Wladimir Klitschko Retires, Leaves as one of Boxing’s Greatest Ever
Wladimir Klitschko’s remarkable career came to a close Thursday with the announcement of his retirement.
Updated: Aug. 3, 2017 • 9:50 PM ET
Wladimir Klitschko (right) had a memorable career.
One of the best in boxing retired on Thursday. After a 21-year career filled with highs and lows, it’s finally acceptable to consider Wladimir Klitschko as one of the all-time boxing greats.
Klitschko dominated the heavyweight scene for more than a decade, in the process creating his own era in the ring. Despite being TKO’d by Anthony Joshua in his last fight in April, he gained the respect of boxing fans everywhere after his gritty performance in a back-and-forth fight.
Klitschko was often criticized for not being the most exciting fighter, and for not following in the footsteps of many heavyweights that came before him. He wasn’t a brash talker and didn’t absorb the spotlight that a heavyweight champion is often afforded. He had the same stoic stare that could cut through stone, in and out of the ring; he was all business, all the time.
The 41-year-old walks away from the ring with 64-5 career record. Even though he’s known for reigning during a heavyweight era that lacked other all-time greats, his greatness cannot be denied. All he did was dispose of a decade’s worth of the best fighters the division had to offer.
Despite going out on a loss, he’ll be remembered for leaving it all in the ring against Joshua. Klitschko proved to a capacity crowd in the Brits’ backyard that he had the courage to stand toe-to-toe with a young, hungry lion. That is what earns a fighter their respect.
During the Klitschko era, boxing was often accused of hitting an undignified low. Nevertheless, he always carried himself with professionalism and courtesy.
"Twenty-seven years ago I started my journey in sports, and it was the best choice of a profession I ever could have made,” Klitschko said in the video announcing his retirement.
He continued, “At some point in our lives, we need to, or just want to, switch our careers and get ourselves ready for the next chapter and chart any course toward fresh challenges. Obviously, I am not an exception to this. Now is my turn.
“I’m honestly doing this with…tremendous excitement, passion, dedication, expecting and hoping that my next career, which I’ve already been planning and working on for some years, will be at least as successful as my previous one, if not more successful.”
After winning gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Klitschko turned pro and won 24 straight fights, including his first title less than two years later with a knockout of Marcus McIntyre. Although he lost that title to Ross Puritty later that year, Klitschko defeated Chris Byrd to win the WBO world heavyweight title less than two years later.
The Ukrainian suffered embarrassing losses in 2003 and 2004 to Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster, respectively. Emanuel Steward, his new trainer at the time, was there for the 2004 loss, but Klitschko’s choice to stay with Steward helped him refine his style, skills and define his greatness. After the loss in 2004, he went a little more than 11 years unbeaten until a decision loss to Tyson Fury in 2015.
Klitschko's second world title reign began in 2006 after another victory over Byrd. It lasted for nine years, seven months and seven days, the second-longest heavyweight title tenure in history behind only Joe Louis, who held the title for 11 years, eight months and eight days.
During his time in the ring, Klitschko made 18 consecutive title defenses, the third-most in division history, behind only two other legends, Louis (25, the all-time record for any weight class) and Larry Holmes (20).
Klitschko’s 2004 knockout loss to Brewster was a brutal defeat, but it was also motivation that few men could, or would, have embraced — Klitschko is one of those men. He displays the gloves he wore during that fight in his office and carries a business card with a signed picture of Brewster on it knocking him out. The signature belongs to Brewster.
The motivation Klitschko gained from that loss fueled a dominant reign that will go down as one of the greatest of all time in any weight class. His 23 successful title defenses is second-most all-time to Louis’ 25.
It’ll be difficult for any heavyweight to break Klitschko’s record of 29 title fights, leaving him in a class all his own.