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Wladimir Klitschko is an all-time great, but lack of visibility in U.S. unfairly diminishes his legacy

Kevin Iole
Boxing

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Heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko (L), with golfer Ernie Els, is vastly underrated (Getty)

Wladimir Klitschko will defend the heavyweight championship on Saturday in Moscow in a battle of Olympic super heavyweight gold medalists when he takes on Alexander Povetkin in a bout that is largely being ignored in the U.S.

The match will be broadcast on HBO Saturday as part of a tripleheader, along with Miguel Cotto against Delvin Rodriguez and Terence Crawford versus Andrey Klimov.

In the U.S., though, it's as if the fight is not even happening. Klitschko's KMG thinks so little of the U.S. market that it didn't even bother to arrange a conference call for American media to talk with the fighters.

The shame of it is that such a strategy is causing one of the great heavyweights ever to be largely overlooked.

The public perception -- particularly the American public perception -- is that the heavyweight division is a vast wasteland. The truth is, it's not as bad as advertised, though it's not nearly as good as it was at some points in boxing history.

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Alexander Povetkin, a 2004 Olympic gold medalist, faces Wladimir Klitschko Saturday (AP)

Still, both Wladimir and his older brother, Vitali Klitschko, would have fared well in any era.

Those who diss the Klitschkos, particularly Wladimir, do so without paying attention to the facts. Much of the disdain for Wladimir Klitschko comes from a stretch from 2003 to 2005, when he suffered two of his three losses and his confidence sagged.

He was knocked out by Corrie Sanders in the second round on March 8, 2003, hardly a shame since Sanders was one of the hardest-hitters in the sport. He looked shaky in two comeback wins, then totally lost his conditioning in a fight on April 10, 2004, with Lamon Brewster. Klitschko was stopped in the fifth, and afterward suggested he may have been drugged.

It was a ludicrous suggestion and one that proved harmful to his career. As he relied upon his trainer, the late, great Emanuel Steward, to help him rebuild, he slowly overcame that. He was shaky in a few fights after losing to Brewster, notably against DaVaryl Williamson and Sam Peter, but he rediscovered his confidence after the Peter fight and has been virtually perfect since.

He's 60-3 with 51 knockouts and rarely loses a round, let alone a fight. If he were American with that kind of record, the hype would be massively over the top.

He's not American, though. He was born in Kazakhstan and lives in the Ukraine and in the last five-plus years, he has fought exclusively in Europe (nine times in Germany and once in Switzerland). That's made it difficult for fans in the U.S. to see him and, thus, appreciate his immense skills and accomplishments.

His overzealous and frequently vindictive manager, Bernd Boente, has largely kept him away from the American media, which has hurt not only his marketability in the U.S. but also his legacy.

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Wladimir Klitschko hits Francesco Pianeta with a jab (AP)

Klitschko is an outstanding fighter. He's extraordinarily intelligent, good looking (with a movie star girlfriend) and has an engaging personality. He's the kind of guy who should be on the front of cereal boxes and on magazine covers regularly here. There is no reason he shouldn't be getting the kind of mainstream attention in this market that, say, Floyd Mayweather Jr. has garnered.

Instead, hidden away in Europe, the widely held perception of Klitschko in the U.S. has been that he's the best of a bad lot and a guy who would have struggled in a Golden Age of heavyweights. There is a belief among many that he and his brother win simply because of their size. And while their size is an asset, it's ludicrous to think their success is solely because they're tall. Heavyweight history is littered with giant-sized contenders who never amounted to a thing and were destroyed by much smaller opposition.

Klitschko might never have been the best in the greatest eras in heavyweight history, but he would have more than held his own and would have been a star no matter in which era he may have fought.

He's made a lot of money and built a comfortable life for himself by fighting mostly in Europe.

But he's missed out and tarnished his legacy by not embracing and winning over the American market.

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Heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko shows off his belts (AP)

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