Competitive sport is a wonderful phenomenon evoking myriad individual and collective emotions, often positive affection and sometimes negative hostility. For the participant it is an opportunity not only to achieve self fulfillment, but often to make money in the process. For the spectator, it is a release, an opportunity to feel good about being a fan and belonging to a group local or national.
Saturday's super heavyweight boxing match between Ukrainian Wladimir Klitschko and American Bryant Jennings was all of that and more. It was a lesson on both good and bad behavior.
In an interview with American television following the fight, the victorious Klitschko was asked by American media why he limited himself largely to left jabs with very few right hand punches. Without offering any excuses Klitschko modestly stated that this was not his intent but that his opponent would not allow him. He praised Jennings' talent and heart. On the other hand Jennings in a post fight interview was less laudatory of his opponent, making excuses for his own shortcomings and stating quite vociferously that the fight was significantly closer than the scoring.
For weeks the American sports' media while promoting the Klitschko-Jennings bout for the sake of selling out Madison Square Garden, nevertheless continued to disparage the current super heavyweight division and Wladimir Klitschko. Still Wladimir Klitschko has been super heavyweight champion for ten years, having defended his three titles eighteen times, in fact in the history of heavyweight fighting third most only to such venerable boxers as Joe Louis and Larry Holmes. There hasn't been a serious American contender in that time.
However, Klitshchko (in fact both brothers including the older Vitali, a former champion himself and now the mayor of Ukraine's capital, Kyiv)) do not fit the prototypical American profile of a fighter. After all both Klitschkos are highly educated, sophisticated boxers, who are gentlemen on and off the ring. According to American media and boxing mavens, a great heavyweight was American Mike Tyson of rape and ear biting fame and, of course, Muhammad Ali. But even the much revered icon, the self proclaimed “greatest” Ali was a disingenuous draft dodger (a conscientious objector who refused to serve because of his religion which ironically was founded by a warrior prophet), a loudmouth, uneducated, who served as his own public relations promoter by ridiculing his opponents rather severely, even if jokingly. The Klitschko brothers have been almost completely opposite in behavior, character and yet major boxing champions.
Wladimir Klitschko is often portrayed by American sports media as a boring fighter who generally wins by decision, but not knockout. Naturally, the average roughneck fan wants to see a knockout and blood. However, in Europe Klitschko is described as a master of his craft who defeats his opponents systematically and craftily while himself almost never getting punched in the face or suffering physical damage. In his career he has suffered three losses, all knockouts, of which he is painfully aware and thus maintains a tight defense.
In summary from a historical perspective, the Klitschko brothers were a heretofore unknown phenomenon in boxing and they were not American. Had they been they and their style probably would have been embraced by the American boxing world. They do have faults pointed out by their adversaries like holding on to their opponents excessively. Wladimir Klitschko explained that this was often due to the fact that he was taller than all of his opponents. Holding on also offers an opportunity to rest briefly. After all Wladimir is thirty nine years old.
It's time for American boxing, its media, experts and the participants themselves to grow up, give the Klitschko brothers their due and accept that the Klitschkos have been saviors of boxing. The American fan base will follow. Let's be honest, boxing is a vulgar sport where the goal is to beat your opponent senseless, reminiscent almost of the gladiators in the Roman Colosseum where the aim was to kill your opponent. The Klitschkos have managed by themselves to add some class to the sport.
American patriotism in sport is wonderful and refreshing, particularly, at a time when so many high level Americans in politics often go out of their way to disparage America. However, when it maligns everyone not American simply for that reason and includes disingenuous arguments, it becomes chauvinism. That's when it becomes ugly and it should stop.
April 26, 2015 Askold S. Lozynskyj
Picture caption: Vitali Klitshchko who is taller than Wladimir holding onto the author. Good thing this wasn't a fight because Vitali would have lost a point and the author his life.