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.
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.