A star-studded and glamorous crowd of over 20,000 fans packed Madison Square Garden on Saturday night in New York City, as they witnessed long reigning heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko turn back the solid challenge of Brian Jennings.
With Ukrainian flags waving via countless scores of his countryman on hand, the world’s most famous arena rocked with electricity when the 6’7 and 250lb “Dr. Steelhammer” began making his way to the ring. Diamonds seemed to glitter everywhere as the stars came out for this one, including Hollywood luminaries like Bruce Willis and Denzel Washington.
Jay-Z and the newly signed Andre Ward made it into the building. Former heavyweight king Lennox Lewis positioned himself at ringside along with middleweight boss Gennady Golovkin, both eager to catch a glimspe of the Klitschko theater. Of course, his lovely wife Hayden Panettiere, stood at ringside and cheered his arrival, as did most of press row — many of them even raising their cell phones to take pictures and capture video.
It all felt like the arrival of Ivan Drago the rock star, and there’s no way to be sure some of the footage won’t show up in an actual movie scene.
The fight itself probably didn’t go quite according to script for the dominant Klitschko (64-3, 53KO’s), 39, who was coming off of a five-round massacre of Kubrat Pulev last year. He has been utterly dominant since the departure of Lewis in 2003, and owns one of the highest KO percentages of any champion, regardless of division, in modern history. His 23 title defenses (spread out over two different championship runs) is 2nd only to the great Joe Louis (25), and he’s clearly headed for Hall of Fame immortality.
But he also proved rather mortal, as a still green Jennings (19-1, 10KO’s) put his resume in a fistic shredder and attempted to shove him into his woodshed. After starting tentatively and being forced to fallback against the imposing nature of Klitschko, Jennings grew bold as the fight approached the middle stanza, pounding the mighty Ukrainian’s body and landing powerful left hooks to collect a few rounds.
On more than one occasion, Jennings actually hurt Klitschko, forcing the champion into a much more forced retreat than usual, while testing the limits of his conditioning. Klitschko worked extremely hard to win rounds over Jennings, in what was a very physically grueling encounter that can age an already aging fighter.
So glaring was the labor of Klitschko, that he employed much more use of the clinch and leaning on his opponent in this fight (which already happens quite often in his bouts), and got a point deducted for playing games with the action. The Garden didn’t want to hiss and hoo, but we couldn’t help it, c’mon Wladimir.
Anyway, Klitschko was able to close show show well with movement and well timed jabs or overhand rights. He appeared to stun or hurt Jennings several times down the stretch, appearing at one point late that his performance would be punctuated by a knockdown. He wound up winning by scores of 116-112 (twice) and 118-109 to retain his WBO, IBF and IBO belts. Immediately after the bout, Klitschko indicated that Tyson Fury is next, followed by a potential showdown with new WBC heavyweight sheriff Deontay Wilder. This writer caught up with the former champion Lewis today, and asked him about his thoughts Klitschko.
“I thought he did what he had to do and got the victory- that’s the bottom line,” spilled Lewis. “I would’ve loved to have fought Wladimir. He would’ve been a different challenge and he’s been a great champion since I’ve retired.”
Watching the fight while seated not far from Lewis or Golovkin, the reactions of Evander Holyfield were easy to detect. Based on the eye test alone, both men would’ve stopped this Klitschko, as would have another Tyson.
The younger Klitschko had a much more varied and versatile arsenal, but was prone to strikes because of a euro styled stiffness and lack of flexibility in shot slippage. That has not changed with time. What he’s done to mask his deficiencies, as pioneered by the late (and great) Emanuel Stewart, is master the ability to use his frame to maximum effect and fight tall at all times.
He comes forward with an outreached beam of a left hand, and is agile enough to evade shots due to incredible conditioning, intelligence (he owns a PhD for Christ’s sake) and athleticism. His is an aggression that is philosophical in nature, but can be beaten with refined aggression and skill.
He again showed against Jennings – as he has for the better part of his reign – is either an inability or an unwillingness to vary his assault. We know there’ll be a jab followed by an overhand right, or one of the two. That’s it. There will be no body shots whatsoever and his inside game is non-existent.
The last time Klitschko appeared in Madison Square Garden was in Feb. 2008 against your matinee idol (admit it) Sultan Ibragimov, in what was historically dreadful. It was only that way, because in many ways, Klitschko was still not quite recovered mentally from being stopped by Lamon Brewster nearly four-years prior. His ring demeanor shows us that he’s never gotten over that stoppage- or the one against Corey Sanders so long ago. Samuel Peter made him really remember it as he escaped in victory after those setbacks.
For now, Klitschko, who’ll turn 40 in early 2016, can rest firm in his position as the preeminent heavyweight on the planet, and should be able to withstand the “fury” of Fury should they meet. But for the champion Wilder, also seated at ringside watching the glitzy affair under the bright lights of the “Big Apple”, he has a great chance to define a new era in the no longer dormant heavyweight division.
And if all else fails, there’s always Shannon Briggs (smile).