Although he has fought in Europe the past six years and and further distanced himself from American boxing fans’ attention, Wladimir Klitschko is gradually achieving milestones.
When assessing the longest heavyweight championship reigns in terms of years, Klitschko already has surpassed legends Muhammad Ali, Rocky Marciano and Jack Dempsey.
In fact, the 37-year-old Klitschko’s eight-year run as champion trails only Joe Louis’ 11-year record between 1937 and 1948.
Klitschko, and a part-time Hollywood resident who grew up in Ukraine, can’t even fathom equaling Lewis’ record, which included 25 successful defenses. His immediate priority is the 16th defense of his multiple belts against Australian resident Alex Leapai on April 26 in Germany.
“Joe is an idol for me, but I don’t dream about it,” Klitschko said of the record during a media session Thursday at Lucky Street Gym in Hollywood. “I’m doing it fight to fight. As long as I have health and motivation I’m good. I don’t know for how long I’m going to last.”
A victory against Leapai will give Klitschko 16 successful defenses, trailing only Louis and Larry Holmes, who defeated 20 challengers in his seven-year championship run from 1978 to 1985.
“This title is the most important in the world of sports,” Klitschko said. “Sometimes people say it has lost its importance through the times [from] Ali in the ’60s and ’70s and through the ’80s with Tyson, there was a different situation. It was thought that the title was more valuable.
“I agree and disagree because the title is still there and it’s important to keep the championship as long as possible.”
The obvious reason why the heavyweight title doesn’t generate the overwhelming appeal common of Klitschko’s predecessors is because of Klitschko’s lack of visibility in the United States. Klitschko (61-3, 51 KOs) has not fought in the United States since a unification title victory over Sultan Ibragimov in Feb. 2008.
Klitschko’s brother, Vitali, who had a five-year run as champion of the major belt Wladimir doesn’t possess, made only one of his 10 title defenses in the United States. Vitali retired as champion last year and became an opposition leader in Ukraine’s political crisis.
“It has to do with this incredible interest overseas — in Europe,” Klitschko said of his and Vitali’s inactivity in the United States. “In two or three days we were selling out stadiums. TV ratings were as high as the sky.
“I look forward to come back. I do miss the U.S. audience.”
And if the Klitschkos don’t register with many U.S. fight fans, imagine obscure opponents like Leapai (30-4, 24 KOs). The native of Samoa earned his title opportunity after defeating Dennis Boytsov for a regional belt in November.
Around the ringTony Thompson