Vitali Klitschko: How Good Is He?
20.03.07 - Paul McCreath: With Vitali Klitschko apparently lined up to meet Oleg Maskaev for the WBA title on June 2nd in Moscow, Russia, it is time to look at his chances of regaining his old crown. How good is Vitali Klitschko likely to be now after two years out of boxing action, and indeed, how good was he at his peak? There could be a difference..
Article posted on 20.03.2007
Vitali is a very difficult fighter to judge as to his place in boxing history. We have facts and we have opinions that we must consider. First, let us look at the facts. Klitschko has a career record of 35-2-0 with 34 KO's. He will be 36 years old in July, and at 6 foot 7 and one half, he is about one inch taller than his brother Wladimir, and at around 250 pounds about 5 pounds heavier. Both his losses came by injury, to Chris Byrd and later Lennox Lewis. He has never been KO'd or outpointed and in fact has never been behind on points in a fight. Only Timo Hoffman, the German fringe contender, ever went the distance with Vitali.
Now the opinions. Although Klitschko was stopped by Byrd on injuries, due to an injury to his shoulder, Vitali was well ahead on points and few expected him to lose the fight until the very end, when suddenly without warning, he quit on his stool. He was also leading against Lewis, although many felt the tide was turning before the bout was stopped due to very bad cuts Vitali had suffered to his left eye and lip, both which were badly lacerated by Lewis' punches. Fans will debate forever about what would have happened if Vitali was not cut, of course. However, we will never know. Yet, we do know that against two of the best fighters around at that time, Vitali was at least competitive, if not better in the skills department but unfortunately injury prone.
His frequency of getting injured is one thing that counts against the older Klitschko. A loss is still a loss, even by injury. Another thing to consider is the fact that when he fought Lewis, he did so on short notice, while at the same time Lennox was getting old and not in prime boxing shape, either. You could say that neither one was at peak form.
Wladimir, his younger brother, has freely admitted that Vitali is the stronger of the two, and we, the fans, all know Vitali has the better chin. For punching power, it is a tough call, very close. At this time, Wladimir may now have a slight edge. For stamina, there is little doubt, Vitali has the edge. His one major deficit is that old problem with injuries. Wladimir, on the other hand, is clearly the better in technique. All in all, Vitali compares pretty well with his brother, who is generally accepted today as the best heavyweights in boxing.
Over his career, Vitali held two versions of the world title, first the WBO and later the WBC. He also held the European title twice but except for the Hoffman bout, none of his European title bouts were of any significance on the world scene. He won his WBO title by stopping Herbie Hide, 31-1 at the time, by second round KO. It looked very good then since Hide had lost only to Riddick Bowe, but Hide was soon found to have many weaknesses, both mental and physical in consequent bouts. Vitali's next two defenses were against Ed Mahone and Obed Sullivan, neither one of whom was world class. Both were gone very early.
Vitali's other victories between the Byrd loss and the present time, were all by impressive KO's, to be sure, but none were over a top notch fighter in prime fighting condition. Corrie Sanders and Kirk Johnson were top fighters but both were in very poor shape when they met Vitali. Danny Williams was a fringe contender who was also fat. Orlin Norris, Ross Puritty, and Vaughn Bean would hardly scare any top 10 fighter, and Larry Donald was also fringe. However, it's not Vitali's fault that Sanders and Johnson showed up in poor shape. And, unfortunately, Vitali never got the chance to really prove himself against Rahman, and was forced by his injuries to retire from boxing in November 2005, after twice postponing the bout. Still, even Klitschko fans must admit that while Vitali often looked like he could beat a top fighter, he never actually defeated a top five fighter who was in peak form.
Now he is back. What can we expect? At 36, he is no older than many top heavyweights. If he is healthy, he should not be bothered much by the layoff, either. It didn't bother Liahovich any against Brewster. It all comes down to his health. I expect he will defeat Maskaev, likely by KO and then take care of Sam Peter as well. He will finally get the chance to prove his legacy as one of the best of his time. On apparent skills, one would be inclined to rate him right up there with Lennox Lewis, but he has yet to prove it in the ring. Right now, he is second perhaps only to brother Wladimir Klitschko. They will never fight each other so it doesn't matter. They tend to work together so second best is not all that bad.
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