The decade long reign of heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko came to an end on Saturday when towering upstart Tyson Fury out-soft-shoed him to sing and dance away with the big boy crown. (More on that singing down the line.)
Was this the end of an era or a brief interlude until Klitschko — or Dr. Steelhammer, as he’s more colloquially known — returns to reclaim the title that he all but hand-strapped around Fury’s gravity-challenged trunks?
Though most boxing fans are loathe to admit it, due to his ubiquitous jab-right-clinch motif, Klitschko had been a pretty solid champion, defending his title 19 times and beating every heavyweight boxing contender worthy or unworthy of a shot at his belts for over ten years. He was just starting to grudgingly win over some of the credit-giving holdouts with sheer longevity and an entertaining win versus Byant Jennings at Madison Square Garden earlier this year, when this incredibly damning performance splattered itself across the boxing spectators in a strange self-immolation.
The listless, passionless, cold and calm performance seemed both surprising and almost inevitable. Calling his performance perfunctory seems too charitable, for he seemed unable to harness even the basic rudiments of boxing upon which he built virtually all his wins. The display unraveled and displayed the champ’s formula for winning in no uncertain terms.
If there is no size advantage, there is no smothering away the opponents stamina; if there is no loss of stamina, there is no mounting weariness in the face of a blasting jab; if there is no jab, there is no right hand; if there is no right hand, there is no confidence; if there is no confidence, there is no Klitschko.
On Saturday there was no Klitschko.
There was big brother Klitschko, Vitali, whispering away in the corner to his sallow sibling. Always the braver natural warrior, he could only watch his brother’s ruin.
But the Klitschko between the ropes was little more than a ghost of the towering monster that routinely dropped that “steelhammer” across the jaw of a monotonously softened up opponent until someone, a corner, a referee, the fighter himself, decided it was silly to take any more.
Until Saturday the biggest win anyone could claim in a true heavyweight championship fight during the majority of this century was merely surviving to the bell.
But for all those KOs — 12 of them during his run — most boxing fans would pray there was a younger Klitschko to take up for Wlad rather than see him return to the throne. Perhaps if their was a third brother to meld the best of the two prior champions and avenge Wlad the way Wlad avenged Vitali when the latter retired, the long suffering fans would have reason for heavyweight hope.
If this third hitherto unknown brother — “Tito” Klitschko, if we had our druthers — existed, perhaps we’d see one final iteration of the Ukraine mystique that combined the icy athleticism and work ethic of Wlad, with Vitali’s grit and warrior spirit.
That would truly be a heavyweight prospect to fear. But alas, this Klitschko albatross seems unlikely to be shed by a Tito in shining armor.
Perhaps Fury, the new heavyweight, king can provide a palate cleanser, at the very least, after the long stretch of bland, dispassionate (if effective) sameness that Wlad served up. This rangy, mouthy, gutsy U.K. champion can’t fail to do the sport a favor by either fending off a few challengers or falling spectacularly to one of the killer punchers that are quietly stalking in the shadows of the throne.
Fury, who didn’t go in or come out looking like a world beater, deserves massive amounts of credit for heading into the proverbial lion’s den, Germany, and doing so without a waver in untested confidence, never backing down from the entrenched and dominant champion.
Sometimes simple suspension of disbelief is enough to make dreams seem real, and in suspending the reality — which is that Klitschko is indeed a better fighter — Fury put Wlad to sleep.
No, he didn’t put him to sleep in the vicious, violent way that boxing fans clamor for, but in the more devastating and difficult fashion to pull off: the dismantling of a psyche.
Fury put Klitschko to sleep in a dream — a dream born somewhere in Manchester, perhaps started by a boxing father who named his boy after Mike Tyson years ago.
The self-belief seemed never to be in question though one expects there was a moment for Fury like the one longtime super middleweight beltholder Joe Calzaghe had as he first truly tested himself and looked to unify titles with shooting star Jeff Lacy, who had been causing a stir with explosively destructive performances at the time.
After a stanza or two outclassing the vaunted American puncher — Lacy himself was often compared to “Iron” Mike — Calzaghe, sitting in the corner between rounds, looked over at his father and trainer Enzo and stated flatly, “He’s shit.”
The look in his eyes told you all you needed to know about who would go on to win the fight, and he proceeded to embarrass Lacy for another 10 rounds.
If Fury had that revelatory moment during the fight we never got to see it. But there must have come a time when he glimpsed all that he thought he could achieve and saw that it was right there for him.
And seeing that, he took it for himself.
He likely didn’t win many fans over for the aesthetics of his performance, but he can impress another day. For now he is champion of the world, and that’s plenty. He certainly won his fair share of new fans simply for ending the reign of a champion seldom appreciated on American shores, if not elsewhere.
For Klitschko he will almost certainly look to regain his titles in a mandatory rematch. If he turned old overnight as some posit, or lost his hunger as others charge, then perhaps he can find redemption in a last fight for glory and find it in himself to deliver all that the the ring demands of the truly great.
Until then we have uncharted waters: a new division king.
Sometimes change is good. Sometimes change is necessary.
Perhaps Tyson Fury isn’t the next Mike Tyson his old man foresaw. Not exactly. But the name got him noticed.
And in crooning a boy-band style serenade to his wife in the ring after the bout, warbling away in front of the dejected Klitschko and the sold out crowd like it was his living room and not the ESPRIT Arena in Dusselfdorf Germany, maybe he is not the Tito we want, but the Tito we need.
Not the singular sensation of a generation like a Mike Tyson or that other all dancing all singing, glove wearing Mike we once knew.
No, with a voice like his, he’s not Michael Jackson either.
But maybe he’s Michael’s brother Tito.
Tito Tyson, the heavyweight division’s knight in shining armor.
(Tyson Fury poses for a photograph ahead of a press conference at the Macron Stadium on Nov. 30 in Bolton, England; Photo: Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)