winner of The Publishing Triangle’s Ferro-Grumley Award) and Headlock (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill). For more, please visit

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  1. Carlos 07:12pm, 12/14/2015

    All I know is that the Klitschkos were so lucky that they did not fight in the era of Ali, Foreman, Holmes, Tyson, and Holyfield. These guys would have wiped the floor with the Klitschkos. It is true that they faced sub par heavyweights for most of their fights, but even then they fought scared. Relying on their height and their jab to keep the other fighter at a safe distance. Being 6 foot 7 inches they could have walked down any fighter they wanted and beat the other fighters to a pulp if so desired. The Klitschkos were big cowards who profited at a time where there was simply no competition.

  2. tuxtucis 10:17am, 12/07/2015

    @Jethro’s Flute: That man with an eye has beaten many good fighters and had many exciting fights. Alì has beaten Foreman, the Foreman of the ‘74, who would have crushed Wlad in any place at every stage of Wlad’s career in less than 4 rounds. And it was not Alì‘s fault if specially in ‘60 heavies were lighter than today. That maybe was the reason fights were more beautiful to see. Someone think Rigondeaux is a boring fight, but I would rather watch a 45 rounders with the Cuban superbantam than a 4 rounders with ANY heavy of today (excet maybe Joshua). If you like Klitschko-Haye, Klitschko-Povetkin or Klitschko-Fury, stay with your coprofagic taste and be happy. I have nothing more to you. Farewell.

  3. Jethro's Flute 09:34am, 12/07/2015

    Yes, Ali lost to a man who fought his entire career with one eye and then went the distance with him in winning the rematch.

    He, at best, only squeaked past a man with an awful record against big punchers, he fought many cruiserweights before losing to a green rookie who later fought at cruiserweight.

    Great competition.

  4. tuxtucis 07:08am, 12/07/2015

    @Jethro’s Flute: I think the author of the article about Alì-Berbick fight, was perfectly right. The one of Ali was a “dazzling unorthodoxy”, and his boxing was based on his hands and feet sped, amazing for an heavyweight. He was never a textbook fighter. Still, he was far more beautiful to see than Wlad and he fought far better competitione (with a lot of bums, too, obviously).

  5. Jethro's 04:33pm, 12/06/2015

    Eric, your comments about Larry Holmes’ opposition and that of Joe Louis were spot on.

    If the writer of this hatchet job considers them unfair, then he is guilty of a terrible double standard.

  6. Jethro's Flute 04:29pm, 12/06/2015

    This article reminds me of the one above.

    I quote:

    “Looking paunchy at 236¼ pounds to Berbick’s 218, the master of illusion revealed himself as the quintessential victim of self-delusion: The truth is, Ali had never really learned how to fight. What elevated him and sustained him in his most creative years were his surpassing hand and foot speed, his remarkable reflexes and strength and what someone called his “dazzling unorthodoxy.” Without the natural gifts, only the unorthodoxy remained, and against Berbick he appeared too often like an unschooled amateur.”

  7. tuxtucis 12:07am, 12/05/2015

    @andrew: I never said Alì vs Berbick was older than Klitschko… I said he was far mor over the hill than Wlad was. Some boxers (Alì, Tyson) are early bloomers, so they get older before than others while other boxers (Walcott, Klitschko) are late bloomers. If you see Ali after “The Thrilla in Manila”, he was not the same as he was before…Klitschko vs Pulev was still at the top of his condition even if he was 38. Anyway I’m not interested in imaginary fights between boxers so distant in time. Only said Ali was greater boxer than Wlad, and, for sure, more fun to watch. About Ali left hook, see his match vs. granite-chinned Oscar Bonavena, then come back speak boxing with me, ignorant young.

  8. andrew 08:59pm, 12/04/2015

    @tuxtucis: Over the hill? Was Ali older than Klit when he fought Berbick? Taller? Did you see any pictures where Fury looked more than an inch taller than Wlad?  Tell us when Ali ever threw a hook like the one Wlad KO’d Pulev with. I doubt a doctor exists who could make you Geritol pundits accept that your old heroes would all get knocked senseless by modern fighters like Wlad.

