Klitschkos cast heavy shadow over division

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

NEW YORK – One man holds two of the four major heavyweight belts for the first time since Lennox Lewis laid claim to all of them in 1999.

It was hardly a satisfying journey, though, and Wladimir Klitschko left as many questions as he gave answers Saturday during his lopsided victory over Sultan Ibragimov before 14,011 in their IBF-WBO title unification fight at Madison Square Garden.

Klitschko won by scores of 119-110, 117-111 and 118-110 (Y! Sports scored it 119-109) but still proved little in a bout in which he was never challenged. Ibragimov was there to be taken out and Klitschko simply wouldn't take a chance to do it.

"He proved he has a great left jab and he's bigger than most of his opponents," Lewis said with a wry grin.

And he also proved he's the world's best heavyweight, though the bout on Saturday did little to help his stature.

Klitschko was cautious throughout, never willing to open up against a man he outweighed by 21 pounds and who seemed at least six inches shorter.

Promoter Bob Arum, who was there to watch middleweight prospect John Duddy with the hope of pairing him with champion Kelly Pavlik in June, was disgusted by the fight, as were many in the crowd of largely Klitschko fans.

"That's the reason we won't go into the heavyweight division," Arum said. "What are you going to do? No matter how much blarney I have, how can you sell stuff like Klitschko-Ibragimov? How can you sell it? How can you ask people to spend money and watch it?" Klitschko spent much of the fight trying to slap away Ibragimov's right hand with his left in an apparent effort to set up his own right.

But he used the right sparingly. As a result, the men circled the ring much of the night feinting and grabbing but not punching. It was a dreadful night of boxing on a night in which the powers that be at HBO had hoped Klitschko would make a statement about his dominance.

There is little good to say about the division now, especially since Klitschko's older brother, Vitali, insists on exercising an option to fight the winner of the March 8 WBC title bout between Oleg Maskaev and Samuel Peter.

Vitali Klitschko was deemed WBC champion emeritus when he retired because of injury in 2005 and was promised an immediate shot at the belt if he ever returned. Few expected him to do so, but he said Saturday he plans to fight.

The result of that, since the brothers won't fight each other, will be that the division will not only have at least two champions, but there won't be a clear cut No. 1.

Wladimir Klitschko is that man for the time being, at least until his older brother gets back in the mix. But the younger Klitschko, who showed his athleticism and power in flashes on Saturday, simply fights as if he's afraid to get clipped on the chin.

"He's so fearful of his chin that he fights a completely defensive fight," Arum said. "He's very athletic, no question about it. And he punches like a mule. There's no question about that, either. But he's so afraid to get hit on the chin that he doesn't really compete vigorously. He only goes after his opponent when there is no chance the opponent can nail him.

"He was in today with a guy he really shouldn't have been in with, a guy who really had no chance against him. And (Klitschko) was so fearful, that he made it a really boring fight, in my opinion."

Klitschko blamed the lack of action on Ibragimov's style. Ibragimov fought much of the fight in a crouch with his lead hand extended out, circling to avoid Klitschko's power. "He's very difficult to fight because he keeps leaning back," Klitschko said. "I wasn't getting to … fight."

And because he didn't fight, he left disappointment throughout Madison Square Garden. Fights like Saturday night's are part of the reason fans began to tune in to mixed martial arts instead. If this is the best the heavyweight division has to offer, maybe it's time to focus on divisions other than heavyweight.

Ibragimov trainer Jeff Mayweather didn't leave in awe of Klitschko despite the lopsided score in Klitschko's favor.

"I don't think he established any kind of dominance and I sure don't think he impressed anyone by that," Mayweather said. "He was in there with a guy much smaller than he is and gave him a pretty good fight even though he didn't fight his best fight."

For all the optimism that Saturday's fight would be the first step en route to a unification, it now looks worse than ever.

Vitali Klitschko's decision to pursue the belt despite not having fought since Dec. 11, 2004, smacks of self-aggrandizement. It puts his brother in a horrible position, because everybody but Vitali wants to see one champion.

There would figure to be little interest in the U.S. in a Wladimir Klitschko bout with WBA champion Ruslan Chagaev, who may be lesser known in the U.S. than Ibragimov.

And with Vitali Klitschko's history of injury, there's a very real possibility that he'll sign to fight the Maskaev-Peter winner, get hurt in training and set the division back another nine months to a year.

Lewis, who defeated Vitali Klitschko in 2003 in what was the last first-rate heavyweight bout, shook his head at the way Wladimir Klitschko performed.

He, like everyone else in the building who had seen more than one fight, sensed Klitschko could have ended the fight at almost any time had he thrown his right. He almost refused, though.

"He's got a terrific right hand and if he would have thrown even 20 in the fight, it probably would have been a different result," Lewis said, referencing the fact that Klitschko had a knockout within his grasp. "I would have loved to seen him thrown a double jab. But he and (trainer) Emanuel (Steward) had a game plan and he stuck with it."

Sticking with the plan and satisfying the crowd are two different things. Klitschko got the belts on Saturday, but he hardly proved himself a champion.

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