He stands 6´8´´ tall and weighs over 250 pounds, and yet unlike Nicolay Valuev he is never described as a circus freak. In a 13 year career, he had compiled a 38 – 2 record with 37 ko´s. One of his defeats was the result of a torn rotator cuff in his shoulder when he was a mile ahead on points (vs Chris Byrd) and his other defeat was the result of a horrific gash over his left eye when he was two rounds up ( vs Lennox Lewis). Arguably, no man has ever actually beaten him.
His knockout rate is the highest of any heavyweight champion in history. He is utterly fearless, happy to go straight into a world title fight with brutal punching Samuel Peter after four years out of the game with terrible injuries; happy to take on big, young undefeated Chris Arreola in own back yard. In both cases the result was a Klitschko win inside the distance; in both cases he didn’t lose a round!
Right now, 38 year old Vitali Kitschko must rank as one of the twenty greatest heavyweights in history. He and his brother Vladimir dominate today’s big boys, and while Vitali doesn’t quite have his brothers smooth boxing skills, he is a very good boxer in his own right, plus unlike Vladimir he has a bomb proof chin, and is ridiculously heavy handed.
I am not of the opinion that today’s heavyweight division is particularly bad. There are plenty of decent heavyweights out there, most of them Eastern European. The typical Eastern European boxer is different from fighters of the past. He is an athlete who looks at boxing as a sport. He is not the stereotypical hungry fighter who sees boxing as a way out of the ghetto or the projects. Sure, some of the Eastern Europeans come from hard, bleak backgrounds that give them that inner steel that many seem to posses. But he is also educated, vastly experienced in amateur boxing and well schooled technically. Vitali Klitschko for example, had 210 amateur fights, winning 195 of them, and he holds a PHD in sports science.
Many great American fighters got where they were through an abundance of natural talent. Have we seen an Eastern European Muhammad Ali, or even Larry Holmes? Have we seen a Russian Mike Tyson or Joe Frazier?
The Easter Europeans heavyweights may be more robotic, but that doesn’t make them bad fighters. The qualities they have are their size and strength, their toughness and their total self belief. They are a sea change away from the tragic white European heavyweights of the past. The best heavyweights from Europe in days gone by never stood a prayer against any decent black American fighter, and were defeated mentally before they stepped into the ring.
The first Eastern European heavyweight to really shake things up was Andrew Golota in the 90´s. He shocked the world by twice giving Riddick Bowe, arguably the best heavyweight in the world at the time, a terrible beating twice, knocking him down three times in two bouts, only to throw victories away in both fights with outrageous low blows. Golota was the first of a new breed of white heavyweight. Big, muscular, square jawed and dead eyed. A real life Ivan Drago from Rocky 4.
The first time I saw Vitali Kitschko, I got that same feeling; ´this guy looks scary` I thought, ´this guy looks like you could break a baseball bat over him and he wouldn’t flinch.` His opponent that night was Britain’s Herbie Hide. Herbie was the type of fighter who promised a lot both verbally and in flashy performances against lesser opponents. But when he stepped up a level, he, and his chin in particular, were found wanting. Klitschko hammered poor Herbie to defeat in two rounds. After the fight, Hide blamed a lack of quality sparring partners for his defeat. Personally I think that if even if Herbie had drafted in Ali, Foreman and Frazier in their primes, the result would have been the same.
Since then Vitali has bludgeoned his way through many of the quality heavyweights of the past ten years. Even durable heavyweights like Larry Donald and Vaughn Bean, men who hadn’t been stopped before or since, were pummeled into submission. The only man who has gone the distance with Kitscko is 6´8´´ German Timo Hoffman, and he won exactly one round out of a combined 36 on the three judges scorecards.
The one thing that Klitschko lacks at this moment that all great fighters have is a career defining victory. David Haye, Britain’s new WBA heavyweight king is correct when he says that at the moment Klitschko´s defining fight is his 6th round TKO loss to Lennox Lewis in 2003 when challenging for the WBC crown. Although he lost, the memory that sticks in my mind of that fight wasn’t just the cut above Klitschko´s eye which was the worst I have ever seen; it was the image of Lennox Lewis collapsing on his stool after the sixth round, suddenly looking like an old man. Moments later, the referee stopped the contest in Lewis favor.
There is no doubt Vitaly would like his legacy to be at least one career defining victory. As he will never fight his brother, that chance may come against David Haye. In the mean time, he must take care of business, and tonight in Berne, Switzerland before 12,000 fans at the PostFinance Arena, Klitschko defends his crown against Atlanta´s Kevin Johnson (22 – 0 -1, 9 ko´s). Klitshko is a huge favorite with the bookies, and it´s hard to see how Johnson has a prayer of beating the giant Ukrainian. Johnson doesn’t appear to lack confidence however, and was quoted as saying;
“Times are changing, ages are changing, old fighters are sitting on top with the young guys coming up, the generations are folding over. It happens every ten years. Old champions go out and get beaten by the young guy and that’s exactly what’s about to happen. We can’t control Vitali Klitschko losing, but when you get a young fighter like me you’re going to lose and pass the title on.”
But the last word should to Doctor Ironfist himself;
“It’s my first fight in Switzerland, I’ll give it my best to be the winner,” said Klitschko. “There are no predictions, it’s boxing. It’s heavyweight. Every punch can make the decision and that’s why nobody knows. Let’s see the fight and see who will be winner.”
Big Fight Odds; Vitali Klitschko 1/25 Kevin Johnson 8/1 bet365