IBF and WBO Heavyweight Champion Wladimir Klitschko can now call himself The RING Heavyweight Champion after beating Ruslan Chagaev into submission in nine one-sided rounds in Gelsenkirchen, Germany on Saturday.
The fight mostly mirrored all of Klitschko’s recent efforts – constant jabbing, not enough power shots and an opponent unwilling to really try to win. But while Chagaev was just another opponent in the long run, the outcome was historically significant. Chagaev was rated number three in the world by The RING; Wladimir, number one, which meant that organization’s title was on the line according to its rulings. He was also undefeated and the WBA “Champion in Recess” after failing to face Nikolai Valuev for an assortment of excuses over the past year and a half.
Chagaev does deserve some credit for even taking the fight, which came on two weeks’ notice after David Haye injured his back and pulled out of fighting Klitschko. Chagaev himself had his most recent attempt to fight Valuev canceled due to testing positive for Hepatitis B, a condition that has caused Chagaev to cancel at least one other fight – what would have been a title unification with then-WBO Champion Sultan Ibragimov in 2007. In fact, several medical voices spoke out against Chagaev being allowed to fight Klitschko as well. The WBA also failed to approve the fight, stating that Chagaev’s portion of the WBA title would not be on the line against Wladimir.
Klitschko began by working the jab in round one but stopped to immediately clinch after Chagaev got close and landed a body shot to the champion. After getting his head knocked up repeatedly by Klitschko’s jab, Chagaev started shooting straight left hands to the body but failed to land anything meaningful. Finally, with only seconds remaining in the round, Klitschko threw a straight right hand and snapped Chagaev’s head back.
Over and over, Klitschko bounced Chagaev’s head about with jabs to begin the second round. Tiring of that, Chagaev tried to force Klitschko into a fight, but Wladimir clinched and kept his distance to negate the effort. Leading with the jab, Klitschko eventually unleashed another straight right through the gloves to the jaw that staggered Chagaev and caused him to go down on his backside. Referee Eddie Cotton started counting, but Chagaev was up after only a second, as it was more of a flash knockdown. Surprisingly, Chagaev did more to push the action in the remaining minute of the round than did Klitschko.
Klitschko threw three straight rights in the first minute and change of round three, significantly stepping up his attack from the previous two rounds, but he quickly went back to jarring Chagaev with the jab as that was enough to control the fight. Though he was constantly moving, Chagaev really wasn’t trying to get inside and fight, settling for getting picked apart by jabs. Klitschko threw four more straight rights before the end of the round and even mixed in a left hook along the way.
In round four, Klitschko landed a one-two that knocked Chagaev’s head back and followed with another straight right through the guard. Another one-two nearly took Chagaev’s head off, and Klitschko appeared to be on his way to an early knockout. Instead, he went back to target practice with the jab, landing at will on an opponent who couldn’t or wouldn’t fight back.
In the fifth round, Klitschko landed his best straight right of the fight, momentarily stunning Chagaev, who was on the ropes and covering up but got no follow-up assault from Wladimir. When Chagaev threw some punches of his own, he was pulled down by Klitschko and scored with a low blow – his most effective shot of the fight. Cotton called time, but Klitschko was quickly ready to go back to jabbing Chagaev into submission.
Chagaev had his best round in the sixth, landing some straight lefts to the body, but still lost it big. He made one frantic effort to score shots in round seven, backing Klitschko up to the ropes, only to have Wladimir grab on just as frantically to end the rally. Seven rounds into the fight, Chagaev eventually landed a punch to Klitschko’s head – unfortunately, it was well after the bell. He tried to touch gloves with Wladimir following the foul, but Klitschko ignored him and headed to his corner. Chagaev returned to his own, cut over the left eye and bleeding from the lip.
The crowd started to grow restless in round eight, clapping and urging Klitschko to end the horrendously one-sided fight. Wladimir responded by throwing more straight rights as Chagaev settled for a completely defensive fight at that point. With his cuts worsening from accumulated punishment, Chagaev became increasingly stationary in the ninth round. A straight right through the gloves snapped his head aside and knocked him into the corner. Klitschko saw a defeated foe and began letting his hands go, several rounds later than he probably should have. The crowd grew louder with each right Klitschko landed, some of them knocking Chagaev back into the ropes, yet he still survived the round.
While Cotton hadn’t stopped the fight during the round, he decided Chagaev was taking too much punishment and consulted with the ringside doctor between rounds. The doctor questioned whether the corner wanted to continue, and Chagaev’s team decided to end the fight. Chagaev never offered any response other than to give a halfhearted shake of the head after it was over. He quickly got to his feet and congratulated Klitschko’s team, including shaking hands with WBC Champion Vitali Klitschko and sharing words with Wladimir.
With the win, Wladimir Klitschko moved closer to earning status as the best heavyweight in the world, convincing at least The RING Magazine that he deserved to be recognized as the champion. As of now, he is certainly the most accomplished, with the best wins on his resume, but the competition has been downright awful, most of them like Hasim Rahman and Sultan Ibragimov unwilling to even attempt to fight. And while he has every opponent outmatched physically, Wladimir continues to bide his time with men who should be knocked out within rounds. Winning isn’t everything in boxing, but it appears to be enough for Klitschko.
As long as Vitali owns the WBC title and Valuev holds the WBA version, Wladimir will never be a universal champion. And most boxing experts will admit that they think Vitali is better than Wladimir. But the important thing is that Wladimir is trying to prove he is the best. That’s why he originally signed to fight Haye, an unproven but outspoken former cruiserweight who has garnered mass attention for publicly challenging both Klitschko brothers. When Haye pulled out, Wladimir chose the next best available option in Chagaev. The division might not produce quality opponents during his reign, but Klitschko continues to take on the ones people want to see him in against, barring, of course, his brother.
As for Chagaev, his reign as champion has been one of the worst in heavyweight history. Beating Valuev for the title in 2007 was the peak of his career, even if Valuev himself remains unproven. But since doing that, Chagaev had taken on no quality opposition until Wladimir and pulled out of countless defenses. Losing for the first time, perhaps he will take his career more seriously and not only schedule but go through with fights to build himself back up. Considering that it took him over two years to make a significant fight after winning the WBA title, maybe both Klitschko brothers will be retired by the time Chagaev has actually earned a shot at a belt again.