Only in defeat did classy Wladimir Klitschko earn admiration he desperately deserved

Andy Lewis 5/08/2017
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Everything about Wladimir Klitschko’s retirement from boxing feels right. The timing, the circumstances and the dignity with which it has been conducted are befitting of a man who will go on to take his proud and rightful place in the Hall of the Fame.

Having drifted beyond his peak years and following consecutive losses to younger men, one more roll of the dice would have been unwise. And while history has shown us that fighters seldom possess a capacity for the sincere and honest introspection required to resist that temptation – Klitschko is not your average boxer.

Indeed, in the murky world of prizefighting, with its many shady practices, macabre tales and troubled souls, he has been the personification of all that is good about the fight game.

An authentic sportsman among the unscrupulous capitalists, a voice of reason rising above the chorus of trash talk, a champion who respected his lofty position at the head of the sport and, more than anything, a role model who valued the heritage of the belts he carried and the responsibilities which came with them.

He had compelling reasons to carry on. A mammoth payday was on offer for a rematch with Anthony Joshua in Las Vegas this November, and with it another chance to become a three-time heavyweight king like his idol, Muhammad Ali.

In April, the 41-year-old was just one solid right hand away from beating Joshua, as the English fighter desperately clung on after taking a prolonged beating in the fifth round and was then floored for the first time in his career in the sixth.

Klitschko’s reluctance to go all out for the stoppage ultimately cost him as his 27-year-old opponent steadied the ship and delivered his own brutal finish in the 11th.

Four months later, the Ukrainian magnanimously accepts the torch was passed that night at Wembley. And despite having stood on the brink of victory in those thrilling middle rounds, he doesn’t need a rematch to assuage any nagging sense of what might have been.

Victory in London would have enhanced his already illustrious resume, but in the bravery of his defeat and the honesty of his effort, he won the wider public over in a way that he had previously failed to do so. He was raucously cheered from the ring as people’s respect gave way to a deep reverence.

For all of his accomplishments, that intangible accolade was perhaps the one thing he craved the most, and is surely now a contributing factor as to why he no longer feels the hunger to carry on.

The consensus is that Klitschko sits alongside the greats, but just outside of the all-time elite heavyweights. Yet back in 2005, few would have predicted he’d carve out such a rich legacy after he suffered crushing losses to Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster.

But with his career seemingly in ruins, he enlisted the help of the late Kronk trainer Manny Steward to steer him back to the top. It began one of the great modern fighter/trainer relationships and together they devised a style which accentuated his strengths and cloaked his frailties.

The result is a body of work which includes a record 29 heavyweight title fights, victories over 10 current or former world champions and the second longest title reign ever, behind Joe Louis.

Wladimir Klitschko celebrates his win over Bryant Jennings

The technical adjustments he used to salvage his career and a questionable level of opposition drew frequent and often unfair criticism, but in a 22-fight winning streak which lasted 11 years, he cleaned out the heavyweight division. It’s a feat that commands immense respect.

Ironically, the acclaim he surely always deserved arrived in defeat. The warmth that followed his stunning effort at Wembley was perhaps all that was missing. There is simply no reason to carry on, nothing left to prove.

Along with elder sibling Vitali, the younger Klitschko ruled the heavyweight division for an entire generation and only a select few in boxing’s rich and colorful history can say the same.

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Wladimir Klitschko retires from boxing, ending hopes of heavyweight rematch with Anthony Joshua

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Klitschko brings the curtain down on a 21-year career in boxing.

Wladimir Klitschko has announced his immediate retirement from boxing.

The 41-year-old former world heavyweight champion had been considering a lucrative rematch with Anthony Joshua but instead will bow out on April’s dramatic defeat by the IBF and WBA champion.

Joshua is likely to instead fight mandatory challenger Kubrat Pulev, of Bulgaria, while Klitschko ensures his legacy remains in tact as one of the finest heavyweights in history.

Klitschko said: “I deliberately took a few weeks to make my decision, to make sure I had enough distance from the fight at Wembley Stadium.

“As an amateur and a professional boxer, I have achieved everything I dreamed of, and now I want to start my second career after sports.”

After an unbeaten run that lasted 11 years, Klitschko lost his final two fights, conceding his IBF, WBA and WBO titles when being outpointed by Tyson Fury, while he was stopped by Joshua in the 11th round at Wembley.

Even in the second of those defeats, the Ukrainian recovered from a fifth-round knockdown to heavily drop Joshua for the first time in his professional career.

That final fight – he has chosen not to exercise his rematch clause – was widely considered the most entertaining at heavyweight since the glamour era of the 1990s, and was also perhaps the biggest since Lennox Lewis overcame Mike Tyson in 2002.

Speaking immediately after the Joshua defeat, Klitschko said he would consider his future and that the only fight that could tempt him to continue would be a rematch with the 27-year-old Briton.

In the build-up to April’s fight his trainer Johnathon Banks also said that if he felt his fighter was no longer able to perform at the level he long had, he would encourage him to retire.

Joshua’s promoters Matchroom had the necessary logistics in place for a November 11 date at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena, but despite him impressing at Wembley Klitschko has left “the best choice of profession” before a significant decline.

“I would have never imagined that I would have such a long and incredibly successful boxing career,” he continued in his statement.

“I’m very thankful for this. Thanks to everyone who has always supported me. Especially my family, my team and my many fans.

“It was the best choice of a profession I could have made.

“At some point in our lives, we need to or just want to switch our careers and get ourselves ready for the next chapter. Now it’s my turn.”

While at his peak, around the time of his one-sided, 2011 victory over David Haye, Klitschko held three of the four world heavyweight titles, at a time when his older brother Vitali was the WBC champion.

