T HE Klitschko brothers have taken care of the old, the young, the unknown and all genuine contenders in a reign of disdain and now they have no opponents left for their seemingly endless run of world heavyweight title fights.
Vitali, an inch taller than his brother and five years older, is unbeaten in his last 12 championship fights going back nine years, while Wladimir has not lost in 13 title fights stretching back to 2004.
Their combined domination reached a low earlier this month in Moscow when Vitali never broke sweat in retaining his WBC title, and looked embarrassed when Beirut's Manuel Charr was saved by the referee in round four.
Heavyweight boxing has been through lean periods before when challengers have been recycled and so-called legitimate contenders have been invented for the purposes of a blockbuster. The difference now is that not a single fighter with a genuine claim has been ignored, and that is unique in the heavyweight business.
When Joe Louis went on his beautifully dubbed Bum of the Month tour in the 1940s, there were real fighters waiting for the right moment to get their chance at the title. It was the same during the disjointed reigns of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier; they both plundered the vaults for easy pay-days, but when they had to fight, when the public demanded a showdown, they obliged.
"The Klitschkos seem to have run out of options," said David Price, the current British and Commonwealth heavyweight champion. "Some of their opponents have perhaps fallen a bit short; saying that, I'm not sure what I would do if they called me."
Price, who defends his titles against Audley Harrison on October 13 in Liverpool, certainly has a better pedigree than Charr, but probably needs more time to avoid joining the pile of battered challengers.
It is this shortage of young and genuine American challengers that is causing the most concern. There remain a few old men, veterans of different decades, who have often bravely thrown themselves face first into the lost cause when standing opposite a Klitschko. In 2010 Shannon Briggs survived 12 rounds with Vitali, losing every one before the final bell saved him, and he was moved to a hospital bed to recover from his savaging. In 1998 Lennox Lewis crushed Briggs in five rounds.
There are currently two unbeaten and relatively young Americans waiting for the right moment, but neither Deontay Wilder, who is unbeaten in 25 with 25 knockouts, or Seth Mitchell, unbeaten in 26, is ready for what the Klitschko brothers are capable of.
A couple of wealthy American businessman are currently spending cash, trying to manufacture a heavyweight to break the iron grip of the Ukrainian pair. However, one of their creations boxed for America at the Olympics in London, losing his first fight and showing little promise.
David Haye, who lost to Wladimir last year and then blamed a broken toe, is the world's leading contender. He is looking for a fight against Vitali and certainly announced his intentions in July when he knocked out Dereck Chisora in a night of thrills at Upton Park. A few months earlier Vitali had been made to stand and fight and looked old at times when he beat Chisora on points over 12 rounds.
"I'm the only one left, the only man that can beat Vitali and he knows it. That is why he will not give me the fight," said Haye, whose long-running verbal skirmishes with the Klitschko brothers, and Vitali in particular, go back to 2008.
In addition to Haye, there is an alternative trio of leading British heavyweights in Chisora, Price and Tyson Fury. The quartet, it could be argued, are all inside the top six or so in the world. They would, for instance, beat Charr and take care of Mariusz Wach, the Polish exile who fights Wladimir for the WBA, IBF, IBO and WBO titles in November. Wach and Charr are surely two of the least known challengers to fight back-to-back heavyweight championship contests. There is also Alexander Povetkin, the 2004 Olympic champion and holder of a portion of the WBA title. The Russian can fight, is arguably No 3 in the world and is the only man with a realistic claim that he is being overlooked.
The Klitschko control of the heavyweight division (they promote their own fights) brings rich rewards in Germany where they have been based since 1996. Their fights can attract TV audiences in excess of 15 million and they regularly fight in front of crowds of 40,000 or more. The reality is that they have not needed American patronage for a long, long time.
Klitschkos struggling for competition as the well runs dry