Photo: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
Wladimir Klitschko has not fought in the United States for six years, but the heavyweight champion has a long history with HBO; this Saturday’s title defense in Germany against Kubrat Pulev will be the big Ukrainian’s 19th appearance on the network over a period of 15 years. Here’s a selection of some of his more memorable performances on HBO:
July 15, 2000: TKO7 Monte Barrett, London, England.
This was Klitschko’s debut appearance, in the co-main event to heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis’ two-round demolition of Frans Botha. Klitschko was already viewed as a possible heir apparent to the big Brit, but although he and Lewis would never meet in the ring outside of a scene in Ocean’s Eleven, he demonstrated why he was so highly touted by bouncing Barrett off the canvas five times.
March 8, 2003: TKOby2 Corrie Sanders, Hannover, Germany
Following the Barrett win, Klitschko notched impressive successes against the likes of Chris Byrd, Ray Mercer and Jameel McCline, but the wheels fell off unexpectedly against South African Sanders. Dropped twice in the first and twice more in the second, Klitschko was never in the contest, his growing air of invincibility erased in four minutes of action. The fact that big brother Vitali later secured revenge by defeating Sanders was of little consolation.
April 10, 2004: TKOby5 Lamon Brewster, Las Vegas.
If the Sanders loss had raised questions about the Klitschko chin – and an earlier defeat, when he ran out of gas against Ross Puritty, led to doubts about his stamina – this bizarre defeat seemed to confirm both. After four and a half rounds of pounding Brewster mercilessly (and knocking Brewster down at the end of the fourth), Klitschko rapidly hit the wall. A Brewster flurry had the suddenly exhausted Ukrainian in trouble and when Klitschko collapsed to the canvas at the end of the round and could barely haul his fatigued frame to the corner, referee Robert Byrd stopped the fight. “That could be the end of the Wladimir Klitschko heavyweight contender story,” suggested Jim Lampley, and few ringside would have disagreed with him. But more than 10 years later, Klitschko has yet to lose again.
September 24, 2005: W12 Samuel Peter, Atlantic City.
If a cloud of vulnerability continued to hang over Klitschko, this gutsy win over the hard-punching Nigerian was the storm that blew it away. Despite being dropped three times, Klitschko rose to his feet on each occasion, winning virtually every round in which he remained vertical to inflict the first defeat on Peter’s ledger.
April 22, 2006: TKO7 Chris Byrd, Mannheim, Germany
Byrd looms large in the ring records of both Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko: he unexpectedly won Vitali’s heavyweight belt in April 2000 when the elder Klitschko quit on his stool, citing a shoulder injury; five months later, Wladimir regained the title for the family when he dropped Byrd twice en route to a points win. But since then, the Klitschko Express had come off the rails, courtesy of Sanders and Brewster, while Byrd was in the ascendant, with wins over David Tua and Evader Holyfield securing him a belt and catapulting him close to the top of the heavyweight pile. Byrd entered his title defense feeling that Wladimir was vulnerable, but his aggressive approach to the fight worked against him as Klitschko dominated him before scoring a seventh-round stoppage.
July 2, 2011: W12 David Haye, Hamburg, Germany.
The build-up to this battle was sheer intensity, fueled by Haye’s charismatic taunting and Klitschko’s simmering contempt. In perhaps the greatest exchange in Face-Off history, Haye called Klitschko a “dickhead” while Klitschko denounced his foe’s “flashy flash.” With such fireworks, the fight could only be explosive, right? Wrong. After a lively opening couple of rounds, Haye rapidly ran out of ideas and gumption, dropping to the canvas every time his opponent leaned on him and conceding a knockdown in the eleventh, as he meekly surrendered over 12 rounds. Afterward, Haye unwisely blamed his performance on an injured toe; he has fought just once since.