In the wake of the retirement/fall from grace of heavyweight boxing greats such as Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson, and Evander Holyfield, boxing’s most marquee of divisions was there for the taking. At the turn of the millennium, the World heavyweight championship was traded between the likes of John Ruiz, Hasim Rahman, and Chris Byrd. But while the aforementioned Lewis was sweeping all before him to become the division’s last undisputed champion, a certain Ukrainian juggernaut was climbing the ladder.
Wladimir Klitschko bagged himself an Olympic gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games, and he used that success to spring himself to stardom. By 2000, he was the IBO heavyweight champion of the world, but his suspect chin would land him in trouble. Dr. Steelhammer would be starched by Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster and many thought that he could never be Lennox Lewis’ successor as the heavyweight division’s undisputed kingpin.
But the Ukrainian giant would team up with coach Emanuel Steward in the early 2000s, the same man that led the aforementioned Lewis to glory, and the rest, as they say, is history.
We all remember how Klitschko’s career at the top ended. In 2015, an online bookmaker, Bovada, which provides boxing and ufc lines, made the reigning world champion a huge favorite in his contest against brash Brit Tyson Fury in Düsseldorf. But Klitschko was gunshy and ended up being outpointed by the Gypsy King, before being knocked out once and for all by fellow Brit Anthony Joshua two years later.
But between 2006 and 2015, Wladimir Klitschko embarked on one of the longest reigns in modern heavyweight boxing history. During that time, he won a multitude of titles, dominated the boxing world, and set records that may never be broken.
Nine years and 19 fights without a loss
Following Klitschko’s second knockout loss in 13 months to Lamon Brewster, many felt that his time as an elite boxer was over. But under the stewardship of Manny Steward, Dr. Steelhammer would pick up tune-up victories over DaVarryl Williamson, Eliseo Castillo, and Samuel Peter, which put him in prime position for a shot at IBF heavyweight champion Chris Byrd. Klitschko would grab the opportunity with both hands, knocking out the reigning champion inside seven rounds and embarking on a record-breaking reign.
Over the next nine years, Klitschko won his next 18 consecutive fights. During that time, he unified three different heavyweight titles (WBA, IBF, and WBO) and held them all at once in 2009. He was also the first heavyweight boxer to hold the IBF, WBO, and IBO titles at the same time. Alongside his brother Vitali, the pair held all the heavyweight marbles, and as they vowed to never fight each other, effectively unified the heavyweight division.
Klitschko had a number of noteworthy victories during his reign. In 2008 he won a 12-round unanimous decision over the Russian fighter Sultan Ibragimov to unify the WBO and IBF heavyweight titles. In 2011, he dominated the former undisputed heavyweight champion, Hasim Rahman, winning a clear unanimous decision. The following year he defeated former WBA heavyweight champion Alexander Povetkin.
Klitschko also had an impressive array of opponents. He fought former champions, Tony Thompson, Lamon Brewster, Chris Byrd, and Corrie Sanders. He also fought a number of contenders such as Ruslan Chagaev, Eddie Chambers, Bryant Jennings, and Kubrat Pulev.
The greatest victory of Klitschko’s reign came against Britain’s former undisputed Cruiserweight champion, David Haye. The Haymaker outpointed Russian behemoth Nikolai Valuev to pick up the WBA title and vowed that he would bring to an end the Klitschko brothers’ reign of terror. In the build-up to the fight, the Bermondsey native even wore t-shirts in which he had the brothers’ depicted heads clenched in his fists.
The pair squared off in Hamburg in July 2011 in the most highly anticipated heavyweight dust-up since Mike Tyson vs Lennox Lewis almost a decade prior. The fight sold almost 1.2m pay-per-view buys in the UK alone, with many tuning in expecting to see the coronation of a new king of boxing’s marquee division. But in the end, Klitschko dominated his smaller opponent en route to a wide unanimous decision, securing his legacy in the process.
The end of the reign
In 2015, Klitschko’s reign came to an end when he was defeated by Tyson Fury in Germany. Fury out-boxed Klitschko and won a unanimous decision. The brash Brit’s head movement bamboozled the reigning champion, who landed a career-low 52 punches over the 12 round affair.
Two years later, he was defeated by Anthony Joshua in a thrilling fight at Wembley Stadium. Both fighters found themselves on the canvas at certain points, but it was the younger AJ who found the strength to finish his opponent once and for all in round 11. After the fight, Klitschko announced his retirement from boxing.
Klitschko’s reign as heavyweight champion will go down as one of the greatest in modern boxing history. He dominated the heavyweight division for nearly a decade, unified three different titles, and had a plethora of impressive victories. Although he was eventually defeated by Fury and Joshua, Klitschko’s legacy as the longest-reigning heavyweight champion in modern boxing will live on for years to come.