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The legend of Dr. Steelhammer


By Blake "Racehorse" Chavez

The Nordic God Thor wielded a hammer forged in Valhalla. Wladimir "Dr. Steelhammer" Klitschko wielded steel hammer-like fists forged in Ukraine by way of Kazakhstan. "Vlad" was delivered unto earth on March 25th, 1976 in the city of Zhangiztobe, Kazakhstan.That’s right, Vlad hails from the same forsaken corner of the planet as Gennady Golovkin, aka, GGG.


A gangly youth, Vlad toiled away as an amateur in relative anonymity, honing his craft whilst his frame filled in. The awkward stork blossomed into a muscular swan who perhaps boasted the most impressive physique in boxing history. Looming over opponents, he stood just a smidgeon under six-foot seven. He had the wingspan of a pterodactyl; eighty-one inches. Let’s be clear: Vlad was an incredible human specimen. He was also incredibly gifted intellectually. He was, arguably, the most impressive prospect package in the annals of the heavyweight division.


The monster took to the amateur boxing circuit, in lock-step with his older brother, Vitali. This writer knows of no brother duo in history he’d hate more to beef with in a dark alley than the brothers Klitschko. Not that they are thugs, quite the opposite. But Vitali, himself a behemoth, is a hard man who was Vlad’s guardian angel from Day One. I’ve yet to see a more intimidating presence in a pro fight corner than that of Vitali in Vlad’s corner. That statement is chilling when you take into consideration all the knuckleheads and rogue thugs that propagate the sport. Blood in. Blood out. Check UTUBE. When the fur threatened to fly between the brothers and opposing corners, Vlad turned instant caveman and Vitali was no day at the beach.


Crafting an amateur record of 134-6, Vlad stopped fifty-four opponents. In 1993 he won gold in the European Championships. He cracked heads near and far, biding his time for the ’96 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. The Doctor was a full-fledged super-heavyweight and stormed his way through the competition to win the vaunted gold medal.


It was time to invade the professional ranks, and so Vlad jumped in, feet first, under the tutelage of German-born pro trainer Fritz Sdunek, in the fall of 1996. Fritz was no joke having trained a host of big-name Europeans over a glitzy career; including Dariusz Michalcczewski, Felix Sturm, and Sebastian Zbik among many other notable successful pro boxers. Twenty-four straight opponents went down owing to the fists of the good doctor. Then the Russ Purrity debacle happened in December of ’98. Purrity, who had thirteen losses on his side of the ledger before facing Vlad, had a career night and turned out the lights on the giant Klitschko.


Over the next two years, Klitschko kept his nose to the grindstone, bitch-slapping prospects and thumping veteran names such as "Big Foot" Martin and Axel Schultz.


The big man was on a roll and landed a shot at the WBO Heavyweight crown held by Chris Byrd, who had lifted the title from Vlad’s brother Vitali. Vlad would not be denied as he punished Byrd with two knockdowns to win a unanimous decision by wide margins on all the official scorecards.  Dr. Steelhammer then crushed a few challengers such as "Merciless" Ray Mercer and Jameel McCline. Come March of 2003, Vlad attempted to defend his title against South African Cory Sanders, a southpaw with a sweet left hand. Sanders could hit, but do little else. But boy could he hit.


Vlad still had a few flaws to his game, such as a tendency to step straight back after taking a good shot. He also robbed himself of punching power when allowing his mechanics to fall apart which widened his stance way too far to be effective at the elite level of prizefighting. Heavyweights possessed of decent power could land and keep their momentum going straight ahead whenever Vlad got tagged by their punch should the blow, providing it contained considerable mustard on it. Sanders must have been dipping his left hand in a bucket of French’s mustard as he connected with several potent lefts to the dome of Klitschko in the opening stanza. Welcome to Queer Street Vlad. The giant was stunned in round one and dropped twice  He struggled to clear the cobwebs before heading out for round two. Sanders ate his lunch. KO. Bye-bye WBO title.


A little over one year later, in April of 2004, Vlad tried to regain the WBO title, which was vacant at the time, from one Lamon Brewster. Vlad was punking Lamon hard and frequently through the first four rounds, but in the fifth, Brewster inexplicably beat the hell out of Klitschko. Brewster was no world beater, but he peaked at an opportune time... then disappeared not long after. It is imperative to note that in 2004 Vlad had taken on the brilliant Emanuel Stewart as his head trainer and would ride with the Detroit whiz for many years until Stewart’s untimely death in October of 2012. Stewart was credited with bringing out all of Vlad’s many talents and was also unquestionably a difference-maker in several bouts due to his astute strategic moves and deft organization of spot-on training camps.