He also worked with the late Manny Steward, then widely considered the world’s finest trainer, and lost only five of 69 fights.

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Joseph Parker on fighting Hughie Fury, his respect for cousin Tyson and friendship with All Blacks stars

Alam Khan 20/07/2017
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Despite making history and achieving a lifelong ambition by the age of 24, Joseph Parker is ready to pen a new chapter in his fairytale story.

He may be one of the current incumbents of boxing’s heavyweight titles, but the New Zealander – his country’s first world champion when he claimed the vacant WBO belt last December – remains relatively unknown and unheralded in comparison to Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder.

Where WBA, IBO and IBF king Joshua has the Matchroom machine to fuel his following, and American Wilder – who holds the WBC belt – attracts attention for his explosive style, Parker is somewhat low key on the global stage.

Yet the quiet man is eager to become a big noise.

“It’s alright,” says Parker, reflecting on being largely ignored as someone who could unify the division. “These other guys are fighting on that side of the world with all the exposure they get. New Zealand has got a small population to compare and for us to already have a world champion and now to start fighting, it’s a good step for us.

“It’s great to be a world champion, to achieve that goal that I set at a young age, but now I want to go on to do more, to create my own legacy. People don’t know me, but that’s all right. Hopefully they will soon.”

Having beaten Mexican Andy Ruiz for the title and then defended against Razvan Cojanu in May, he will face Hughie Fury, cousin of Tyson Fury, at the Manchester Arena on September 23.

It will be an opportunity for Parker to dispel doubts as he told Sport360: “I want to show skills, bring excitement, pressure, be the fighter that everyone will remember.

“This is my chance in the UK to show what I can do. And I believe things happen when they are supposed to happen.

“Like every other heavyweight fighter I want to unify the belts, it’s a goal for me. It’s going to give me the motivation to train harder and focus. Just because you win one title, that’s not enough.

“I back myself to beat anyone. I don’t fear anyone and will fight anyone. The focus is of course on Hughie now and after that we will sit down and look to fight the other best fighters in the world.”

Parker’s progress has been noticed by some, though, including former champion Tyson Fury, victor over Wladimir Klitschko but forced to vacate his titles after medical issues and testing positive for cocaine.

While he is hoping to celebrate a Fury family triumph, he praised Parker, unbeaten in 23 fights, for his attitude.

Tyson said: “He’s an all-round fighter, he’s tough, he’s strong, he’s fast, he punches hard and he doesn’t really care who he fights – so he demands admiration.”

Parker, now 25, is likewise an admirer of Tyson for ending the long reign of Klitschko – and another great Briton too.

He was eight when he watched compatriot David Tua, also of Samoan descent like him, fail in his bid to be a world champion, beaten by Lennox Lewis in a unanimous points decision in 2000.

“The fighters in New Zealand when I was growing up were David and another Samoan Maselino Masoe, a middleweight world champion who didn’t get the exposure,” he added. “But for David to beat three world champions and then fight Lennox was massive.

“Of course I wanted David to win, badly, but after that, I watched Lennox’s fights and started to see how he became so good.

“I really liked his style and modelled myself on him. He was smart, used his advantages well, the height, the reach. And he finished at the top.

“I also watched Roy Jones Jr., liked his style, and from every fighter I watch, I take a little bit of and see if it can help me improve. But you have to make it your own style.

“I remember one thing David Tua said to me was don’t try to be like me, but be better than me. Now I hope other young fighters in New Zealand can look at me and want to do the same thing.”

Parker’s trainer Kevin Barry also plotted Tua’s rise to the top. With “God-given power”, Tua had to wait 39 fights and eight years for his title shot, but notable highs included beating former champions Hasim Rahman, John Ruiz and Michael Moorer.

But Barry has said: “I had 12 years [working] with Tua and I believe that if he was as driven as what Joseph Parker is, he would have worn the heavyweight belt.”

Parker has learned to appreciate the value of hard work and focus, further helped by his friendship with stars from the all-conquering All Blacks rugby team.

“I’m good friends with Sonny Bill Williams, Jerome Kaino, Israel Dagg, Beauden Barrett,” he says.

“What I learn from them is the mindset. When they are in training there’s nothing else that matters, they make the sacrifices, and I believe that’s the reason why they are at the top of their sport.

“I played rugby, union and league, and have a cauliflower ear to prove it. I made the Auckland team. But one thing my father said to me is if you want to achieve something in one sport, you have to focus on one sport. We chose boxing.”

Joseph Parker sits on the Blues bench with All Black Jerome Kaino

This has been a dilemma for the multi-talented Sonny Bill Williams. A star in rugby union and league, he also became the WBA International Heavyweight champion when he beat Francois Botha in 2013.

There has been past talk of a tussle between Parker and Williams, but he says: “Nah, Sonny’s a good friend of mine.

“We have sparred each other, but I don’t think a fight would happen now. I feel he’s an athlete who is good at all sports and if he focused on boxing he could get better, but boxing’s not a sport where you can give it half of your time.”

Parker’s dedication has been influenced by his father. Dempsey Parker was named after William ‘Jack’ Dempsey, a heavyweight who ruled the world almost a century ago.

“My grandma lived in Samoa and I think she heard it on the radio, probably Jack Dempsey fighting, and loved the name and named my dad after him,” says Parker.

“He gave me and my brother (John) little boxing gloves, bags to train and we watched video clips of old fights together.

“It was my dad’s dream to be a boxer, but he couldn’t box because of a disability. As a baby someone stood on his leg so one is normal, one is skinnier, he wears a brace on it.

“So when I achieved the dream of becoming of a world champion I did it for myself and him. This is going to be a home fight for Hughie. But to have my family here, they will be my crowd and my inspiration.”

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