Interview with IBO World Heavyweight Champion Wladimir Klitschko
In boxing terms, it’s a perfect storm. A marquee champion growing frustrated with the politics of myriad established sanctioning bodies decides to carry the flag for a new organization branding itself as the “Champion of Integrity.” In 2009, it’s one step closer to reality… thanks to Wladimir Klitschko. The 32-year-old Ukrainian, holder of three world title belts and universally recognized as the premier fighter in the heavyweight division, is among the many who have come to believe the time is now for the International Boxing Organization.
“I would put the IBO in a totally different spot from the other organizations and I think the work that they’re doing is amazing,” Klitschko said. “The computerized rankings system is very, very good and they’re working to get clear information to the fans and to get them involved.” Klitschko made the sixth successful defense of his IBO title on Dec. 13 in Mannheim, Germany, where he defeated former belt-holder Hasim Rahman by seventh-round TKO. He won the IBO and IBF crowns with a seventh-round stoppage of Chris Byrd in 2006 and added the WBO championship with a decision win over Sultan Ibragimov last MARCH. Klitschko previously held the WBO belt from 2000-2003 and made five successful defenses.
“I compare the IBO rankings to how things are done in tennis,” he said. “People can look at those rankings and check out where one guy relates to another and check out how many points they have. I’m glad to be at the top of the ratings and I’m proud to be holding their belt,” Klitschko stated. He tops a list of incumbent IBO champions that also includes highly regarded and unbeaten light heavyweight Chad Dawson, consensus light welterweight kingpin Ricky Hatton, as well as lightweight champion Juan Diaz. Past IBO champions have included Lennox Lewis at heavyweight, Roy Jones Jr. and Antonio Tarver at light heavyweight, and Floyd Mayweather Jr. at welterweight.
“I think through the years the IBO has gotten stronger and they’ve become established, and for writers and journalists to make lists of champions and not mention the IBO is just ridiculous,” Klitschko said. “It’s not specialists or journalists that are holding the belts, it’s the fighters. And the more guys like Lennox Lewis and Ricky Hatton and Wladimir Klitschko that are considered the best in their weight divisions as IBO champions, the more the IBO will become recognized.” As for Klitschko, whose reign has been intermittently bogged down by mandatory sanctioning body defenses against opponents considered beneath him, the New Year marks a new beginning as well.
“I’ve had mandatory fights for the various organizations and federations, so it’s not like I’ve been choosing my opponents,” he said. “But now, in 2009, I’ll decide who my next opponent will be. No federation is going to tell me to do anything,” Klitschko declared. Rather than imposing specific mandatory defenses at the behest of promoters, the IBO instead permits its champions to simply defend at least once every nine months against any opponent selected from the computerized list of the 35 highest-ranked boxers in his division. Mandatory defenses may be imposed only if its champions do not want to fight quality opponents. Champions should be permitted and encouraged to fight who the public wants to see and the major television networks want to show.
Toward that end, Klitschko placed three names on his personal 2009 to-do list – unbeaten Russian Alexander Povetkin (ranked No 6 by the IBO), power-punching Californian Chris Arreola (No. 28), and former three-belt cruiserweight champion David Haye (No. 8). Povetkin was replaced by Rahman in December after pulling out of a scheduled title shot due to injury, while Arreola is widely thought to be near an agreement for a shot of his own in May – a scenario Klitschko would nonetheless neither confirm nor deny at the time of publication. “Nothing is final. Nothing is done,” he said.
“There are a lot of rumors out there that I have no comment on. We’re working on things, and within the next few weeks we’ll know and then make an announcement. It is my time to be on top, though, and I want to stay busy and use as much of it as possible,” Klitschko stated.
Meanwhile, Haye has made the most tangible recent splash in the division, stopping former WBA title challenger Monte Barrett in five rounds in November and widely proclaiming since that he’s the biggest obstacle any of the incumbent champions need to overcome. The 28-year-old London native has won 12 straight fights – 11 by stoppage – since his lone career loss, a fifth-round TKO by Carl Thompson in 2004, interestingly enough, in an IBO title challenge.
“A year ago, I didn’t know his name,” Klitschko said. “People told me that he’d been an undisputed cruiserweight champion, but I must’ve missed it. And suddenly, a year later, he wants to be in the ring against me,” Klitschko mused. “That’s just the way it happens sometimes. New names are coming in. Haye has made himself famous, but he’s been very loud and noisy. I have to teach him how to behave himself.”
Beyond Klitschko’s three-pronged list, however, the future seems uncertain. Complete unification of the division is off-limits as long as Klitschko’s older brother – 37-year-old Vitali – maintains possession of the WBC belt he won from Samuel Peter in October. “There is no way we could ever fight,” Klitschko said. “If we were to fight each other, our mother wouldn’t be able to survive it.”
A match with WBA champion Nikolay Valuev is equally unlikely, Klitschko said, as long as the 7-foot Russian is being protected by promoters Don King and Wilfried Sauerland. Valuev won a disputed decision from 46-year-old Evander Holyfield in a Dec. 20 title defense. “There’s no way his promoters would ever put him in front of us,” Klitschko said. “They’re afraid he’d lose and there’d be no way for them to get the title back. It‘d be fantastic if either one of us could get him, but, without that, we have to fight and just continue to write our own successful story.”
That story continues out of the ring as well. In the midst of his first winter at his part-time home in Florida, Klitschko was recently invited to film a segment on The Golf Channel where he shot 18 holes with a prominent women’s tour player. He remains active with numerous charities as well, and feels he has both an opportunity and an obligation to use his celebrity status to help others.
“I love to communicate and language has given me a great gift,” he said. “The reality is that you can do much more if you’re famous. Athletes and other non-sports celebrities have been able to do great things in terms of raising money and awareness,” Klitschko observed. “It’s satisfying when you see what happens when people are put in a position to be exposed to things. Seeing someone have access to an education and then being able to establish themselves is amazing. It’s a great gift for me to have and it’s up to me to squeeze as much from it as possible,” Klitschko concluded.
to previous page