Wladimir Klitschko had to go the distance to defend his WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight belts by decision against Mariusz Wach of Poland on Saturday.
The 2.02 meter Wach was the tallest opponent Klitschko has faced in his 16-year professional career, but offered little threat against the faster and 2kg lighter Ukrainian.
The judges scored it 120-107, 120-107 and 119-109 to Klitschko, who was troubled only at the end of the fifth round, when Wach surprised him with a right hook before a flurry of punches left the defending champion on the ropes.
“He caught me in the fifth, but then I slipped,” said Klitschko, who was left with a small cut under his left eye and must have been relieved to hear the bell.
Klitschko left the 32-year-old Wach wobbling in the seventh with a devastating right blow followed by a series of combinations. Wach somehow hung on.
The two-time Polish champion was clearly in trouble in the next, when Klitschko was delivering punches at will and it seemed only a matter of time before he ended it.
Wach displayed incredible stamina to continue, but his only hope was for a lucky punch that never came.
“That was the hardest fight of my career,” said Wach, who dropped to 27-1 (15 KOs) after his first loss. “I want to apologize to everyone for not living up to expectations. I really wanted to win. Thank you so much to my family.”
The 36-year-old Klitschko said Wach “boxed brilliantly.”
Klitschko improved to 59-3 (51 KOs) after his first bout since the death of his longtime trainer and friend Emanuel Steward.
“I want to remember one man, who can’t be here today unfortunately. Emanuel Steward, we miss you, we’re thinking of you,” Klitschko said.
Fans also paid tribute to the late American before the bout when the bell was rung 10 times in his memory. Steward, who was in Klitschko’s corner for nine years, died at the age of 68 on Oct. 25.
“It was hard for [Wladimir], very hard,” said Vitali Klitschko, referring to his younger brother’s preparations following Steward’s death.
The older Klitschko, who holds the WBC belt, said the fight “was unbelievably brutal. [Wach] just didn’t want to fall. He somehow kept standing.”
Sylvester Stallone greeted fans beforehand as part of the promotional campaign for the Rocky musical, which opens in Hamburg on Sunday.
MARES VS MORENO
AFP, LOS ANGELES
Mexico’s unbeaten Abner Mares retained his World Boxing Council super bantamweight title on Saturday with a unanimous decision over Panama’s Anselmo Moreno at the Staples Center.
Mares, keen to keep World Boxing Association bantamweight world champion Moreno from finding his groove, attacked relentlessly and sent the challenger to the canvas in the fifth round — the first time Moreno had been knocked down in his career.
Two judges scored it 116-110 and the third saw it 120-106 for Mares, a former bantamweight world champion who was making the first defense of the belt he claimed with a unanimous decision over Eric Morel in El Paso, Texas, in April.
Moreno fell to 33-2-1 with 12 knockouts and said he thought the fight was closer than the scores indicated.
However, Mares said he was not surprised by the decisive nod from the judges.
“I felt my pressure, my aggression, was getting the best of Anselmo,” Mares said. “He was just backing up. The only time he was taking advantage and taking control of the fight was when I was waiting too long.”