- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Wladimir Klitschko, entering his eighth year as heavyweight champion, is supposed to be back in action for defense No. 14 on April 6, although the date might move deeper into the spring.
Klitschko has won all 13 of his defenses in dominant fashion, including a 12-round beatdown of previously undefeated Mariusz Wach in November, after which Wach tested positive for steroids. They didn't help.
So who will be Klitschko's next victim? I'm told by the Klitschko camp that it likely will be 6-foot-5, 243-pound Francesco Pianeta (28-0-1, 15 KOs), a 28-year-old southpaw from Italy who lives in Germany.
He has been seen by the German public, and RTL -- the German network that has Klitschko under contract -- has approved him as an opponent.
Pianeta matches up physically with Klitschko, but despite his glossy record, he has zero wins of serious note on his record, unless you count a pair of decisions in 2012 against two totally shot fighters with recognizable names -- Frans Botha (44) and former titleholder Oliver McCall (47!). The draw on Pianeta's record came in 2009 against Albert Sosnowski, who was knocked out in the 10th round of a 2010 world title fight by Vitali Klitschko, Wladimir's big brother.
So Pianeta isn't going to have anyone (at least on this side of the pond) jumping up and down, but at least he's under 30, physically imposing and does have that nice record.
Hopefully, soon enough, Klitschko (59-3, 50 KOs), who turns 37 in March but has shown no signs of slowing down, will begin facing some of the division's more interesting up-and-comers, including 2012 ESPN.com prospect of the year David Price, Tyson Fury, Kubrat Pulev and the promising American duo of Deontay Wilder and Bryant Jennings.
Assuming Klitschko wins his spring fight (which likely will be televised on Epix in the United States), he is supposed to be on track to face the man who has ducked him for years -- second-tier titlist Alexander Povetkin, who has already passed on two previous opportunities as a mandatory challenger.
The WBA, which sanctions both fighters as titleholders, has given Klitschko permission to make the optional defense in the spring, with their showdown likely to happen in late summer or fall. Povetkin might also fight an interim bout before he will hopefully finally man up and fight Klitschko. If they can't make a deal and Klitschko-Povetkin goes to a purse bid, Klitschko would be entitled to 75 percent of the money and Povetkin 25 percent.
One name that came up as a possibility for Klitschko's spring fight was Odlanier Solis, the 2004 Cuban Olympic gold medalist, who suffered a knee injury in a first-round knockout loss to Vitali Klitschko in a 2011 title fight. However, Solis' messy promotional problems killed that fight.
Another name some had mentioned is long-faded contender Fres Oquendo, although Klitschko manager Bernd Boente told me this week that “Oquendo was never in the mix."
Thank goodness. Still, that didn't stop the delusional Oquendo (35-7, 23 KOs) from making one of the single-most absurd statements I have ever read in a press release. Ever.
"No one deserves the Klitschko fight more than me," said the 39-year-old Oquendo.
When you stop laughing, please continue reading.
Oquendo hasn't remotely been a factor since back-to-back losses in title fights to Chris Byrd (in a controversial decision in 2003) and an 11th-round knockout to John Ruiz (in 2004, in one of the worst heavyweight title fights in the history of the world).
(By the way, I was ringside for Ruiz-Oquendo at Madison Square Garden, and again I want say thank you to late referee Wayne Kelly for stopping the fight and saving us all the misery of having to sit through another round.)
"I'm seeing these newcomer kids talking about how they deserve to fight Klitschko," Oquendo said. “I haven't lost a fight legitimately since 2006 [even though he has three losses since then]. In 2003, I had a world title fight and lost an outrageous robbery against Chris Byrd. Byrd went on to lose the title that I should have won that night to Wladimir. So if they hadn't stolen my title from me that night, I would have already had a fight against Wladimir. Me getting the fight against Wladimir is boxing karma making things right."
I could continue to mock Oquendo, but I'll cut him a break here.
The 28-year-old Jennings (16-0, 8 KOs), one of the bright newcomers on the scene, isn't remotely ready to challenge Klitschko yet, but he is nonetheless asking for the fight. His promoter, Russell Peltz, spoke with a Klitschko rep about the possibility of the bout, but those conversations didn't go far.
"I am sure there are more than a few European boxing fans who have heard of Jennings, especially after he knocked out [former titlist] Sergei Liakhovich," Peltz said. “Some of the recent names that have been tossed out there couldn't stand up to Jennings, so I do not see what the problem is with finding someone credible to fight Klitschko. Bryant has been asking for this fight for months."
He won't get it this time, but maybe it'll be there for him a couple of fights down the road, when Klitschko undoubtedly will still be the division ruler.