Who Should Wladimir Fight?

By Robert Ecksel on July 6, 2012
Who Should Wladimir Fight?
“I definitely have love," Klitschko said, "for anyone as unpredictable as Tony Thompson.”

“He’s rangy, and he’s hellified smart,” said Thompson about Klitschko. “He likes to think his way through a fight and it shows…”

Long reigning heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko (57-3, 50 KOs) has a problem. It’s a problem he shares with his older brother Vitali. It’s a problem he also shares with Joe Louis. That problem isn’t Wladimir’s doing, unless he can be faulted for being too good for his own good. The problem is that becoming a heavyweight boxer is a highly selective career path. As a result, there are too few credible contenders to go around.

The young guns waiting in the wings are just that—young guns waiting in the wings. Tyson Fury, David Price, Robert Helenius, Alexander Dimitrenko, Magomed Abdusalamov and Deontay Wilder, no matter their respective sizes and accomplishments, lack the seasoning to compete against the Ukrainian juggernaut.

But all is not lost. On Saturday, July 7 at the Stade de Suisse in Bern, Switzerland, 40-year-old Tony Thompson (36-2, 24 KOs) gets a second shot at 36-year-old Wladimir Klitschko. The first time they fought, on July 12, 2008 in Hamburg, Germany, Thompson was trailing by scores of 98-92, 98-92, and 99-91when he was KO’d in the 11th round.

Getting stopped by Klitschko is no crime. In the last decade, besides losses to Corrie Sanders in 2003 and Lamon Brewster in 2004, which feel like ancient history, only three of Wladimir’s opponents went the distance: Sultan Ibragimov in 2006 and David Haye in 2011.

Klitschko’s physical attributes and skills—no less than having Manny Steward in his corner—have made him the champion he is today. And as champion he has certain responsibilities, one of which is to fight mandatories if he wants to keep his belts. Tony Thompson is the IBF mandatory. So Klitschko is fighting him a second time.

Although a heavyweight title fight is always an occasion, not everyone is looking forward to the bout. Many believe Thompson has no chance and doesn’t belong in the same ring with Klitschko. But Tony the Tiger has gone 5-0 since that defeat four years ago, stopping all five men he met. That their names are Adnan Serin, Chazz Witherspoon, Owen Beck, Paul Marinaccio, and Maurice Harris may not win Thompson many plaudits. But that isn’t Thompson’s fault either.

During the same four-year period, who has Klitschko fought? There was Hasim Rahman, Ruslan Chagaev, Eddie Chambers, Sam Peter, David Haye, and Jean-Marc Mormeck. As opponents go, they are somewhat more illustrious than the men Thompson defeated. But the talent pool at heavyweight is neither broad nor deep, for which neither Klitschko nor Thompson can be blamed.

Thompson got a very late start. That’s often a drawback, but he has made up for lost time

“I didn’t picture myself as a boxer,” Thompson told Boxing.com. “It was an interest as far as viewing—I had my favorites like Sugar Ray and Muhammad Ali—but not as far as competing. I wanted to be a professional football player, so boxing wasn’t on my mind. After failing to become a police officer—that’s what I always wanted to do—I wanted to become a police officer—I looked for alternative ways because I was a young guy trying to take care of his family. I saw Riddick Bowe one day, and everyone thinks they’re a tough guy, so I said, ‘Let me give this thing a try. Let me see what I can do.”

Thompson was 27 at the time. He went to gym in DC where he lives called Keystone, “But it wasn’t a gym. It was an insurance place. They had a gym in the back and some coaches and I hit the bag with them and they turned me on to my original coach, Tom Brown.”

Many fighters fell in love with boxing the first time they entered a gym. I wondered if that was the case with Tony Thompson.

“I didn’t necessarily fall in love with the sport,” he said. “I’m competitive and I like to do the things I do well. My work ethic and my competitiveness took over from there.”

Klitschko is “most definitely” the best fighter Thompson has every faced. “He’s not a world champion for no reason. He’s tall. He’s powerful. He’s more athletic than people give him credit for. He’s incredibly fast for a big guy. He’s rangy, and he’s hellified smart. He likes to think his way through a fight and it shows.”

Another thing that shows, or has shown in the past, is vulnerability when he’s hit on the chin.

“It wasn’t a weakness in his chin,” Thompson pointed out. “It was a weakness in his defense. The object is to hit without being hit and Manny brought that out of him. So I like to think you have to press him, bring the fight to him. I’m going to try to win every round. I’m not going to sit back and let him dictate the fight and let him jab and right hand me to death. The way to get him is to get in there and throw a lot of punches. You’re not going to land a high percentage, but you will land.”

