Should Wladimir Klitschko, the former longtime heavyweight world champion, defeat Anthony Joshua on Saturday (live on Showtime at 4:15 p.m. ET, taped on HBO at 11 p.m. ET/PT) at sold-out Wembley Stadium in London, where a British-record boxing crowd of 90,000 will be on hand, he will regain two of the title belts he previously held — one that he would take off Joshua and one that is vacant.
A win would no doubt go down as the greatest victory of Klitschko’s 21-year career.
Klitschko (64-4, 54 KOs) turned 41 last month and is coming off a terrible performance in the decision loss to Tyson Fury that cost him his titles — not to mention a 17-month layoff since that fight, the longest period of inactivity of his career.
Combine those elements with Anthony Joshua’s youth (he’s 27), crushing power (18-0, 18 KOs), and a hometown advantage, and it’s no wonder why Klitschko is the clear underdog in a fight for the first time in his career.
Win or lose, however, Klitschko, who is aiming for his third reign as a heavyweight titlist, will go down in history as one of the best to ever lace ’em up, thanks to his absolutely dominant 9½-year second title reign (second-longest in division history) during which he made 18 successful defenses (third-most in boxing history). He had as many successful defenses during that reign as Joshua has fights.
So, through his first 68 professional fights, which were Klitschko’s best victories? Here is one man’s view:
Kubrat Pulev (KO5, Nov. 15, 2014 at Hamburg, Germany)
Two fights before losing to Fury, Klitschko looked like an absolute destroyer against the then-undefeated Pulev, a quality mandatory challenger some gave a decent shot of beating him. But Klitschko took him apart in a completely one-sided, four-knockdown fight. Klitschko used his extremely unrated left hook to record all four knockdowns — two in the first round, once in the third round and then knocked him cold in the fifth round for the 2014 ESPN.com knockout of the year. It was essentially a flawless performance against a legitimate contender.
Samuel Peter I (W12, Sept. 24, 2005 at Atlantic City, New Jersey)
Many had written Klitschko off after he got knocked out by Lamon Brewster in a vacant title fight a year earlier, the third time he had been stopped. They said he had no chin, no stamina and was mentally soft. This was the fight that changed all that. In an eliminator to earn a shot at then-titleholder Chris Byrd, Klitschko took on Peter, at the time an undefeated power-punching contender who was supposed to be the next big thing. Peter had his moments, too, dropping Klitschko three times (twice in the fifth round and once in the 10th). But Klitschko showed a big heart, the stamina he supposedly lacked and tremendous mental fortitude on his way to a unanimous decision victory — 114-111 on all three scorecards — in a fight in which he nearly knocked Peter out in the final round.
Ruslan Chagaev (TKO10, June 20, 2009 at Gelsenkirchen, Germany)
In another essentially flawless performance against a quality opponent, Klitschko won every round, dropped Chagaev in the second round with a clean right hand, opened a cut over his left eye in the eighth round, landed his textbook jab at will and dished out a ruthless beating before the fight was humanely stopped just after the bell sounded to begin the 10th round. Undefeated entering the fight, Chagaev had been stripped of his sanctioning body belt because of injury and illness and this victory is the one in which Klitschko earned wide recognition as having become the lineal champion.
Alexander Povetkin (W12, Oct. 5, 2013 at Moscow)
Like Klitschko, Povetkin was an Olympic gold medalist. He held a secondary title, was unbeaten and very highly regarded when they met in a fight for which Klitschko traveled to Povetkin’s home turf for the big-money mandatory fight. It turned out to be a disappointing fight but still one that Klitschko thoroughly dominated. He won 11 rounds with one round even because of a point deduction in the 11th round for shoving. Povetkin had never been knocked down until Klitschko floored him four times — in the second round and three more in the seventh round — and won going away, 119-104 on all three scorecards.
David Haye (W12, July 2, 2011 at Hamburg, Germany)
After all the wild trash talk Haye spewed at Klitschko leading up to this fight, which had been delayed, it had to be one of Klitschko’s most satisfying victories even if the fight lacked for action or drama because Haye ran for most of the fight and showed nothing. Klitschko, however, stalked him throughout the fight, scored a knockdown (dubious as it was) in the 11th round and rolled to victory on scores of 118-108, 117-109, 116-110 as he unified three of the major sanctioning organization belts.