Now playing in the multiplex in Vitali Klitschko's mind is a coming attraction in which he boxes Lennox Lewis into a corner from which there is no escape. At the end of a display of tactical fireworks, Klitschko imagines hovering over the heavyweight champ like the specter of death, ready to deliver the final, fatal blow. "That is how I see chess match we play before fight," says the WBC's No. 1 contender and mandatory challenger. "First I beat Lewis on board, then we meet in ring."
As it turns out, both punchers are also patzers. Klitschko appears to be more accomplished than Lewis, having hung in with former world champ Garry Kasparov for 31 moves during a 2001 exhibition. This year he played both Vladimir Kramnik and Deep Fritz—the reigning human and computer champs, respectively—to draws.
Reared in Ukraine and based in Germany, he polishes his game against his kid brother, Wladimir. The 31-year-old Vitali is a cautious technician who relies on cool calculation; Wladimir, 26, is more adventurous, though he, too, enjoys slowly entrapping opponents in a fine mesh of hazards. "Approach to chess, boxing very similar," says Wladimir, who happens to be the WBO heavyweight champ.
If any contest reveals the limits of ego and courage as nakedly as chess, it is boxing. In either game you can run, but you can't hide. "When you make mistake on chessboard, it snowballs—more and more mistakes," Wladimir says. "Boxing is same."
The English of both Klitschko brothers is heavily accented, seldom perfect and sometimes eccentric, but it still reflects the often-impressive reasoning of intelligent men. They are surely the only ranked prizefighters with Ph.D.'s. Theirs are in sports science, conferred by the University of Kiev for physical training and sport. "In weeks before bout I study opponent's mistakes and prepare for him my counterarguments," says Wladimir. "When I see weakness, pounce."
Vitali adds, "If take too much time to make quality analysis, lose."
The sweet scientists making these pronouncements are roughly the size of the Carpathian Mountains. Vitali is 6'8"; Wladimir's an inch shorter. They each weigh about 250, with muscles that seem ready to rip through their clothes. When they sit down for lunch at a Hamburg souvlaki joint, they fill the room. In the ring, with one boxing and the other working the coiner, they fill the arena. The Klitschkos have presence.
These brawny, brainy brothers are the future—the very near future—of a painfully lightweight division. "They're the best heavyweights to appear since the 1988 Olympics," says Lewis's trainer, Emanuel Steward, a fan ever since Wladimir won super heavyweight gold at the '96 Games. "For the last decade heavyweight boxing has seen a lot of oversized American bodybuilders with no body control or fundamentals. The Klitschkos are highly coordinated big guys with solid amateur backgrounds. They're the only ones who make me nervous."
The Brothers K fit neatly into the great tradition of merciless Russian strongmen. Together they have knocked out or stopped 66 of 72 opponents. Each has one defeat: Vitali in 2000, when he tore his left rotator cuff against Chris Byrd (he was comfortably ahead on the scorecards but couldn't answer the bell for the 10th round); Wladimir in '98, on a TKO to unheralded Ross Purrity (when the younger Klitschko ran out of gas in Round 11, he too was leading on points). Both blots on the family record were later avenged by the other sibling.
The Klitschkos' plan for world domination has them ruling side by side. "Two tide belts apiece," says Vitali, who hopes to snatch Lewis's in early 2003 after dispatching Larry Donald on Nov. 23 in Dortmund, Germany. Wladimir next defends his WBO crown on Dec. 7 against Jameel McCline in Las Vegas. "Like Russian champ in Rocky IV," Vitali deadpans. "We Ivan Drago One, Two."