Wladimir Klitschko faces Tony Thompson

Jul 8, 2008 7:05 PM

Pulling No Punches by Michael Katz | With Wladimir Klitschko, he of the Steelhammer and fragile chin, it is difficult not to accentuate the negatives. With his HBO challenger next Saturday, Tony "The Tiger" Thompson, one must wonder if two negatives don’t make a fight.

Most of my distinguished colleagues believe, rather reasonably, that the younger of the two Klitschko brothers is the best heavyweight in the world. He has the best credentials on his 50-3 record with 44 knockouts, having beaten the likes of Chris Byrd (twice), Samuel Peter, Lamon Brewster, Calvin Brock, Jameel McCline, Ray Mercer, Francois Botha, Monte Barrett and Sultan Ibragimov.

Thompson, a late starter who will turn 37 in October, has a 31-1 record with 19 knockouts, including victories over such as Luan Krasniqi, Dominick Guinn, Vaughn Bean and Igor Ibragimov, Sultan’s less-talented cousin.

It is understandable, then, that Klitschko, who gets the homecourt advantage in Germany, is a heavy favorite – anywhere from 5 to 6-1.

It is understandable if one doesn’t jump all over him. It is very difficult to have much confidence in a fighter who appears to have little in himself.

Wladimir fights "scared," as if afraid to get hit. Maybe that’s because all three of his losses were by rather shameful stoppages. He collapsed early in his career, from fatigue, against journeyman Ross Purritty.

Maybe he could use questionable stamina, or lack of training, for his complete breakdown against Brewster in 2004. But he wasn’t tired in the opening round when he got clobbered by Corrie Sanders, who finished the knockout in the second back in 2003.

He got hit and hurt. He has been hit and hurt too often for anyone, including himself, to have much faith in his last line of defense. He was dropped three times by Peter while winning a decision against the Nigerian now considered by most of my distinguished colleagues as perhaps the second leading heavyweight in the world. He was dropped by DaVarryl Williamson, wobbled by Danell Nicholson.

Emanuel Steward has done a wonderful job instilling some confidence in Klitschko. But even the great trainer has to be frustrated by his big guy’s fearful approach. Against Ibragimov, a squat southpaw he faced in a unifier last February (how Ibragimov got to be a belt-holder underlies the paucity of talent in the division), he virtually ignored offense.

The thing is, he does have some wonderful assets. He can punch, he is fluid – a lot more so than many oversized East Europeans, including his brother, Vitali – and he can box. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Wladimir’s amateur credentials include an Olympic gold medal.

But his size and reach are no great advantages in this matchup. Thompson, from Washington D.C., is 6-foot-5 and can virtually look the 6-6 ½ Klitschko straight in the eye. And he is listed with an 81½-inch reach, a half-inch better than Klitschko’s.

There are many reasons to give Thompson more than a chance, especially at buyback odds of 4-1 or 9-2. Although a comparative neophyte, he too has demonstrated good boxing abilities. He hasn’t been hit by anyone like the Steelhammer, but so far he has shown to be durable.

Thompson is not a big puncher, but he hits hard enough to give Klitschko the shakes, either psychological or physical. Plus, he is a southpaw with a good jab. His lone pro loss was a four-round decision way back to then promising Eric Kirkland.

Thompson has not fought since a two-round gimme against Cliff Couser last September while waiting for his mandatory challenge. He may not be pate de foie gras, but he certainly isn’t chopped liver either.

At 32, it is unlikely Klitschko is going to suddenly become a cool, relaxed fighter. He has beaten southpaws – Ibragimov and Byrd twice – but they were quite a deal shorter than Thompson, who is more in the lines of a Corrie Sanders.

At long odds, I could never feel comfortable betting on Klitschko. I’m not sold on Thompson, but if I had to gamble on this fight, I’d almost certainly take a small flyer on the American. Very small.

One optimistic note: The boys in the back (press) room were talking about Bob Arum putting his big heavyweight hopeful, Tye Fields, in with the faded Monte Barrett on the Manny Pacquiao-David Diaz undercard. The outloud thinking was that Fields was so bad that Arum had to know that Barrett was either finished. Or, as one former champion once told me when asked how he could possibly let some stiff beat him, "There are some fights you’re not supposed to win."

Barrett’s one-round demolition of Fields, the logical conclusion to this match, somehow renewed my faith in humanity.