Klitschko routs Ibragimov, unifies IBF and WBO titles
Updated: February 24, 2008, 1:16 PM ETBy Dan Rafael | ESPN.com
NEW YORK -- At last, the heavyweight division has a unified champion.Wladimir Klitschko is that man. It was not a scintillating fight and nobody will compare it to Ali-Frazier, but Klitschko dominated pesky Sultan Ibragimov on Saturday night to win a lopsided unanimous decision before 14,011 at Madison Square Garden as he unified his world title belt with Ibragimov's. That leaves two more belts to go for Klitschko, one owned by Oleg Maskaev and the other by Ruslan Chagaev, who was ringside. But Klitschko has a leg up on them and, in a division in which he is so clearly at the top, deserves to be called the champion, not a mere titleholder. Klitschko was excited to have finally accomplished one of his primary goals of unifying belts despite the less-than-stellar bout, which he won 119-110, 118-110 and 117-111. ESPN.com also scored it for Klitschko, 118-110. "The result counts," he said. "I'm happy to get the WBO belt back because it was the first belt I won [in 2000 before losing it in 2003]." But Klitschko, who also has the IBF title, knows there is more work to do.
"I just want to continue beating everyone to unify the rest of the belts," Klitschko said. "I want to get the other two belts now." That could be tough. Chagaev is looking at a meaningless fight against journeyman Luan Krasniqi. Maskaev faces Samuel Peter on March 8 in Cancun, Mexico, and the winner will be obligated to face Vitali Klitschko, Wladimir's older brother. Still, this fight was a step in the right direction. It was the first unification bout in the division since Lennox Lewis outpointed Evander Holyfield in their 1999 rematch. And in an era when the division has been almost anonymous since the 2004 retirement of universally recognized champion Lewis -- who was ringside working HBO's broadcast -- it desperately needs a leader. Klitschko has long been regarded as the No. 1 heavyweight and now maybe, just maybe, some will call him champ. From Lewis' retirement until Saturday, the four major organizations sanctioned 33 so-called world heavyweight championship fights. So unifying has to count for something. Besides, Klitschko has reigned longer than any of the other titleholders. He has dominated in all four of his defenses. He finally picked up another belt. And he received the endorsement of vanquished Ibragimov. When asked whether he viewed Klitschko as the legitimate champion of the division, Ibragimov was on board. He nodded his head in approval. It was almost a walk in the park for Klitschko against Ibragimov, a southpaw from Russia who won the silver medal in the 2000 Olympics. Ukraine's Klitschko -- himself a gold medalist in 1996 -- beat him almost solely with his jab, a damaging, powerful left that he relied on from the opening bell. He never even threw a right hand until the fourth round. In the end, Klitschko (50-3, 44 KOs) landed 148 of 348 blows (43 percent) -- 108 of them jabs. Ibragimov (22-1-1, 17 KOs), who spent most of the fight leaning back and refusing to engage, landed only 97 of 316 blows (31 percent), not nearly enough to do any damage against 31-year-old Klitschko, who is 6-foot-5, three inches taller than Ibragimov. "I thought Klitschko was a lot faster tonight than in his last few fights," said Ibragimov, 32, whose title reign came to an end less than a year after he beat Shannon Briggs to win his title this past summer and followed it up with one defense, in October against Holyfield. "My plan was to work on being more active and come straight forward, but it was tough because this guy held a lot. I did not feel hurt at all, but I felt like Klitschko was winning." The first six rounds were as tactical and uninteresting as a prize fight can get. As the fighters circled each other and punched each other's gloves, the crowd grew restless and booed. It was hard to blame people. The booing continued into the seventh, but in the eighth, there finally was a brief burst of action as Klitschko rattled Ibragimov with combination. But the moment was all too brief. Early in the ninth, Klitschko knocked Ibragimov into the ropes and seemed to have him hurt. Ibragimov was on shaky legs and winging wild shots to no avail. Klitschko hurt him with a pair of right hands in the 11th, but the round was moments from ending and he couldn't follow up. However, Klitschko was in complete control and the second belt was just a few minutes away. Unifying belts has been so important to Klitschko that he accepted a pay cut to make the fight with Ibragimov, giving him a 50-50 deal. "To be the heavyweight champion means a lot," Klitschko said before the fight. "The title is very special and is different than other titles in sport. The heavyweight champion can use that title to inspire people outside of the ring all over the world." He's on his way. Dan Rafael is the senior boxing writer for ESPN.com.
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIKlitschko isn't about to rest on his laurels; he'd like to unify the entire heavyweight division.
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