Just how good is Vitali Klitschko?
By Stuart Young - December 17, 2009
Due to Lennox Lewis’ retirement whilst at the pinnacle of his sport, the heavyweight championship was left vacant for the first time since Rocky Marciano retired with his perfect ring record of 49-0 back in 1955.
Of the current crop of heavyweight contenders that were circling the division vying for supremacy at the time, it was deemed Vitali, due to his impressive showing against Lennox Lewis & his subsequent performance in winning a WBC title eliminator against Kirk Johnson (TKO 2) that the match-up between him & newly crowned WBC title holder, big South African Corrie Sanders, was widely regarded as the fight which would determine the ‘new’ heavyweight champion.
They met in a bout in April '04, after a 'slugfest' that lasted eight action-packed rounds it was Vitali who was to prevail, gaining revenge for little brother Wladimir, who had suffered defeat at the hands of the big South African puncher & sealing his own place as the fighter at the top of the heavyweight landscape.
Many thought Vitali was set for a long reign, but his list of victims after he won the WBC title would be short, in fact, so short it boasted just one solitary name, a win over Britain’s Danny Williams (TKO 8) before a persistent back injury eventually forced Vitali to ‘retire’ & spend four years in the boxing wilderness.
During his absence, nobody was to really come to the fore & take hold of the division & cement their status as the divisions new undisputed number one, the titles were fragmented & generally passed from one 'faceless champion' to another & the closest we had to a recognised number one was now Vitali's little brother Wladimir, who despite having his own obvious deficiencies, namely his chin, was probably the pick of the bunch.
Returning to the sport after four years of self-imposed absence, Vitali was to 'go straight in at the deep end' challenging current WBC champion 'The Nigerian Nightmare' Samuel Peter in a bout that was held at the O2 Arena in Berlin , Germany .
Vitali looked as if he had never been away, dominating & defeating Peter who was both battered & bruised before he refused to answer the bell after eight rounds of one-sided punishment. Vitali was equally efficient in stopping both Juan Carlos Gomez (TKO 9) & Chris Arreola (RTD 10) & competent in recently outpointing latest American challenger Kevin Johnson.
Vitali once again had staked his claim to being the best heavyweight on the planet.
With little brother Wladimir also holding the 'Ring magazine', IBF & WBO titles & both brothers vowing never to fight one another due to a promise made to their Mother, its safe to say that 'team Klitschko' pretty much had the heavyweight division wrapped up & both are generally regarded in boxing circles as the divisions number one & two.
Olympic Gold medallist Wladimir is seen as the more fluent & better boxer, but with this, he carries a more cautious approach to his ring work whereas Vitali is seen by many as the more durable, hard-hitting & no-nonsense brother.
To be honest, when looking at Vitali's CV it hardly contains the legendary or awe-inspiring names of champions of the past, in fact, the names read more like a who’s he than a who’s who!
But this is no fault of Vitali's as you would be hard pushed to name someone specifically that he could be accused of avoiding simply due to a dearth of talent that has plagued the heavyweight division over the last half dozen years or so.
It must grate with Vitali, but the fact remains that his fight & subsequent defeat he suffered at the hands of an aging Lennox Lewis back in 2003 still remains his most career defining fight.
In the bout Vitali met Lennox with much more gusto & resistance then was anticipated by the so-called experts, Vitali stood & traded with Lennox & matched him punch for punch & more surprisingly, he matched him for strength.
Instead of 'rolling over' & meekly surrendering (as was expected of him) Vitali turned the bout into a very competitive brawl that was stopped - with Vitali leading on the scorecards, due to the hideous facial injuries Lewis had inflicted on Klitschko resulting in Vitali looking as if he was a victim of a high speed car crash!
Vitali no doubt posed Lennox some serious questions in that bout but Lennox was able to ride out the early storm & was turning the fight around when the stoppage occurred, because of this, many called for a rematch, but Lennox, with his best days clearly behind him at 38, was content to call a halt to his career knowing he had beaten a peak Vitali Klitschko & to attempt to do so again (at six months older) would be foolish, it was a risk not worth taking after all the years he had spent building up his legacy especially when had only recently gained the respect of the American boxing writers.
Lennox , a deep thinker, chose to do what only the privileged few can do - to bow out at the pinnacle of his profession. With Lennox gone, Vitali has found himself in the shadow of a great boxer much like Holmes found when Ali retired.
To summarise, I'd like to start by saying I consider Vitali the best heavyweight of his generation, I consider him to be a much more competent fighter than his brother Wladimir, but to be brutally honest there isn't much too worthy competition that he's had to contend with. I'd have to say he's the best of a bad bunch.
How he would fare against past Heavyweights like Liston, Ali, Frazier, Norton, Shavers, Foreman, Lyle, Tyson, Tucker, Lewis, Bowe, Holyfield, Mercer & Moorer is open for debate but I can't see Vitali registering too many victories mixing with that company.
My final analysis is he's very good but far from great.