- Brian Doogan
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HAMBURG, Germany -- Wladimir Klitschko is a plausible heavyweight titleholder -- 32 years old, 6-foot-6½, 241 pounds, 45 knockouts in 54 fights -- but the heavyweight division remains boxing's circus act.
"We are just waiting for the eruption of the next great heavyweight," said Lennox Lewis, the last great champion of an erstwhile formidable domain, after watching Klitschko in action.
In the meantime, it seems like we are waiting periodically for them to send in the clowns.
True, Klitschko took care of business and, finally, took out Tony "The Tiger" Thompson in the penultimate round of another forgettable fight for a portion of a prize, which was once the richest in sports.
But the drama has long since evolved into parody.
Thompson secured a shot at Klitschko's titles merely by hanging around long enough to be considered worthy. His list of victims included some who might have struggled to handle a quarrel in a pub in their own hometowns.
Klitschko offers a glimmer of respectability, at least, in all of this wasteland. He is aware of the image problem which heavyweight boxing has created for itself and he would love to rekindle the flame that burned brightly on special nights dominated by Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Lewis.
Aesthetically, Klitschko-Thompson left plenty to be desired. Exciting exchanges inside the Color Line Arena were sporadic but, occasionally, he jabbed well and threw his right hand with conviction. A clash of heads in Round 2 drew blood onto the faces of both men, but the fight was not the ugly, passionless encounter which so tortured the patrons of Madison Square Garden in February, when Klitschko tediously outpointed Russia's Sultan Ibragimov.
Certainly, he betrayed signs of tiring, even as Thompson was running out of steam completely, but he retained just enough vim in his right hand to knock out his challenger at 1:38 of Round 11.
If champions are like volcanoes, which erupt every once in a while, as Lewis suggested, it is clear that we are still waiting for Klitschko to transform himself into Mount Vesuvius, which brought ruin to Pompeii.
"Klitschko is predictable," David Haye told ESPN.com. The world cruiserweight champion who took time out of his preparations for his heavyweight debut in November to be at ringside. "He just paws away with his long left and every so often he throws his right, but it's all slow motion and you can see it coming a mile away.
"I know what he is going to do before he even does it. He's like Enzo Maccarinelli [whom Haye stopped in the second round in March] in that I could anticipate his moves and counter and, believe me, I will be faster and more powerful at heavyweight. I will be Wladimir Klitchko's worst nightmare and I am gunning for him. If he fights me the way he fought tonight, he won't go three rounds."
Haye saw some deficiencies in Klitschko's defence and he was unimpressed with the way he threw his jab for long stretches.
"Tony Thompson was pretty abysmal and he could not do anything to take advantage of Klitschko's errors," Haye said. "The man has the perfect style for me and I want to fight him next before someone else gets in my way."
Next up for Klitschko will be Alexander Povetkin, an undefeated Olympic gold medalist from Russia whose career is being promoted by German impresario Wilfried Sauerland. In his most recent bout in January, Povetkin beat American Eddie Chambers on points but demonstrated a conspicuous lack of knockout power and ferocity.
Klitschko ought to walk through such an opponent.
He should dominate against the likes of Ruslan Chagaev, Nicolay Valuev and even Samuel Peter, but this is not his way.
In an era of clowns, boxing fans are looking for a heavyweight ring master. Klitschko has all of the attributes -- but is the danger man Haye?
As the Englishman departed for his training camp in Cyprus, his smile suggested that he saw no peril in preparing for a big night down the road with the big man from Ukraine.
Brian Doogan is a sportswriter for the London Sunday Times and is the longtime European correspondent for The Ring magazine.
5hAdam Rubin and Kieran Darcy