Weighing Klitschko’s Options for June 20 Defense

With today’s announcement that David Haye will be unable to challenge IBF and WBO Heavyweight Champion Wladimir Klitschko on June 20 due to a hand injury suffered in training, the biggest heavyweight fight in years was put on hold.

Klitschko has stated that he would like to retain the fight date against another opponent. He’s been out of the ring since December, after all, and could use a tune-up bout. Given how inactive the heavyweight division is as a whole it shouldn’t be hard to land a quality replacement, if all parties are willing. Let’s take a look at some of those options.

1. Nikolay Valuev

While it probably wouldn’t make for a very entertaining fight, given how dreadful he has looked in his last two fights against Evander Holyfield and John Ruiz, Nikolay Valuev is probably the most significant of the potential opponents. He currently holds the only heavyweight title belt not in possession of the Klitschko Brothers, though Ruslan Chagaev is still technically considered the WBA Champion, and has thus made himself a target for both Wladimir and Vitali.

Chagaev pulled out of a fight with Valuev last weekend, which makes about four or five pullouts for Chagaev since his “reign” as champion began with a win over Valuev two years ago; thus, the “Russian Giant” has been freed up for a fight. He did put in his training and shouldn’t let that go to waste by waiting another three or four months to fight. But based on how reluctant his promotional team has been to engage in talks with either Klitschko brother in the past, this fight happening on short notice just isn’t likely.

2. Alexander Povetkin

Povetkin is the mandatory challenger for Klitschko’s IBF title, meaning Klitschko has to face him soon or risk losing that trinket. They were actually scheduled to fight in December last year, but Povetkin pulled out with an injury, allowing Hasim Rahman to step in for the title shot instead. Rahman simply didn’t deserve that opportunity, and the way the fight unfolded more than supported that notion. Wladimir had his way with the reluctant Rahman, scoring a knockdown and eventually stopping him on his feet in one of the most one-sided heavyweight fights in years.

But Povetkin would make for a good opponent, even without his mandatory label. He’s undefeated and has a win over Eddie Chambers, who recently upped his stock with a points win over Sam Peter. Povetkin may be lacking in the fundamental department, but he is aggressive and has the will to win. Being undefeated, he wouldn’t go out as quietly as some of Klitschko’s recent opponents have. Povetkin last fought in April and has nothing scheduled on the immediate horizon; therefore, this fight is probably the most likely to happen.

3. Cristobal Arreola

HBO is, simply put, in love with Arreola. And why not? He’s a down-to-earth heavy-handed slugger whose game is almost entirely offensive. His skills are questionable; in fact, he’s even less fundamentally sound than Povetkin. But he’s one of few decent American heavyweights, and people love to see him fight.

Arreola’s name has been thrown out as an opponent for Vitali, but, like every heavyweight, he matches up better with Wladimir than his elder brother. A fight between Arreola and Wladimir is the most exciting fight that can be made outside of the Klitschko vs Haye fight that was supposed to be happening. Like that fight, one would think the only way a fight between Arreola and Klitschko could end would be by brutal knockout. HBO might actually pass on it, wanting more time to market that fight and maybe get Arreola another win or two. It doesn’t seem wise to throw Arreola in with Wladimir this early, but sometimes you just have to take the shot when it comes.

The bottom line is Klitschko has now seen two fights canceled in a row due to opponents pulling out. That’s a risk you take when your fights are six months apart. This should be a lesson to Wladimir and the rest of the division to get moving and fight often. Otherwise, how can such a dismal division ever be saved? Here’s hoping Klitschko picks one of these three opponents to save the show.

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