Klitschko vs Jennings: Will it solve heavyweight champion's identity crisis in U.S?Written by Leroy Cleveland
Will Wladimir Klitschko (63-3, 53KOs) be a rock star in America after all?
Will Bryant Jennings (19-0, 10 KO)?
Klitschko and Jennings will square off at Madison Square Garden on April 25 and the fight will be broadcast live on HBO.
On the line, of course, will be Klitschko's lineal heavyweight title and the bout will serve as his first in the U.S. in over seven years.
Klitschko is a 'rock star' in Germany and in other parts of Europe and when he fights, regardless of the opponent or venue's location, it's an "event" in the 'Land of Chocolate' not unlike The Kentucky Derby and NCAA Final Four in the United States.
However, Wlad is hardly a mainstream celebrity here and his popularity is modest at best, despite his tremendous success in the ring. In fact, a heavyweight champion hasn't been mainstream in the States since Lennox Lewis retired in 2004.
Consider this: Sans Hasim Rahman, who was champion for a few months in 2001, every lineal or undisputed heavyweight champion prior to 2004 was probably a mainstream sports figure in the U.S. just as Tom Brady and LeBron James are today.
Even those who didn't follow boxing - or sports in general - were quite familiar with names like Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, Mike Tyson, Rocky Marciano, Larry Holmes and Evander Holyfield.
The Spinks brothers may have been two of boxing's lesser accomplished heavyweight champions and have been retired for decades, but most Americans over 30 can probably associate the name with boxing.
But when Wladimir Klitschko, a fighter with far more ring accolades than the Spinkes, made his 17th title defense in November by knocking out top contender Kubrat Pulev of Bulgaria, the Ukrainian received little or no mainstream coverage in the U.S., aside from HBO.
Despite his dominance, Wlad, among Americans, has thus far failed to garner the respect and admiration of previous champions.
Why is it important?
The heavyweight title is the most coveted in all of sports. But when the average person on the street has no clue who carries that distinction, the sport, not just the division, losses luster.
Will Klitschko vs Jennings help restore some of boxing's lost luster in the U.S? And will Jennings, like Buster Douglas following his knockout over Tyson, become a star over night should he orchestrate the upset?