Here's a topic that always stirs controversy: where does Wladimir Klitschko rank, all-time? The boxing community seems very divided as to whether he belongs in the top ten—or nowhere near it. But in our All-time Heavyweight top 500, Klitschko has just broken into the top five, passing Mike Tyson.
|Rated Record||Peak rating date;
highest-rated win by points;
highest-rated opponent defeated
|1||1||MUHAMMAD ALI||110.32||47-5-0|| peak rating: 9/1977
pts: 9/1978 UD 15 #43 LEON SPINKS
opp: 11/1962 KO 4 #8 ARCHIE MOORE
|2||2||ROCKY MARCIANO||109.82||29-0-0|| peak rating: 9/1955
pts: 9/1952 KO 13 #10 JERSEY JOE WALCOT
opp: 10/1951 KO 8 #3 JOE LOUIS
|3||3||JOE LOUIS||109.58||59-3-0|| peak rating: 3/1942
pts: 6/1938 KO 1 #20 MAX SCHMELING
opp: 12/1947 SD 15 #10 JERSEY JOE WALCOT
|4||4||LARRY HOLMES||94.43||45-6-0|| peak rating: 5/1985
pts: 10/1980 KO 11 #1 MUHAMMAD ALI
opp: 10/1980 KO 11 #1 MUHAMMAD ALI
|6||5||WLAD KLITSCHKO||89.24||42-3-0|| peak rating: 4/2015
pts: 10/2013 UD 12 #65 ALEX POVETKIN
opp: 10/2013 UD 12 #65 ALEX POVETKIN
|5||6||MIKE TYSON||89.03||34-6-0|| peak rating: 7/1989
pts: 6/1988 KO 1 #22 MICHAEL SPINKS
opp: 1/1988 KO 4 #4 LARRY HOLMES
That's higher than even most of his fans are willing to put him—though there are some who contend he is the best of all time, given the principle that fighters get better over the decades. Would his height and weight be an insurmountable obstacle for the great fighters of the past?
Our formula for the top 500 takes into account this principle, as fighters generally have higher ratings as the decades go by. But a fighter still has to accomplish in the ring, and the current era does not have a lot of high-ranked foes for Klitschko to conquer. That's why some people won't put him in the top 25, or even top 50. His three early losses to very suspect competition underscores this point.
But there's no doubt he's dominating the current era, having won 22 straight fights over an incredible 10+ year period. No formula is going to come up with a perfect ranking, and no ranking will satisfy every fan—but it does make for an "unbiased" ranking, in that all participants are judged by the same criteria. And objectivity is hard to come by when grading the Klitschkos.
So how does he make the top five? Though it's unquestionably been a weak era, Wladimir Klitschko has beaten the best opponents available in his 22-fight winning streak:
Date Result Rank Opponent
10/2004: Win TDW #16 DAVARL WILLIAMSON
04/2005: Win KO #48 ELISEO CASTILLO
09/2005: Win UD #5 SAMUEL PETER
04/2006: Win KO #3 CHRIS BYRD
11/2006: Win KO #8 CALVIN BROCK
03/2007: Win KO #30 RAY AUSTIN
07/2007: Win KO #17 LAMON BREWSTER
02/2008: Win UD #9 SULTAN IBRAGIMOV
07/2008: Win KO #6 TONY THOMPSON
12/2008: Win KO #14 HASIM RAHMAN
06/2009: Win KO #2 RUSLAN CHAGAEV
03/2010: Win KO #4 EDDIE CHAMBERS
09/2010: Win KO #13 SAMUEL PETER
07/2011: Win UD #4 DAVID HAYE
03/2012: Win KO #12 JEAN MARC MORMECK
07/2012: Win TKO #10 TONY THOMPSON
11/2012: Win UD #46 MARIUSZ WACH
05/2013: Win TKO #14 FRANCESCO PIANETA
10/2013: Win UD #3 ALEX POVETKIN
04/2014: Win TKO #30 ALEX LEAPAI
11/2014: Win KO #4 KUBRAT PULEV
04/2015: Win UD #8 BRYANT JENNINGS
12 of the 22 fighters were ranked in our top ten at the time, and all but four were in the top 25. After he beat Ruslan Chagaev in 2009, his brother Vitali took over the #2 spot and has been there since. He defeated Alexander Povetkin, the #3 ranked fighter, in 2013 and Povetkin still holds down that spot. He beat #4 Kubrat Pulev last year.
Which brings us to another point—not fighting his brother, Vitali, the only other unquestionably great heavyweight of this era. What other top heavyweight in history hasn't battled the #2 fighter of the era? Regardless of the fact that they're brothers, this harms their legacy as their chance to gain an important win disappears. To show this, here is our all-time top ten, and the highest-ranked (all-time) fighter they've beaten:
1. MUHAMMAD ALI #8 ARCHIE MOORE
2. ROCKY MARCIANO #3 JOE LOUIS
3. JOE LOUIS #10 JERSEY JOE WALCOT
4. LARRY HOLMES #1 MUHAMMAD ALI
5. WLAD KLITSCHKO #65 ALEX POVETKIN
6. MIKE TYSON #4 LARRY HOLMES
7. EZZARD CHARLES #3 JOE LOUIS
8. ARCHIE MOORE #19 JIMMY BIVINS
9. LENNOX LEWIS #6 MIKE TYSON
10 JERSEY JOE WALCOTT #7 EZZARD CHARLES
Here Klitschko stands out like a sore thumb; every other top fighter has defeated someone on the all-time top 25, almost all the top 10. Wladimir Klitschko's best win was over Alexander Povetkin, whom we currently rank at #65. In fact, all of the top 35 all-time fighters defeated someone else in the all-time top 35—except for #30 Vitali Klitschko, whose top vanquished foe, Orlin Norris, comes in at #179.
So the Klitschkos have some résumé problems for sure. If not for Vitali's near-win over Lennox Lewis, it's doubtful the K brothers would get any respect at all from some quarters. That comparison—showing Vitali to be roughly the equal of Lewis at the time—gave Vitali respect that has eluded Wladimir despite his decade-long domination of the division. There are many who think that Vitali would have easily beaten Wladimir if they had fought, and thereby rate Vitali as the better all-time prospect.
Regardless of that speculation, in terms of accomplishment based on actual wins—in which Vitali's controversial loss to Lewis gains him no points—Wladimir has soared well past his brother. Now that he's in our all-time top 5, and looks almost as impervious as ever, what are his prospects for moving even higher on our list?
At age 39, Wladimir has limited time left, but it's hard to say how much time. Brother Vitali retired at age 41 undefeated in his career's "second wind." So that gives him at least 2 more years where we can assume he probably won't lose. Fighting twice a year on average, he'd have 4 more title defenses. That probably puts him past Larry Holmes for the #4 spot.
But Klitscho is more ambitious than that. In 2014 he said he wanted to fight for an astonishing ten more years! That would be about 18 more defenses from this point on, and would no doubt put him #1 in our list (he would be champ for 18 straight years).
We doubt even Klitschko can go undefeated through age 48. More realistically, if he goes 5 more years, that would probably put him near our top trio of Ali, Marciano, and Louis. That's 10 title defenses. Depending on the competition and how many points he gets from them, about 12 more wins—probably six years for Klitscho—might make him the #1 fighter, all-time, by our formula.
Would people think he deserves it? After 16 years without a loss and a 76-3 record, would the boxing community consider him the best heavyweight of all time?
It's doubtful, considering the era and the lack of a great opponent on his résumé. But if he breaks records for consecutive defenses set by Holmes and Louis, even the naysayers might grudgingly admit he belongs in the top ten.