NEW YORK With one round to go in a drearily dominant performance, even Wladimir Klitschko's trainer implored him to provide a thrill for a whistling, booing Madison Square Garden crowd that had been promised heavyweight action.
"You have to knock him out, or this is going to be bad," Emanuel Steward pleaded with Klitschko in an exchange picked up by HBO's microphones before the final round of his fight with Sultan Ibragimov.
Klitschko wouldn't do it, sticking with his plan to slap and poke his smaller opponent into oblivion. He might not always be exciting, but he's probably the best heavyweight around and he's one belt closer to being the undisputed champion.
Far too strong and much too long, Klitschko barely took a punch while winning a unanimous decision Saturday night, defending his IBF title and claiming Ibragimov's WBO belt in the first heavyweight unification fight in nearly nine years.
"I'm happy to have three belts," said Klitschko, who also holds the IBO title. "I'm happy to get the WBO belt back. That was the first title I had."
Klitschko, the chess-playing Ph.D. from a famed Ukrainian fighting family, used physics and simple geometry to remove nearly all risk from his meeting with Ibragimov, the previously unbeaten Russian underdog. The 6-foot-7 Klitschko is at least a half-foot taller and 20 pounds heavier than Ibragimov, who constantly appeared to be flailing against a mean-spirited older brother.
With little more than an insistent jab, Klitschko (50-3, 44 KOs) slapped and herded Ibragimov around the ring in front of a crowd of 14,011 filled with Russians who grumbled and jeered during the frequent stretches of inaction.
"He was very difficult to fight," Klitschko said. "He kept backing off. He's very careful, but the result counts."
Ibragimov (22-1-1) constantly strained to launch punches too small and slow to find their mark, and Klitschko appeared fresh and mostly unmarked at the final bell even ready to go another 12 rounds with WBA champion Ruslan Chagaev, WBC champ Oleg Maskaev or contender Samuel Peter, the next opponents on his quest for heavyweight unity.
Klitschko is determined to bring order to boxing's fractured former glamour division by winning every major title. He appeared capable of the task in the most significant heavyweight fight in several years, winning his eighth straight bout and asserting his pre-eminence atop a division that has lacked an eminent champion since Lennox Lewis' retirement.
From the opening round, Klitschko used his long left arm to slap down Ibragimov's jabs with a patronizing ease. Klitschko also repeatedly stepped on Ibragimov's lead foot, further nullifying the smaller fighter's hopes of getting inside Klitschko's incredible reach.
Klitschko dominated nearly every round but did little significant damage until the eighth, when he staggered Ibragimov with a big left hook. Ibragimov slipped to the canvas later in the round, and Klitschko battered Ibragimov into the ropes early in the ninth.
Ibragimov seemed just as frustrated as the paying customers.
"I thought he was a lot faster than he was in his last few fights," Ibragimov said. "My plan was to work on being more active and come straight forward, but of course it was tough. This guy held a lot. ... He didn't jab at all. He just chopped and grabbed all fight. I didn't feel hurt at all, but I did feel Klitschko was winning."
Don Ackerman scored it 119-110 for Klitschko, while Chuck Giampa saw the fight 117-111 and Steve Weisfeld favored Klitschko 118-110. The Associated Press also scored it for Klitschko, 119-109.
Klitschko landed 44 percent of his 245 jabs, according to punch statistics that improbably credited Ibragimov with 81 power punches. Ibragimov landed just 97 total punches, while Klitschko averaged just 29 punches per round.
Boxing hasn't had an undisputed heavyweight champion since Lewis beat Evander Holyfield in November 1999 to gain the distinction he held for all but seven months until his final fight, a win over Klitschko's older brother, Vitali, in June 2003. Lewis, still quite comfortable in retirement, watched the fight from ringside as an HBO broadcaster.
As he showed even before toying with Ibragimov, Klitschko is serious about his plan to become a household name as the unified face of the heavyweight division. He took a pay cut to entice Ibragimov into the bout, and he already has said he'll next set his sights on Chagaev, who attended the fight, or the winner of Maskaev's WBC title bout with Peter in Cancun in two weeks.
But after the fight, Klitschko claimed the winner of Maskaev's bout with Peter should fight his older brother, Vitali, who hasn't been in the ring since December 2004.
The division has been divided ever since Lewis' retirement, with four largely unknown fighters from the former Soviet Union holding the four significant belts in recent months. Though the overall heavyweight talent level is thought to be better than in recent years, none of boxing's biggest bruisers are well known to casual fight fans.
Ibragimov has made marked improvements in his 18 months under trainer Jeff Mayweather, transforming from an undersized brawler into a fairly clever left-handed strategist. He won his title last year by outpointing Shannon Briggs, whose size advantages weren't worth much against Ibragimov's precision punches.