By Ivan G. Goldman
Vitali Klitschko, who turns 42 next Friday, is the Rodney Dangerfield of the fight world — he can’t get no respect. Some U.S. boxing writers proudly announce that they hate the way he fights. It’s quite remarkable when you consider he knocked out almost everyone he ever faced. U.S. fight writers who don’t declare their aversion to Vitali outright generally pay him no attention. Yet he’s nothing less than a phenomenon, one of the great fighters of our time.
In this sport there is nothing more valuable than a consistent ability to get the other guy out of there ahead of schedule. Yet “experts” often fail to take this into account when Vitali is concerned. Plus, these same analysts tend to mimic each others’ opinions.
In his 17-year career Vitali never ducked anybody except his brother Wladimir. They have a well-known mutual ducking pact imposed by their mother, but no, they don’t fear one another. They used to have hellacious sparring contests before their mom made them stop. Like most champions, they are fierce competitors.
Although they suffer a conspiracy of silence in the U.S., where sometimes they can’t even get a national network to televise their European fights, the Klitschkos are greatly respected in Europe. Their greatest crime, apparently, is to win fights so easily. To untrained or jaded eyes it makes all their opponents look inept, but that’s just not so.
Vitali — Dr. Ironfist –has suffered only two losses in 47 professional contests — one when he injured his shoulder against Chris Byrd, and the other when Lennox Lewis tore half his face open with a punch. Although the eyeball was in its socket, it looked touch and go. He was ahead on all cards in both contests, and required post-fight surgery in each instance. Since his loss to Lewis in June 2003 Vitali has won 13 bouts. Only three went the distance. One of those opponents, Dereck Chisora, only made it to the final bell because Klitschko injured the same shoulder that forced him to quit against Byrd. His disgust with the ungentlemanly Chisora was so deep he said afterward he’d rather die than quit against him.
Usually fighters’ knockout ratios go down as they reach the top because they face better and better opposition. Vitali, 45-2 (41 KOs), has stopped 87 percent of his opponents overall and 77 percent in those last 13 contests.
Vitali has also has been plagued by injuries throughout his career, which is one reason his brother is usually ranked ahead of him. Plus Wladimir, 60-3 (51 KOs), has three of the four premium heavyweight titles, leaving Vitali the WBC belt. Wladimir is generally considered to be the brother who’s faced tougher opposition, but it’s Vitali who toughed it out against Lewis, another great heavyweight who was underappreciated during his career. It was when he was under pressure to give Vitali a rematch that Lewis retired.
Wladimir looks somewhat more graceful than his older brother in the ring, and may have an even bigger punch. Both brothers wear down their opponents with telephone pole jabs and usually finish them with a right hand. And they’re hard to hit.
But Wladimir, 37, was stopped by Ross Purrity, Corrie Sanders, and Lamon Brewster. Vitali has never been off his feet in 235 rounds. It’s not certain whether he’ll ever fight again. There’s that bad shoulder and he’s very much involved these days in the political scene in Ukraine. Although everyone seems to know Manny Pacquiao is a member of the Philippines Congress, Vitali’s membership — since last December — in the Ukrainian Parliament gets little attention here. He leads one of the parties, Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform, which is dedicated to ending widespread governmental corruption. Eye-gouging brawls break out regularly in the Parliament, but so far he’s opted to stay out.
For years he and his brother lived in the Los Angeles area and sent their children to local schools, but they pretty much kept a low profile. In Germany, where they also have lived, Vitali holds the highest-ranked civilian medal, the Federal Cross of Merit. Vitali doesn’t deserve anyone’s sympathy. After all, he’s gifted and rich. But he at least earns a heartfelt salute.
Sick Justice: Inside the American Gulag, by New York Times best-selling author Ivan G. Goldman, was released in June 2013 by Potomac Books. It can be purchased here.