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The word unconventional does not necessarily have a negative connotation in the English language, but in boxing circles it's rarely a compliment. Fighters who don't adhere to the hands-by-the-chin, jab-emanating-from-the-jaw philosophy that is preached in gyms around the world tend to be derided—even cursed. Well, the unconventional set now has an invigorated symbol of success. With his hands dangling at his hip and his chin jutting past his shoes, WBC champion Vitali Klitschko scored a 10th-round TKO over Chris Arreola last Saturday at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Klitschko, 38, reaffirmed his status as the No. 2 heavyweight in the world, ranking behind only his brother, Wladimir.
Brandishing his left hand as if it were attached to a swivel and pounding Arreola's face with thudding rights, the 6'6", 252-pound Klitschko (38--2) dominated. Arreola, a 28-year-old from Riverside, Calif., had come into the bout with a record of 27--0 and a reputation as the most promising American heavyweight. But the 6'2" fighter also came in at a lumpy 251 pounds and had little to offer. He muttered to himself after absorbing each combination, as if trying to use his mouth to convince his mind that his body could take the punishment. With blood flowing from Arreola's nose and from cuts on his face, his trainer, Henry Ramirez, stopped the fight. "[Klitschko] adapted; he used his skills the way he was supposed to," said Arreola. "Plain and simple, he beat my ass."
Klitschko has now had three fights since injuries forced him into a four-year retirement. Always a potent puncher—his 92.5 knockout percentage is a heavyweight record—he has made improving his footwork a priority. Against Arreola he moved nimbly, avoiding the challenger's wild swings while frequently countering with precision shots of his own. Klitschko connected 301 times, Arreola 86. "He can punch and move and has a way of pushing you out of position," says veteran trainer Emmanuel Steward. "He's different from any heavyweight I've seen."
Even Klitschko's training methods are unorthodox. During an eight-week training camp, he swam 12 100-meter repeats twice a week at a UCLA pool. In addition Klitschko spent an hour a day on "circle drills," which consisted of moving between stations of push-ups and sit-ups without a break. "His footwork is the best it's ever been," says Klitschko's trainer, Fritz Sdunek. "I think this was his best fight."
Klitschko's immediate goal is to win the WBA title held by Russia's Nicolay Valuev. After that he says he will sit down with his brother, the 33-year-old IBF and WBO champion, and "figure out who is stronger." Could that mean that a Klitschko-Klitschko fight—which the brothers have long ruled out—is a possibility?
"I'm not going to say," says Vitali with a smile. "Let me win the title first."
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Check out Robert Beck's photo gallery from Klitschko-Arreola at SI.com/bonus