Wladimir Klitschko retains title again

ByDan Rafael ESPN logo
Sunday, November 16, 2014

World heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko is known for his devastating right hand as well as his ram-rod left jab.

But his left hook?

It doesn't get nearly as much attention but is equally as destructive.

Klitschko used that powerful left hook to record all four of his knockdowns in a one-sided, fifth-round annihilation of mandatory challenger Kubrat Pulev on Saturday at the O2 World arena in Hamburg, Germany -- the same city where Klitschko made his pro debut 18 years ago.

It was another sensational performance for Klitschko, who retained his title for the 17th time in his second reign as he continued to move closer to a pair of hallowed boxing records.

He now stands just three defenses away from tying Larry Holmes for second place for most consecutive heavyweight title defenses at 20. The legendary Joe Louis owns the record for any weight class with 25. Klitschko, who has won 21 fights in a row and has not been remotely challenged since outpointing Samuel Peter in 2005 in their first meeting, also has held the title for 8 years, the second longest heavyweight title reign behind Louis' 11 years, 8 months, 8 days.

Klitschko will add several more months to his tenure since he won't fight again until at least March.

He had no problems with Pulev, a quality contender considered by many to be one of Klitschko's sternest tests in recent years. But that notion went out the window almost immediately as Klitschko floored him twice in the opening round as the pro-Klitschko crowd cheered wildly.

Pulev attempted to go right at Klitschko, seemingly with the hope to catch him with a big shot early, but the strategy failed miserably as Klitschko landed a bomb of a left hook barely a minute into the fight to knock down Pulev. He was still on wobbly legs when the fight resumed and found himself on the canvas again almost immediately as Klitschko landed another hook.

Pulev survived the round and resorted to hitting Klitschko repeatedly behind the head before being warned by American referee Tony Weeks.

"Pulev was a tough opponent, but he didn't show his real power in the first round," Klitschko said. "It was fun tonight because I proved again that I am the best. I showed that I am the champion."

Klitschko, in the first fight of a new three-fight contract with HBO that was finalized last weekend, wobbled Pulev (20-1, 11 KOs), 33, a 2008 Olympian for Bulgaria, with a right hand in the third round and then dropped him for the third time with a left hook. Pulev was lucky to make it out of the round as he was hurt again on a combination from Klitschko and bleeding from a cut under his left eye.

Ukraine's Klitschko (63-3, 54 KOs), 38, who is a major star in Germany and lives in Hollywood, Florida, dominated the fourth round before Pulev landed his best punch of the fight, a hard right hand in the fifth round that momentarily wobbled Klitschko. But Klitschko responded almost immediately by landing a crushing left hook to Pulev's chin. He went down flat on his back in the center of the ring, and Weeks counted him out at 2 minutes, 11 seconds.

For the fight, Klitschko landed 38 of 89 punches (43 percent), according to CompuBox statistics. Pulev was credited with connecting on 25 of 110 (23 percent).

"Wladimir is a really good opponent, but he was lucky. I want a rematch. I'll win the next time," Pulev said. "There's luck in boxing. He's a good boxer but he's unsporting. There were a lot of tricks."

Klitschko, a 1996 Ukrainian Olympic gold medalist, moved to 24-2 overall in world title fights. With the victory in hand, Klitschko will return to the United States to be with his fiance, actress Hayden Panettiere. She is usually a fixture at ringside for his fights but was not in Hamburg as she is due to give birth to their first child, a daughter, in about two weeks.

What made Klitschko's use of his left hand so impressive against Pulev is that he suffered a torn left biceps in a sparring session in late August, two weeks before the fight was originally scheduled for Sept. 6. It was postponed while Klitschko healed, and he showed no ill effects of the injury.

Pulev, the former European champion, earned his mandatory challenger status in August 2013 with a unanimous decision against American Tony Thompson, who had twice been knocked out by Klitschko in mandatory title fights.

Since becoming the mandatory challenger, Pulev, known as "The Cobra," fought twice more before getting the title shot. He scored a fourth-round knockout of Joey Abell, but also got knocked down by the journeyman, before scoring a third-round knockout of Ivica Perkovic on April 5.

Although lineal champion Klitschko holds three of the major sanctioning organization belts, Pulev, due to make a career-high $1,450,026 (his 20 percent share of K2 Promotions' winning purse bid), was only challenging for the IBF version, for which he was the mandatory challenger. In order to save on the sanction fees, he elected not to pay to fight for the WBO and WBA versions and, given the one-sided blowout, it proved to be a good decision.

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