at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Hamburg – World heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko successfully defended his IBF, WBA and WBO titles on Saturday with a unanimous points victory over Polish challenger Mariusz Wach.
The 36-year-old Klitschko was awarded the fight 120-107, 120-107, 119-109 to win his 22nd world title bout and boost his record to 50 knock-outs and 58 wins in 61 bouts.
“It was great to have Rocky here, thank you for your support,” said Klitschko with Hollywood actor Sylvester Stallone ringside in Hamburg to see the fight against Wach, dubbed 'The Viking'.
“He really is 'The Viking' he took a few shots, but kept fighting on, so respect to him.”
For the first time in his career, Klitschko faced a taller opponent, giving away four centimetres to the 2.02m tall Wach, who tipped the scales at 113.8 kilos (251 pounds), compared to Klitschko's 112kgs (247).
This was Klitschko's first fight since the death of his coach Emanuel Steward, who passed away at the end of October in his home town of Detriot after surgery for cancer.
“After my last fight in July, we all sang 'Happy Birthday' to Emanuel, but now he is gone and I want to pay tribute to him,” added Klitschko.
“He was a great man and we will never forget him.”
After a quiet start, the fight burst into life with a sharp right from the Polish fighter at the end of the fifth as Wach pinned the champion on the ropes and unleashed a fierce volley of punches which rattled Klitschko.
Klitschko followed his corner's advice to keep moving in the sixth and used his superior fitness to start landing some telling right-hand shots.
The champion finished the seventh round with a good combination and kept up the punishment with several crashing rights to pin Wach to the ropes with the challenger barely defending himself.
Having taken so many shots, it seemed a matter of time before referee Eddie Cotton ended the fight, but Wach soaked up the punishment and Klitschko slowed his pace in the ninth and tenth round, landing only the occasional hard right.
Klitschko started the 11th with a flurry of punches and a good combination, but Wach held on to take the fight into the 12th and final round, when a crashing right rocked him back, but the Polish giant would not fall.
“That was the hardest fight of my life, he's a tough fighter,” said an emotional Wach, who suffered the first defeat of his career having previously had 15 knock-outs in 27 wins.
“This was the biggest fight of my life and I am just so sorry that I couldn't win it.” – Sapa-AFP