  9. Glen 06:30pm, 12/04/2015

    So….we waited 68 fights and some 15 years to write this article huh?

  10. tuxtucis 10:43am, 12/04/2015

    @Andrew: When Ali lost to Berbick he was over the hill for years…Ali was an early bloomer, Wlad a late bloomer…at the Age Alì had beaten Doug Jones, Henry Cooper, Liston and Patterson, Klitschko had lost vs Puritty…And the Wlad’s problem vs Fury was not he was old, it was He has no idea how to fight a taller foe, same way the Alì‘s problem vs Young was not his age and condition, but he had no idea how to be the aggressor fighter…So, yes, Wlad’s limits were exposed in this fight…
    Please, don’t tell me I have bias vs Klitschko, I hope it will be the rematch and Klitchko will win…but if you like to watch more a Wald’s fight than an Alì fight, well…go to a doctor, and a good one…

  11. andrew 05:27am, 12/04/2015

    Great analysis. Losing at age 40, against a 27 year old opponent who retreated the whole fight, after holding the title for ten years without ducking anyone, shows he was a bum all along. Of course; remember how Trevor Berbick exposed Muhammad Ali?

  12. Darrell 02:00am, 12/04/2015

    @tuxtucis…...Tyson beat a lot of guys, tall & short, so what!

  13. The Tijuana Kid 08:59am, 12/03/2015

    I’d rather read disgusting erotic poetry or confessions of a cross dresser than hackjobs like this.

  14. PA 08:16am, 12/03/2015

    Worst assessment I’ve EVER read.
    PHA ‘15

  15. John aka L.L. Cool John 08:09am, 12/03/2015

    Walter Wojtowicz : Great post!

  16. tuctucis 12:29am, 12/03/2015

    @Walter: Wlad is a nice person, with a good head, that’s why, if there Will be a rematch, i hope he will beat Fury. He has good reasons to not want His head hurt, but if you choose to be boxer, the terror to be hit is a limit.
    @Eric: As i previously Said, if Dempsey, Marciano, Louis and Frazier would fight today, they would enhance their bodies and would weigh around 210-220 lbs, exactly the same thing that Haye, Holyfield and Moorer did. Is it so difficult to imagine that?

  17. Walter Wojtowicz 07:37pm, 12/02/2015

    Lots of mashed potatoes here..  Wow.  I think “some” of your assessment of Wladimir as a boxer “might have some” merit but all the other stuff about his personal character and courage is a bunch of technicolored coo-coo shite.  Have a hard time with guys who call other guys cowards.  Especially guys who fight for a living.  “Bully, coward, no heart, afraid of fatigue, homogenized beef without substance, overly polite Nazis…” Man hasn’t lost in 11 years, heavy weight champion of the world for most of those 11, 67 professional fights and hasn’t run from any comers and from we can tell isn’t a pedophile, criminal or democrat..  Reminds me of another article on here from the guy who really likes Sonny Liston and wanted to sodomize Larry Merchant..  If I was you I would stay off German cross walks.. Wlad just might be in one of his million dollar Mercedes he earned being the good jabbing warrior he is..

  18. Akt 02:35pm, 12/02/2015

    Had Tyson stayed on track and had Cus all the way through, he’d have set some probably unbreakable records. In his prime, very few would have come close to ever touching Tyson - I think Evander would always have posed problems; both them on their primes would have been a sight to behold. As a kid back in Nigeria, I longed to see that fight circa 89 90, but alas Desiree happened.

  19. Eric 07:56am, 12/02/2015

    @tuxtucis…Whether Mike was 5’11” or 5’10”, he was definitely short for a heavyweight, but let’s not forget that Mike weighed a solid 216-218lbs in his prime. Add to the fact that Tyson was very explosive, had great movement, and had some of the quickest hands in the heavyweight division. Would have been interesting to see how a prime Tyson would have done against Lewis. David Tua’s height certainly limited him in his fight against the 6’5” Lewis. Tyson was significantly larger and quicker than fellow swarmers Dempsey, Marciano, and Frazier. I can’t see Dempsey, Rocky or Joe beating a prime Tyson.  A prime Tyson is very underrated in many of those all-time lists put out today by boxing’s so-called “experts.”

