The Pugilist

Can anyone succeed the Klitschko dynasty?

Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko show off their gold

In 2003 and 2004, brothers Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko suffered defeats in the ring. Elder sibling Vitali was unsuccessful in challenging heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis in the Brit's final bout before retirement. Wladimir, meanwhile, was stopped first by the late Corrie Sanders and then, in a shock result, by Lamon Brewster.

Almost a decade later, the duo, who boasted impressive fight records before the respective rough patch for both, have almost monopolised the maximum-weight championship scene and the thought of someone, anyone, doing what Lewis or Sanders or even Brewster did has become inconceivable.

Unfortunately, despite the brothers being more than deserving of their dominance and being exemplary ambassadors outside the ring, the lack of a real challenge to their position has caused damage to the reputation and interest of what was once the sport's flagship weight division.

Part of the problem is of course something the Klitschkos have no control over: the depth (or lack thereof) in quality of their peers. You can only fight what is put in front of you, whether there is a chasm in ability or not, whether there's an argument to be made of a more worthy adversary being overlooked or not.

The groans of the majority of the fanbase which met Vitali and Wlad's last title defences were a snowball of many of their prior wins. The predictability. The one-sidedness. The lack of excitement or suspense when the opening bell sounded.

And yet, in many circles, offering a title opportunity to a man who had won all 21 of his previous fights, regardless of who exactly he had beaten, would be regarded as fair.

That wasn't the case when Vitali took on, and subsequently brutalised, Manuel Charr on September 8.

And in many circles, organising a return match between two men who had a decent contest the first time around, with the original winner showing rare flashes of trouble and vulnerability at times, would be accepted as logical business.

Not so much when Wladimir enjoyed a far smoother win the second time around over a 40-year-old Tony Thompson back in July.

The struggle to captivate the punter would appear to be an issue which the brothers are more than aware of, if we are to read into their willingness to do business with — and reportedly consider repeat business with — boxers with inferior form but superior mainstream awareness, such as the controversial David Haye and Dereck Chisora.

A cynical but unfortunately not to be discounted possibility is that they are more than happy to take on the easiest possible assignments until they decide they are ready to ride off into the sunset, leaving the belts on the floor behind them.

Should they indeed make it to retirement as champions, as Lewis did, would the heavyweight division really recover from losing two boxers who stood head and shoulders above the rest of the field?

Tale of the tape: Klitschko v Wach

The coming 12-to-24 months could be a crucial period, with regards to that concern. Wladimir defends his five titles on Saturday in Hamburg against Poland's Mariusz Wach, a challenger with a record of 27-0 and 15 knockouts who despite his unbeaten run has drawn comparisons to Charr, as far as exactly how much (or little) of a fight he can offer a Klitschko.

But if he can at the very least make Wladimir work for his win — whether he lasts the distance, becomes one of the few boxers to make his way inside Wlad's fortress-like reach or maybe even startles the linear champ with some good clean strikes — he has the chance to gain acceptance in defeat.

That would help the division in itself. As was the initial notion that Britain's own Tyson Fury and Russian native Denis Boytsov, two more undefeated heavies who have yet to be truly tested, would battle each other in December for the right to be next to challenge Vitali.

Like with many positive, logical plans in boxing, however, it proved too good to be true — at least for the time being. Waldermar Kluch, CEO of Boytsov's promoters Universum, announced a few days after the initial story that his man would not be 100% fit to participate in a bout of such magnitude until sometime next year.

One can only hope such a 'proving-ground' fight will happen at some point, and that the practice of heavyweight eliminators continues. The fighters need as much legitimisation as possible, as soon as possible. Anything that helps any contenders prepare for the spotlight — and the Klitschko jab — is of urgent importance.

Vitali was unable to take the proverbial torch directly from Lennox's grasp that night at the Staples Center, but nonetheless made his mark as a great champion regardless. It looks like any successors to the Klitschko dynasty may well have to do the same.

COMING UP THIS WEEKEND:

Another fighter in need of momentum is light heavyweight Nathan Cleverly.

Tale of the tape: Cleverly v Hawk

The Welshman surged to prominence — and the WBO title — on the back of a series of hard-hitting performances on Frank Warren supercards around the turn of the decade, peaking with a contentious majority-decision belter against natural rival Tony Bellew one year ago.

But injuries and promotional wrangles have resulted in a tough 2012 for the Cardiff maths graduate, and he ends the calendar year with a potential banana skin in the form of American Shawn Hawk, a late replacement following a catalogue of ditched plans for his next fight.

With little to gain outside of another title defence and everything from his belt to his reputation to lose, Clev will hope to see off 'The Sioux Warrior' and make 2013 a better year.

Once again there are numerous world titles being decided, beginning on Friday when Chris John defends his 'Super' WBA featherweight title against Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo in Singapore.

And above Cleverly-Hawk on the bill in Los Angeles are two more title bouts as Abner Mares defends his WBC junior featherweight title against Anselmo Moreno and Victor Zaleta challenges Leo Santa Cruz for his IBF bantamweight crown.

As always, you can read up on all the title fight results on the Yahoo!-Eurosport website.