When asked to describe himself to those who have not seen him fight, Thompson said he is a “relaxed type of boxer-puncher with an effective style. I think I may be probably one of the lighter hitting heavyweights, but I’m still 240-plus pounds. I might not have the greatest talent of the fighters out there. My face ain’t that pretty. I don’t have the greatest Holyfield body. As a matter of fact, I have the early 1990s Larry Holmes body going. But I accomplish the goal through hard work. I come in there to win—every time.”

Not many people get a chance to pursue their dream. Even fewer get that chance to pursue that dream a second time, especially when at first they don’t succeed. But Thompson earned this shot at the crown. Nobody gave him a gift. As a matter of fact, nobody’s ever given him anything. He’s worked hard for what he’s achieved. It was blood, sweat and tears and that got him his first crack at Klitschko. But what’s different now than when they fought in 2008?

“First of all my health,” said Thompson. “I feel a lot better. The first time I fought Wladimir I had a meniscus tear in my knee. It’s hard enough to fight a great champion with two legs, but I really was on one leg. I wasn’t able to train to my full capability for the heavyweight championship of the world. But I had two surgeries since then. I did a lot of rehab. My legs are feeling great. This time we were able to prepare, and with a healthy body we actually have a legitimate shot.” 

Before letting him go, I asked Tony Thompson how a victory on July 7 would change his life specifically and the fight game in general.

“Obviously it would be a life-changer for me and my family. Wladimir and Vitali have been great champions, but I think it would be in a sense a change in the world to have a guy with a little more personality. But these guys have been great champions.”

Wladimir was asked about Thompson during yesterday’s teleconference call and he, like his challenger, was magnanimous.

“Before the first fight we had a strategy,” he said, “and with Tony Thompson it was kind of difficult to find it out because he was not getting hit at all in the fight. That means the man has great anticipation for punches coming. It was a tough job for me to land punches during the first fight because Tony was covering, he has long arms. Maybe it sounds in a funny way, but I compare him to a spider: big body, small head, and long arms—which is best for a boxer and which makes it super complicated to fight against a guy like that. He’s fast. But he anticipates. He anticipates where to punch and he anticipates where the punches are coming.

“Actually, in boxing they say speed kills. And what kills speed? Anticipation. So that’s exactly what Tony has. He is using it in a very sophisticated way. I definitely have love for anyone that is kind of in a simple way as unpredictable as Tony Thompson.”

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Wladimir Klitschko vs Tony Thompson Part 1

Wladimir Klitschko vs Tony Thompson Part 2

Wladimir Klitschko vs Tony Thompson Part 3

Wladimir Klitschko vs Tony Thompson Part 4

Wladimir Klitschko vs Tony Thompson Part 5

Wladimir Klitschko vs Tony Thompson Part 6

Wladimir Klitschko vs Tony Thompson Part 7

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  1. the thresher 05:58am, 07/07/2012

    David Price or a rehabbed Robert Helenius or a cowardly Povetkin.

  2. Darrell 11:08pm, 07/02/2012

    His brother.  I know that’s not going to happen but…dreams are good.

    I’m not disappointed he’s fighting Thompson again.  I am disappointed Vitali may finish with an opponent as mediocre as Charr.  If Haye takes care of Chisora, and I expect him to, he should match up with him but I suspect Haye doesn’t really want it.

  3. NowPitching 12:49pm, 07/02/2012

    Great article in terms of a perspective on the Klitschko brothers. I’m always amazed at the Klitschko bashing that happens on this side of the Atlantic. The K bros are lifetime students of the sport that always speak well for boxing. The division is weak but it has been weak before during the reign of many prior HW champions that we still cling to as legends. Weak division or not, the K bros have not lost a fight in eight years. In fact, they have arguably not lost a SINGLE ROUND in that same timeframe. And stop fooling yourselves K Bro detractors, take today’s Wlad and Vitali and drop them smack-dab into the middle of the 90’s and they do just fine. Their advantages of size, defense, power, and boxing intelligence are immutable.

  4. Don from Prov 04:27am, 06/30/2012

    He should fight Foreman, Fraizer, or even Liston—

    Are they still out there????

  5. The Thresher 11:33am, 06/29/2012

    TT beat Owen Beck to get this payday? WTF?

  6. The Thresher 07:52am, 06/29/2012


  7. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 07:17am, 06/29/2012

    Not a whole lot of intellectuals in this sport….here are two intelligent people, one with a doctorate, who make some of the college educated athletes in other sports seem like dunces….go figure.

  8. McGrain 12:33am, 06/29/2012

    I really quite enjoyed the first fight.  Thompson has underated handspeed.  Looking forwards to it.

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