Vitali Klitschko looks to join brother as a champ
Posted: Tuesday January 30, 2007 1:55PM; Updated: Tuesday January 30, 2007 1:59PM
Vitali Klitschko wants to make history. More precisely, he wants to make history again. "I have a vision," said Klitschko in a telephone interview from the Ukraine. "It's one I have had for a long time. I want my brother and I to be heavyweight champions at the same time."
Curious, the bonds that tie a family together. While it's true no brothers have ever worn the heavyweight belts simultaneously (and given the sheer number of belts in the heavyweight division, that's saying something), if Klitschko, who announced his return to the ring on Friday, and younger brother Wladimir, the current IBF and IBO heavyweight champ, do achieve their goal, it will not be the first time the elder Klitschko's name appears in the record books.
In 2004, Vitali was the reigning heavyweight champion, having inherited his WBC title from Lennox Lewis and successfully defending it in consecutive demolitions of Corrie Sanders and Danny Williams. But following the Williams fight in '04, Klitschko began experiencing sharp pains in his right knee. The pain was severe enough for the 6-foot-8, 250-pounder to force four postponements of his scheduled title defense against Hasim Rahman. "It wasn't painful to walk or move regularly," said Klitschko. "But when I was in the ring, turning, the pain was intense."
After being initially diagnosed with a sprained medial collateral ligament, Klitschko learned through further examination that he had a torn ACL and damage to the medial meniscus. Surgery was performed in November, after which Klitschko retired, walking away from Rahman and a $7.8 million purse. On the other hand, Klitschko became just the second heavyweight champion since Rocky Marciano to retire on top. "I had no other option," said Klitschko, who was told he was facing nine months of rehabilitation. "To be honest, I never believed I would fight again."
That didn't stop him from incessantly pondering a return. "I never stopped thinking about boxing," he said. To keep busy, Klitschko, who holds a doctorate in sports science from Kiev University, mounted an unsuccessful campaign to become mayor of Kiev (he lost to millionaire businessman Leonid Chernovetsky), worked with philanthropic causes, honed his chess game (he once hung in a game with former world champ Garry Kasparov for 31 moves) and supported his brother. In Wladimir's KO victory over Calvin Brock last month, Vitali was by his side in the week leading up to the fight and in his corner the night of the bout. "But I am a boxer," said Klitschko. "I want to fight."
Klitschko's return potentially alters the balance of power in the division. While Wladimir is considered the top heavyweight, it was Vitali who gave Lewis all he could handle in their '03 meeting (a fight seen by 4.6 million HBO viewers, the highest rated heavyweight bout since 1997) and was on course to become Lewis' heir. "I think physically he was never a guy who was used up at all," says veteran trainer Teddy Atlas. "This is a guy who quit against Chris Byrd. But he found out a truth that night. He realized that it was harder to quit than it is to fight. To his credit, he took that understanding and memory into the ring against Lewis and behaved like a pro."
Klitschko says he wants to fight for at least another year, possibly two. But his targeted return, an April date with WBC champion Oleg Maskaev, has raised a bit of a stir because that slot was supposed to go to Samuel Peter, who earned the number one contender status by defeating James Toney earlier this month. Klitschko claims the WBC designated him as its "champion emeritus" and assured him he would become the mandatory challenger if and when he decided to return. WBC president Dr. Jose Sulaiman reportedly is in favor of giving the fight to Klitschko (Sulaiman could not be reached for comment), a decision that almost certainly will lead to a lawsuit from Peter.
"It's a disgrace," says Atlas. "Every one of these organizations is corrupt. It's a joke. Peter has been mandated the number one contender, twice in fact. Now all of a sudden, because of money, it's OK for the mandated guy to be pushed aside and to give the fight to a guy who has been away for two years? These organizations have rules that say that at anytime they can forego all other rules and do whatever they want. There is actually a rule that says that. It's nuts."
Stirring the pot even more is Maskaev's assertion that he once knocked Klitschko out as an amateur. "That's funny to me," said Klitschko. "Because I don't remember it. In fact, no one around me remembers it either."
Klitschko's return also raises the possibility of a Klitschko-Klitschko mega-fight, a match both have shot down in the past (Vitali once said $50 million was not enough to get him in the ring with his brother, and the two haven't sparred together for more than 10 years.) But these days Vitali leaves the door open just a little. "One step at a time," he said. "Right now I'm focused on winning the title. But if both my brother and I share the four belts, we would talk about unification."
Ah, unification. A beautiful word. Welcome back, Vitali Klitschko.