If you look at what Wladimir Klitschko has done in boxing, it's easy to see why he is one of the greatest heavyweights of all time.
As a super heavyweight, Klitschko won a gold medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics and turned pro immediately afterwards. He possesses one of the greatest records in the history of boxing at 64-4 with 53 wins by knockout. Klitschko made 18 consecutive defenses of the heavyweight championship and went 25-3 in title fights.
Even with all of those accolades, Klitschko doesn't get the credit boxing purists feel he deserves because casual fans don't believe his competition is up to snuff with other eras of heavyweight boxing. He hasn't faced anyone the caliber of Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson or George Foreman. The lack of quality competition within the division is the worst it's been in almost 70 years.
To add to that, the Ukraine native didn't help his case 17 months ago in Nov. 2015, when he lost his unified championships to Tyson Fury.
On Saturday night in front of 90,000 people at the sold-out Wembley Stadium in London, Klitschko faces the undefeated Anthony Joshua (18-8, 18 KOs) for the latter's IBF Heavyweight Championship and the vacant WBA Heavyweight Championship in the biggest heavyweight title showdown since Lennox Lewis vs. Mike Tyson in 2002.
Klitschko has done it all but he needs to defeat Joshua to cement the legacy he's built.
The 27-year-old Joshua is the most skilled boxer Klitschko has faced in his legendary career. But after seeing his age really show when he fought Fury, he's the underdog for the first time in a title fight.
It's hard to see how Klitschko wins: He's older, hasn't fought in 17 months and is coming off a loss. Joshua is 6-foot-6, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist, a skilled boxer who happens to hit a like a Mack truck.
But the one advantage Klitschko has going into the fight is his experience in high-stakes bouts. This should be nothing new for him, but the looming thought of this being his last time inside a ring could weigh on him. It is a do-or-die fight in every sense.
A loss and Klitschko rides off into the sunset and could be remembered as the guy who reigned supreme in the weakest era for the heavyweight division since the 1950's. A win and Klitschko's legacy is set and secure.
“Is it a degradation that I’m actually the challenger and the underdog in this fight after 27 years of being in the sport?” Klitschko questioned. “I don’t think so. I think it’s a great upgrade. I’m a challenger again. I’m young, hungry and totally obsessed with the idea and my goal to raise my hands again as the winner of my upcoming fight. I’m obsessed with that.”
Whether he wins or not, Klitschko should be recognized as one of the greatest heavyweights the world has ever seen.
It's unfortunate that the boxing society refuses to look at the accomplishments he's garnered, and that Klitschko needs to secure what he should already have with one last great performance.
Steven Muehlhausen is an MMA and boxing writer and contributor for Sporting News. You can find his podcast, "The Fight Club Chicago," and subscribe on iTunes. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and can find him on Twitter @SMuehlhausenMMA.