Happy Birthday, Vitali Klitschko - "Dr. Iron Fist" 37 Today!

by James Slater: Thirty-seven years ago today, in Belovdsk, Kyrgyzstan, formerly of the U.S.S.R, Vitali Wladimorovich Klitschko was born. Some thirty-three years later, the 6'7.5" Klitschko became the WBC heavyweight champion of the world..

Originally a kick boxer, Vitali soon switched to straight boxing. Going on to compile a recorded amateur record of 195-15(80), Vitali won a silver medal at the 1995 World Amateur Championships in Berlin, Germany - Germany being the country Vitali and his younger brother, Wladimir would eventually call home. Turning pro in November of 1996, the Ph.D-holding, multilingual heavyweight soon carved out a notable career for himself.

Big (very big), strong and a stiff puncher with a good left jab, Vitali went unbeaten in his first 27 bouts - impressively winning all of them by KO or stoppage. Indeed, not too many fighters made it past the 3rd round against the fighter now known as "Dr. Iron Fist." After capturing the then lightly regarded WBO belt with a 2nd round blow-out of Britain's Herbie Hide and making two successful retentions, Klitschko met the slick and talented Chris Byrd.

Despite being the much smaller man, Byrd forced Vitali to quit on his stool at the end of the 9th round. His WBO belt and unbeaten record gone, Klitschko, despite having suffered an all too genuine shoulder injury, was badly criticised. Claiming he had no heart, Vitali's critics would be made to eat their words a few years later. After getting back on track with five straight wins, all but one of them coming by stoppage, Vitali met WBC and linear heavyweight king Lennox Lewis.

Putting on a great fight, Klitschko hurt Lewis on a number of occasions, took the champ's best shots in return, and had Lewis on the verge of exhaustion by round number six. Unfortunately for the challenger, was the fact that Lewis had opened severe cuts both above and below his left eye. Some of the worst facial injuries ever seen in a heavyweight title fight later, the bout was stopped at the start of the 7th round. Many claim Klitschko - who wanted to go on and was upset the fight was stopped - would have gone on to KO the fatigued champion. Indeed, to this day debate rages about the June 2003 clash. A rematch was clamoured for, but Lewis announced his retirement from the sport shortly afterwards.

Vitali was back in action less than six months later, stopping a poorly conditioned Kirk Johnson in an elimination bout for Lewis' vacated WBC belt in just two rounds. Four months later, in stopping the dangerous Corrie Sanders in eight rounds, Vitali was the new champion. The win over Sanders was also a pleasing victory due to the fact that Vitali had avenged his brother's loss to the South African - who had shocked Wladimir in two rounds in March of 2003. Now champion, the older Klitschko figured to have a long reign as champion.

Instead, and disappointingly, Vitali made just one defence - an 8th round TKO win over a brave Danny Williams in December of 2004. Repeated injuries suffered in training have served to keep "Dr. Iron Fist" out of the ring since, but, as fans know, he is due to challenge current WBC boss Samuel Peter this October. Vitali and his brother's main goal, of making history by becoming the first boxing brothers to hold versions of the heavyweight title at the same time, may well be realised in less than three months time.

Turning 37-years-of-age today, and after having spent so long out of the ring, a comeback win for Vitali would be some result. For now, however, we wish him many happy returns as we await his return to the squared circle.

Article posted on 20.07.2008

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