By Kevin Iole, Special to The Washington Post
SPORTS, The Washington Post
Washington, D.C., Friday, April 9, 2004; Page D01
LAS VEGAS - They stand on the precipice of a unique accomplishment in boxing
history, something they have pined for since they were amateurs. Two
heavyweight giants, standing 6 feet 6 and 6-8, finally are set to take hold
of the sport's most glamorous division.
In a little more than two weeks, the boxing world, long eager to embrace the
Klitschko brothers, will once again see if Wladimir and Vitali are up to the
task of becoming the first brothers to simultaneously hold a share of the
Wladimir Klitschko, left, and brother Vitali, will get chance to claim parts of division title that's been splintered for years
Lucy Nicholson- Reuters
(Click on image to enlarge it)
The big Ukrainians have been here before and left empty-handed. Now that
Lennox Lewis has left the stage, the Klitschkos' large fists are once more
knocking on the door. Wladimir, 28, fights Lamon Brewster on Saturday for
the World Boxing Organization title; Vitali, 32, fights Corrie Sanders April
24 for the World Boxing Association belt.
"There are a lot of actors, but only a few stars," Vitali Klitschko said.
"The heavyweights need a star. There are a lot of good fighters, but no one
people say, 'Hey, that man is the star.' My brother and I want to be the
Lewis won all the major belts in 1999 when he beat Evander Holyfield.
Frustrated with the bureaucratic machinations of the sport, he began
vacating the titles in the years that followed. When he retired in February,
the World Boxing Council title was the last belt he held.
A well-respected champion, Lewis rarely galvanized the public with his
performances and had a knack for getting upset (it happened twice). As the
titles splintered, the public gave less credence to what was once boxing's
highest-profile weight class.
Beginning Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center here, the Klitschkos
will have a chance to change that. Four versions of the heavyweight title
will be contested over the next three weekends -- the Klitschko fights will
be sandwiched by a pay-per-view card April 17 at Madison Square Garden
featuring Chris Byrd-Andrew Golota for the International Boxing Federation
title, along with the John Ruiz-Fres Oquendo match for the World Boxing
Wladimir Klitschko, normally one of the sport's most engaging men, has
withdrawn from the public during his preparations. At Wednesday's pre-fight
news conference, he said it was simply a matter of realizing the
significance of the fight to his career.
"My brother and I for so long have wanted to be champions at the same time
and now that time is close that we can make that happen," he said.
If the Klitschkos emerge from this spate of fights with titles, veteran
boxing observers believe there might just be hope yet for the diminished
division. The brothers have the charisma the networks love and the punching
power the public craves.
They're smart, handsome and personable. They each speak four languages --
English, Ukrainian, Russian and German -- have doctorates in physical
from the University of Kiev and have co-authored a best-selling workout book
in Germany, "Fitness With Us."
"You have guys who are good fighters, but they just have belts and the
public doesn't really regard them as champions," said Sugar Ray Leonard, the
former world champion from Palmer Park who has turned to promoting the
"No one has gone out and captured the imagination of the public. And boxing
needs someone to do that and be that guy."
The brothers are certainly capable of filling that void. At times, they look
virtually unstoppable. Then there are lapses, hard-to-explain losses.
Wladimir, long felt by observers to be the more talented of the two, is 42-2
with 39 knockouts, but he has lost to Sanders and Ross Puritty. He was
knocked down four times in less than two rounds before being stopped by
Sanders a year ago. Puritty is a journeyman who never took the sport
seriously and was brought in to fight Klitschko for the sole purpose of
allowing Klitschko to look good.
Klitschko, though, lost badly to both men in fights he was expected to win
handily. He reacted by bringing in a new trainer, Hall of Famer Emanuel
Steward, Lewis's former cornerman. Steward cautions against making too much
of Wladimir's losses.
"Say what you want about him," Steward said. "But there has rarely --
rarely -- been a heavyweight who had Wladimir's size who had his ability to
move and box and punch. He's got great agility for a man his size. He's a
terrific athlete. We have some things to work on, but he's not a guy anyone
should give up on. That would be a terrible mistake."
Wladimir's usual easygoing nature has been replaced the last few months by
curtness. Interviews have been rare. At Wednesday's news conference,
Klitschko was polite but business-like, not offering a lot of insights.
"Focused on the fight," Steward said when asked how his fighter was doing
earlier this week. "He knows he can't afford any more mistakes."
Wladimir clearly understands what his past lapses have cost him.
"From nothing to everything is a very long road, but everything to nothing
is just one short step," he said.
Vitali, who built his reputation as the game's best active heavyweight with
a spirited effort in a loss to Lewis in June, insists his brother is the
world's finest fighter. But he also realizes boxing is a business of
performance. And that, he says, explains his brother's hermit-like existence
the last two months.
"Wladimir is young and still has a lot of time to go in this game. When he
prepares, there is no one like him. He is a classic boxer. I was a kick
boxer and I have a more unorthodox style. But Wladimir, he can do things in
there that nobody else can do.
"Wladimir knows he has to learn from his mistakes and improve."
Vitali believes he, too, can be more than he has been. Many felt he was
beating Lewis last June when a large cut opened near Klitschko's eye,
forcing the fight to be stopped. On April 1, 2000, he suffered his only
other loss, to Byrd, when he quit on his stool because of a torn rotator
cuff. He had a wide lead at the time and was criticized for lacking the
heart of a champion, for not gritting his teeth and fighting his way through
the pain over the last three rounds.
"I was very angry -- I still am -- that people wouldn't believe me," he
says. "I was hurt so badly, I could hardly see. I had two choices: I could
have kept going, seriously injured myself and gotten knocked out or I could
have done what I did and have a doctor fix it and then try to come back."
He's back nearly all the way now, on the verge of a title and recognition as
the man in the sport he loves.
He sighs when the subject of a fight with his brother is brought up, a more
frequent refrain with both favored to win their bouts and hold a share of
the heavyweight crown.
"We don't need to fight each other to prove anything," he said. "The best
thing to happen would be for each of us to have two. That would be the dream
FOR PERSONAL AND ACADEMIC USE ONLY