Saturday, October 16, 2021

Boxing: Decades from retirement, Wladimir Klitschko continued his masterful career at 39

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The 39-year-old Ukrainian, one of the most feared punchers in the sport, was widely regarded as a pretender to the lineal heavyweight title after knocking out WBA champion Murat Gassiev in the seventh round of their fight earlier this year.

On Friday night, Kubrat Pulev was ringside at Manchester Arena as Wladimir had his night at the end of his quest to become a unified world champion.

Yet, even against a tough and experienced opponent, Pulev was unable to turn the tide.

However, the well-oiled machine that is Pulev’s legs were eventually overwhelmed when Wladimir landed a left hand and followed up with a series of big shots and crisp shots.

After 36 total rounds, Pulev had nothing to show for his efforts.

So too did Gassiev, despite some luck in the judges’ scoring of their clash in September.

But a bizarre Usyk-Pulev contest — which included the first knock-out in the 135-pound division in nearly three decades — showed that no title can guarantee longevity in this brutal sport.

“No one wins all their fights,” says Marvin Hagler, the former eight-weight world champion who would beat Buster Douglas in a much-hyped fight for the undisputed middleweight title in 1985.

“I think Wladimir was a little too lucky this night.”

Celebrating his 39th birthday next month, Wladimir, who is now in the build-up to fighting Joseph Parker on March 31, was without question one of the best light heavyweights of the last 20 years.

But he is also one of the very few heavyweights who can deliver big knock-outs over men this age.

“I don’t know how he (the judges) made their decisions but I will make my own decision,” said head judge Michael Jones.

Indeed, when it comes to judges, Wladimir’s got nothing on Buster Douglas.

The American, who was 10 years younger than Hagler, delivered a terrible shock with his own sensational fight on November 11, 1985.

Douglas landed a title shot when he knocked out Hagler in the 10th round. But against Hagler’s conqueror Tommy Hearns, Douglas lost for the first time as a professional and was subsequently banned from boxing for two years.

Despite some criticism of Usyk, which could have a little to do with the fact he is a common opponent for fighters of all levels, the fight showed that nothing — not even a world championship belt — can guarantee a man’s longevity in the sport.

“Look, Pulev’s not in the best shape of his life. This is a dream for Pulev and he did his job to come to such a great man in Wladimir,” says Hagler.

“What people don’t know about Wladimir is that he has been with the same trainer for 22 years. We know that at the weight class that he is fighting at, he is in the best shape of his life.”

Elsewhere on Friday, the betting favorite went down fighting in London as Jeff Horn stopped Micky Ward in the 12th round.

Usyk’s win is another example of the talent that remains available in the heavyweight division. And it comes as rumors continue to fly that a big-name unification bout between Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua may happen before the end of next year.

Yet if a similar fight was to take place between Joshua and Wilder, it’s unlikely that would happen at the O2 Arena, where Wladimir fights Parker next month.

In the meantime, Wladimir’s next opponent may very well be a heavy hitter who is even younger than him.

Will the unique skills of Pulev be enough to stop the world’s current top fighter for good?

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