In September of ’05, our intrepid super heavyweight scored a shot at the vacant WBO title. His opponent was a hefty obligation, as he faced the hard-hitting Nigerian, Simon Peter. He won the crown with a unanimous decision victory that shifted his career into overdrive. Klitschko went on a rampage for nearly a decade, holding the IBF version of the heavyweight championship for an incredible nine years and seven months, which made him the second-most longest reigning heavyweight champ in history behind the storied Joe Louis who reigned for over eleven years. Vlad also defended his title a staggering nineteen times. Only Joe Louis, with twenty-five title defenses, and Larry Holmes, with an even twenty, have exceeded the number of Vlad’s successful title defenses. These feats are all-time notable achievements and assure that Vlad will be a first-ballot hall-of-famer. Where he is slotted on the list of all-time greats is open for debate.


On his way to establishing himself as an all-time great, Vlad rocked heavyweights aplenty during his reign.


These champs/former champs/solid pros all fell: Chris Bird (again), Calvin Brock, a revenge KO of Lamon Brewster, Sultan Ibragimov, Tony Thompson (twice) , Hasim Rahman, Ruslan Chagaev, Samuel Peter (again), Eddie Chambers, David Haye, Alexander Povetkin, and a cast of many others. Klitschko dominated with his rapier-like jab and blistering straight right hand. Rarely did he go to the body. Most of his fights during his reign were foregone conclusions. As he aged, Vlad adopted the Bernard Hopkins school-of-aging-fighters technique. He would land a jab or score with a lead right hand and then swarm his opponent and tire them out by leaning on them or wrestling the strength out of them, tiring the poor soul until they no longer had the ability or will to win. Like Hopkins, the later wins came ugly. But as "Money" Mayweather proved, a win is a win.


In November of 2015, an aging and shop-worn Vlad lost a lackluster decision to Tyson Fury. It was said that Vlad had lost his motivation  A re-match was in the works only to be foiled by Fury going rogue and flying off the rails due to lifestyle issues. Anthony Joshua, himself a rare physical specimen and former Olympic gold medalist fought his way to recognition as Fury’s successor and the public clamored for the doctor to make a house call one more time.


Before a jam-packed London audience of over 90,000 boxing-crazed fans, the two giants delivered what very well may be the 2017 Fight of the Year. Joshua prevailed with an electric eleventh round TKO. Joshua himself was dropped earlier in the fight and nearly KO’d. Klitschko was actually ahead on one of the official scorecards when the end came. The scintillating performance by the forty-one year old Klitschko left no doubt as to his standing as one of the best fighters in the history of the heavyweight division. He will no doubt be remembered best for his brutal farewell rumble in which he fought with reckless abandon and reminded the world why he was known as Dr. Steelhammer.


I rank only the incomparable Muhammad Ali, and legendary champs Joe Louis, George Foreman, Rocky Marciano, and Larry Holmes ahead of Vlad on my list of all-time great heavyweights. Why so high? Longevity. Vlad fought in an era where athletes and sports medicine were far superior than the era in which his predecessors competed, and he not only met the demands inherent in his era, but exceeded them in many areas. His stamina was questioned, but think about this: twenty-one years as a pro, many of them with a huge bulls-eye on his back, and though engaging in an incredible sixty-nine fights; only three times did he fail to see the finish line. Question that. He also never tested dirty for steroids, a very important factor.


Now consider that he did fight just under 70 fights. How many champion heavyweights in the modern era fought seventy times? They milked Tyson till the milk turned to blood and he barely made it to the mid-fifties. And don’t forget the long string of bums they fed him every thirty days at the start of his career. Now consider how Vlad finished versus a monster in Joshua and how Tyson stunk up the venues on his way out. Marciano never saw his fiftieth fight.


He quit just after his thirty-third birthday. Vlad fought for nearly a decade longer than The Rock did. Chew on that for a moment. Ali could barely walk against Larry Holmes, yet at the time he was six years younger than the age Vlad retired at.


Roll this fact around in your nugget for a minute: virtually every all-time great heavyweight besides Vlad went out ugly and was a mere shell of themselves at the time they were finally dragged out of the ring and not allowed to fight anymore due to public outcry and pity. Joe Louis. Ali. Smokin’ Joe. Holmes. Tyson. Holyfield. Even Big George went out tussling with the suspect Shannon Briggs. But don’t forget, George had taken an entire decade off from absorbing punches, which sure as hell helps one’s longevity. So those are some of the variables I considered in my ranking.


Also please do not disregard the smarts Vlad was blessed with and utilized inside the ring. He knew how to win, period. It was not always pretty, but it was often violent.

What more can the fight game ask of a fighter?


Wladimir Klitschko gave us his all. And besides, it’s hard not to root for a guy who married the gorgeous actress Hayden Panettiere. They have a lovely daughter, Kaya Evolokia Klitschko. Vlad segued from his August 2017 announced retirement into KLITSCHKO Ventures GmbH. (yes, that’s how it’s spelled) The company is responsible for maintaining and growing the Klitschko family brand and engages in challenge management endeavors as well as developing new business models and products.  Well done Dr. Steelhammer. Your career belongs to the ages.


What do you think?


Blake "Racehorse" Chavez answers all his emails.


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