  20. tuxtucis 12:16am, 12/02/2015

    @Darrell: Tyson was under 6”, he was 5’10”, and I think at His best (and maybe even past prime) would have beaten Wlad, who would have been paralyzed by terror in front of him. Some chance more would have had the more rugged Vitali.

  21. Darrell 04:37pm, 12/01/2015

    Yeah…..nah.  Wlad started to look less than the buffed superman when he fought Bryant Jennings.  Age does catch up to even the best, and Wlad was definitely that up till Saturday night.  He’s always had stamina issues, and having been sparked before, it’s led to a cagey style… ones been able to circumvent it for a decade, till now, and I doubt very few pre-60’s step n’ shuffle midgets would’ve done so.  No one under 6’ anyway.

    That he leaned on smaller men is neither here nor there.  Every big man worth his salt would do that.  There is no merit in pointing out that very obvious fact.

    Loses his latest fight at 39 and the old buzzards jump on him….gtfoh!!  He’s a great heavyweight…..stop the bullshit.

  22. AkT 03:55pm, 12/01/2015

    Great Article. Well said Mr. Berlin.

  23. tuxtucis 12:49pm, 12/01/2015

    @maybe81: When Ali met Jimmy Young, he was over the hill, out of shape, but there was not only that, if you watch the match: he had problem with someone who let him to be the aggressor. In 1967 it would have been better for Ali, but not so much. Same for Klitschko with Fury: for 12 rounds he had the expression of someone who think: “Oh Lord, this guy is taller than me, what can I do , considering i want not to be hit”? 4-5 years ago it would have been not so much different.

  24. tlig 12:09pm, 12/01/2015

    I believe this article is spot-on. My only gripe is with the title. Put simply, a fighter who’s stayed unbeaten as champion for 9+ years can’t be seen as exposed the moment he eventually loses. That said, good riddance to Wlad K!

  25. maybe81 11:27am, 12/01/2015

    First a great article. Where I disagree with the article is the age factor. I have seen over the years now a deterioration in Klitschko, it was really evident in his fight with Bryant Jennings. I commented back then, that between the 9th and 11th rounds, Wlad seemed confused. This could also have been because unlike the Povetkin fight, Wlad was not allowed as much to use his grading tactics. Also in the 12th round, he did come on stronger. The death of Emanuel Stewart, I think also has been a factor. Peole point the Pulev fight as a marker on how Wlad was still great, but Puliev did not fight a smart fight, though he did try to win through out instead of giving up, and that led to the knockout. The writer also forgets the Grove fight, and the Chambers fight, as Klitschko was implored by Stewart to come on, and he did knock those two men out. I cannot see a prime Klitschko, with Stewart not knocking out the likes of Wach, Povetkin,  or Jennings. I was also bothered by his title defenses against Pianetta, Wach, and Mormeck, feeling that the prime Klitschko would only have defended his title against the number one contender in each organization, and not those meaningless title defenses. I was one of the few who really gave Fury a chance, seeing his size, and even skills as giving Klitschko a problem. I was concerned that Fury might not be given a decision in Germany, and if you look at the scoring of the fight, Klitschko won 8 of the rounds at one time or another on the three judges scorecards. With Fury winning unanimously four of the rounds on the scorecards, and Klitschko only once with the other seven often split. Imagine, scores coming in for Fury of 118-109, and maybe Klitschko 116-111. No wonder Klitschko was raising his hand, just before the verdict of Michael Buffer, though in his heart he knew he was not the better man that night.

  26. tuxtucis 10:55am, 12/01/2015

    @Irish Frankie Crawford: No, Wlad is not at all a bully, the term is wrong for him. But still think the Fury fight will have a big importance for Wlad’ legacy cause is not due only to the age factor.
    @Eric: all heavy champs who collected many defenses, realized that mostly with no hopers (not only Wlad, but even Louis, Holmes and Ali). I’ve not big opinion of Louis contenders, but still think Wlad opposition was the weakest of all time. And, that for sure, Holmes, Ali and Louis were more beautiful to see than Wlad.

