Wladimir Klitschko suffered a shock defeat to Tyson Fury on Sunday night, but why and what next? George Nicholas was in Düsseldorf to analyze Klitschko's defeat and the possible repercussions.
As Wladimir Klitschko sat at the post-fight press conference in Dusseldorf, his right eye glanced dejectedly over at the world heavyweight title belts he, by now, must surely be so used to carrying. His left eye proceeded to swell up, having been cut during his unanimous decision defeat to the new WBA, WBO, IBF, IBO and The Ring champion, Tyson Fury. As the eye progressively closed up during the conference, Klitschko's passion for a sport he has dominated for 11 years appeared to shut as well.
Klitschko and his brother Vitali have been remarkable ambassadors for professional boxing for over a decade, but nothing lasts forever. After watching 'Dr. Steelhammer' almost effortlessly defend his title on many an occasion in recent years, many boxing fans assumed his reign would end only when he, like his brother, decided it was time.
There is no disguising the fact that Wladimir had grown pretty comfortable with his surroundings. Lean back, jab, lean back, grab - and if the opponent's spirit is broken or his stamina lets him down, move in for a merciless finish. The 39-year-old could easily have continued this pattern as champion for another dozen or so title defenses. The problem is, he no longer has a title to defend. Tyson Fury became the first man to execute an effective gameplan that took the fight away from the man Tyson referred to as a 'control freak'. He outwitted, out-moved and outworked Klitschko, exposing his lack of a 'Plan B' in the process.
Next spring, just a few months from now, Wladimir turns 40. Age is indeed just a number, as the likes of 50-year-old Bernard Hopkins has proved, but it's a number with a certain degree of influence. Forty isn't too old to have a major boxing title fight or two, but it's probably too old for someone to climb the mountain they sat comfortably atop for many years.
There were more hugs than punches from Klitschko on a night when he was beaten in every respect by the younger Fury.
New year, new plan?
Wladimir, Vitali and their representatives all confirmed afterwards that the former champion does indeed have a rematch clause. After a Christmas break, the general belief is Klitschko will want the chance to extract revenge on Fury - especially as it has been reported that the clause states the rematch would also take place in Germany.
It was in Germany though, that Fury was able to prove just how reliant Klitschko had become on his one gameplan. Unless Wlad comes back merely to cash in on what would be a lucrative second showdown with the new champion, he would need to start from square one all over again.
The last time questions were raised over the younger Klitschko's abilities was in 2003 and 2004. Knockout defeats to Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster forced a change and his response was perfect. Klitschko re-invented his style to cover his weaknesses and ended up beginning a decade of dominance.
Back then though, he was 28 - just a shade younger than Fury is now - and he was not the European colossus he is today. Or, at least, he was until the defeat in Dusseldorf, when you could almost hear the local fans deflate as their hero meandered through 12 rounds, struggling to retain his usual control of the situation.
Christmas will be a decisive holiday for Wladimir this year. Both time with his partner Hayden Panettiere and newborn daughter and discussions of non-boxing projects with his brother may bring him to the conclusion that attempting to re-invent his fighting style a second time just isn't worth it. The nature of their first fight suggests that's exactly what he would have to do if he were to even stand a chance of reclaiming his title.
If Klitschko does call time on his career, his place in heavyweight-boxing history should not be hampered by the predictable and indifferent nature of his fights. His reign and the class he displayed both in and out of the ring will be a tough act for any future champions to replicate.