Playboy Interview with Vitali Klitschko

07.04.05 - Heavyweight boxer Vitali Klitschko was given an enlightening introduction to the American boxing world when Don King attempted to sign the Ukraine native during the 1996 Olympics. The champion fighter told the May issue of Playboy (hitting newsstands on Friday, April 8) about his first meeting with the infamous promoter: "He brought my brother Wladimir and me to a Mike Tyson fight and gave us a proposal. He even sang to us once, at his house in Las Vegas.. He sat at the piano and began playing. I was surprised - I had no idea he was so good! Then I noticed the pedals moving automatically," the boxer said. "His feet weren't on them. The piano was playing by itself. I realized you have to be careful with this guy. Everything is sleight of hand."

Klitschko's smarts (he is the only heavyweight champ to hold a Ph.D.) helped to mold his career (35-2, 34 KO's) and he is set to square off next against Hasim Rahman in June. The boxer - who has never been knocked down - opened up to Playboy about growing up in the Soviet Union, why boxing is like chess and the Lennox Lewis rematch-that-never-was. Below are selected quotes from Klitschko's 20Q, conducted by Playboy contributor Jason Buhrmester:

On Lennox Lewis: "Lewis talks too much. After the fight [in 2003 that was stopped by a ringside doctor] he promised me a rematch. Then he told me I had to fight Kirk Johnson first. So I fought Kirk Johnson and knocked him out. The boxing commission began putting pressure on Lewis, saying that if he didn't fight me he would lose the title. He retired instead. I am the person who sent him into retirement. He made a smart decision."

On Danny Williams "destroying his dream": "I told everybody [in the Soviet Union] that I would be a professional world champion one day and would beat Tyson. All my friends laughed and said it would never happen. I remember looking at the TV and saying, 'One day I'll fight you and beat you, Iron Mike' ... But then Williams fought him first and knocked him out and destroyed my dream. I was so disappointed and angry. I decided I would show everyone I would beat the guy who beat Tyson so I fought Williams and knocked him out."

On growing up in the Soviet Union: "All the information they gave us on the U.S. was about how it was a bad country with bad people who wanted to kill us. Then in 1989, when I was 18, I went to the U.S. for the first time for a kickboxing tournament. I was terrified. I was in Florida. I went to Disney World and stood there with my mouth hanging open"

On his role in the Ukraine elections:" Many people asked me why I got involved. They said I should stay out of the election. But I don't want to be passive. Every citizen should help develop the future of his country ... If I have a choice between a dictatorship and a democracy, I will always choose democracy because I know what it's like to grown up in a dictatorship."

On chess: "Chess is similar to boxing. You need to develop a strategy, and you need to think two or three steps ahead about what your opponent is doing. You have to be smart. But what ' s the difference between chess and boxing? In chess, nobody is an expert, but everybody plays. In boxing everybody is an expert, but nobody fights."

Article posted on 07.04.2005

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