  27. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 09:25am, 12/01/2015

    Tuxtucis-You need to read the article again. “Fear of getting hurt” “remaining unscathed was paramount”  “to put himself in harm’s way and dare to fight the man in front of him” “afraid of fatigue” “Klitschko seems the classic bully” “like a bully who picks on the weak” “without substance” he looks the part, but he isn’t the part, not in his heart” “Klitschko’s legacy is cemented with this loss” “That’s who he is. That’s who he’ll always be.” If that doesn’t describe a coward, a bully, a loser what does it describe….this on a site that describes perverts, domestic abusers, and other vile and loathsome miscreants that enter the ring as “warriors”!

  28. Eric 08:58am, 12/01/2015

    Larry Holmes? The same Larry Holmes that boxing scribes used to say wouldn’t have been ranked had he fought a decade earlier. The same Larry Holmes whose biggest victory before barely “beating” a shopworn Norton was against one dimensional Earnie Shavers. The same Larry Holmes who first defended his title against harmless Ali retread, Alfredo Evangelista and Ossie Ocasio. The same Larry Holmes who was given hell by Mike Weaver, a man who had not only lost to Duane but Rodney Bobick as well. Holmes would later face some rather STIFF competition like Scott Frank, Tex Cobb, Marvis Frazier, Lucien Rodriguez, Scott Ledoux, Leroy Jones, and others before becoming the first heavyweight champ to lose his title to a light heavyweight challenger. Speaking of heavyweight champs losing to light heavyweights, the great Joe Louis was nearly upset by 169lb challenger, Billy Conn. Conn’s weight was listed at 174lbs so the public wouldn’t be wise to the 30lb weight differential and view this as a mismatch. Imagine Wlad almost losing his title to a super middleweight? Look at some of those names on the Joe Louis “Bum Of The Month” tour. Sheesh, talk about STIFF competition. Dempsey & Marciano? Dempsey would defend against an ailing Billy Miske, Miske when he fought Dempsey was suffering from Bright’s disease. Marciano would defend against Don Cockell who was afflicted with some sort of medical condition where he tended to gain weight rather easily, thus Cockell, a legit light heavy, was forced to fight heavyweight because of health issues. Wlad was “exposed?” Yeah right.

  29. tuxtucis 08:18am, 12/01/2015

    @Irish Frankie Crawford: If I’m not wrong, Berlin means in all his career Wlad never succeeded to overcome the terror to be hit, so he cannot be considered a great Heavyweight. Is it impossible for you to understand that someone can think that way? After, I’m free to agree with him same way you’re free to think Wlad is a top 3 all time heavy.

  30. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 07:14am, 12/01/2015

    Your last paragraph is pure vitriol….“that’s who he’ll always be”....what?....a loser?  He has no heart?! Does that mean that he’s a coward?! “Bully”?! No heart….what’s the matter with you? No….really what’s the matter with you? “Germans follow orders” what the fuck does that have to do with anything here?

  31. oldschool 06:03am, 12/01/2015

    Adam, you nailed it!

  32. Clarence George 05:38am, 12/01/2015

    An on-target assessment of the timorous and mediocre Ukrainian.  It never occurred to me, though, that he would be so timid and ineffectual as not to score a win, and by stoppage, over a klutz like Fury.  But that’s boxing.  Anyway, boxing today, especially at the anemic heavyweight level.

  33. tuxtucis 05:11am, 12/01/2015

    I think this is most equilibrated article about the Wlad Klitschko argument. He was a good fighter with big pysical gifts and great power, the capacity to use his simple skill, a great dedication and continuity, but even evident lacks. The 6’6 240 lbs Klitschko was floored three times by a prime Sam Peter, who didn’t succeed to floor the 5’10 fat middleweight James Toney in 24 rounds. I think his physical gifts, power, dedication give hime a sure place between the top 25 or maybe 20 all time heavis, but his lack of sheer talent and his fear take him distant from the all time top 10.

  34. Mike Casey 05:01am, 12/01/2015

    Adam, you have summed up everything I have said myself on this subject. I was accused by someone the other day of only paying attention to Wlad’s failures and not his successes, when the very opposite should be crashingly apparent to anyone of intelligence who can be bothered to properly read my articles on this now tedious topic. I suggest you put your tin hat on and hunker down. The hollow men and the blind fools are already massing in the hills.

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