What would happen if Ukranian opposition leader Vitali Klitschko and Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to settle this international crisis the old-fashioned way — with their fists?
Both Putin and Klitschko have impressive martial arts bonafides.
Klitschko has had a sixteen year professional boxing career and is recognised as a heavyweight “champion emeritus.”
Given their extensive experience, Business Insider spoke to a pair of martial arts experts Tuesday to determine which leader would be most likely to emerge victorious if they battled inside a ring rather than in the Ukranian region of Crimea.
Professor Edwin Maley holds an 8th dan black belt in judo. He has spent over 60 years teaching judo and was honored as the Black Belt Hall of Fame’s Judo Instructor of the Year in 1980. Maley laughed when we explained we were consulting him about a hypothetical matchup between Klitschko and Putin.
“You’re going back to the days of biblical times when David fought Goliath,” Maley said. “They would get the wars over that way, they wouldn’t fight each other, they’d just have two people come out and fight.”
Maley said he traveled to Japan with Gene Lebell, a famous judo teacher who participated exhibitions between judoka and fighters from other disciplines 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s to promote the sport. These bouts convinced Maley skilled judokas have an edge on pro boxers.
“Gene LeBell, in 1961 I think it was, fought a ranking light heavyweight boxer four rounds and choked him out in the fourth round,” Maley recounted. “Basically, a good judoka usually can beat a boxer pretty good.”
However, their fighting styles and political allegiances aren’t the only differences between Klitschko and Putin. Standing at 6’7″, Klitschko would have a substantial height advantage over Putin, who is reportedly 5’7″. Still, Maley said a talented enough judoka can overcome a major difference in size.
“When I won the East Coast championship. I fought somebody that weighed 320 pounds and I weighed 150,” Maley explained. “Putin, if he was good enough, could overcome size.”
Brian Michelino is a gym manager and instructor at Long Island MMA in Farmingdale, N.Y. who told Business Insider he has trained and competed in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for “about a good five years.” Michelino said a judoka would generally have an advantage against a boxer of comparable skill.
“If all things were equal, if it was two people who have a similar amount of experience who are competing, I think judo could win,” said Michelino. “It’s like if you watch the first few UFC’s, I think if you don’t know the ground game, you’re going to kind of get drowned.”
Though he predicted a judoka would likely have an edge against a well-matched boxer, Michelino bet Putin would get “crushed” in a fight with Klitschko. In spite of Putin’s love of martial arts, Michelino said he doubted a career politician would be as well-conditioned as a professional athlete like Klitschko.
“If we’re talking about a realistic scenario here where you have a professional boxer versus a politician … no one’s going to put their money on Putin. I think they’d have to go with Klitschko on that,” Michelino said. “If we’re talking about top judo players like, you know, Satosho Ishii, or we have a big guy here named Steve Sciandria, those guys would give Klitschko a run for his money, but I don’t think Vladimir Putin would.”
Michelino added that, as a practitioner of jiu jitsu, if anything he would be biased in Putin’s favour.
“I’m a jiu jitsu guy, so jiu jitsu is like one step away from judo and I’m still telling you that Klitschko would win.”
Height isn’t the only area where Klitschko has a physical advantage against Putin. The Russian leader is 61-years-old while Klitschko is just 42. With that age difference, Michelino argued there was no level of conditioning where Putin would be able to defeat Klitschko.
“I don’t even think if he was an Olympian he would be able to pull it off,” Michelino said of Putin.
For his part, Maley maintained Putin had a “good chance” and cited the fact Putin had a strong enough disposition to take power in Russia. Maley attributed this to Putin’s martial arts background.
“He got his way because of judo,” said Maley. “That helped spring him up.”
Maley believes judo helped put Putin in power, but he also suggested it might be able to influence the Russian leader to stand down in the Ukraine.
“I was just thinking today, if all of the judokas got together and wrote a letter to Putin and asked him to cut out the garbage, you know?” Maley said. “Asked him to give way, you know, for the mutual welfare and benefit of judo.”
Ultimately, it sounds like due to conditioning, Klitschko probably has the edge.
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