The next great “What If” question retires

09.11.05 - By Tony Fondacaro: Vitali Klitschko recently announced his retirement from the sport of boxing after yet another injury set his fight with #1 Contender Hasim Rahman back; which leaves us with a vacant WBC title, and yet another rung lower in the vast nothingness that is the Heavyweight division in professional boxing.

In a statement following the announcement, Klitschko stated:

The decision to retire from professional sports was a very difficult one, one of the hardest I have ever had to make. I love boxing and am proud to be the WBC and Ring [magazine] heavyweight champion. But I would like to end my career at its peak so I am retiring now as the champion to clear the way for my successors. [source: ESPN Boxing website]

Indeed many might argue that Klitschko is correct in calling this the ‘peak’ of his career. The fight he will be remembered for will be, most would agree, his sixth-round loss to Lennox Lewis. That was June of 2003, yet who can forget what happened that night? With Vitali ahead on the cards, Lennox opens up a monster gash above Klitschko’s left eye that begins bleeding profusely. Blood literally ran down in a steady stream over Vitali’s face. While his corner did a good job of halting the bleeding between rounds, Lennox simply opened the cut up again right jabs and hooks. Lennox seemed to know that the cut was his only chance, considering how terrifically Vitali had out-boxed him in the earlier rounds. Some might say it was a stroke of luck to have that cut open up, others might argue that Vitali is more prone to cuts, swellings, and injuries (indeed, this seems vindicated!). The bleeding continued, and eventually the bout was stopped because of the size of the cut, and the fact that more cuts were beginning to open up as a result of Lewis going back to that eye again and again. Was it a headbutt? The replay seems to think not.

Then there was the loss to Chris Byrd in 2000, a fight which many fans thought should have been rematched once Klitschko won the WBC title. Again, Vitali lost not because he was knocked down, or because he was behind on the scorecards, but because he had to retire due to injury. This time it was the shoulder.

In 2004 he defeated Corrie Sanders for the vacant WBC title, and later that year defended it quite easily against journeyman Danny Williams. Klitschko knocked down Williams a total of four times in the fight, once in the first round, until finally the fight was stopped on the fourth time down. We all knew that Williams probably wouldn’t win, but we were unsure about how well Vitali would do. He was largely unproven then. We knew he could fight, that he was a hard puncher, but his stamina was always questionable, and we didn’t know how he would handle more talented fighters (i.e. Rahman). His ease in dispatching Williams gave us hope that we had found a worthy successor to Lewis, whose legend only seems to grow more vast with every unproven fighter who shows up in the ring. But the fight with Rahman was delayed numerous times, and now it seems we will never have a solid portrait of Vitali as a fighter.

Perhaps our next bet is to turn to Vitali’s younger brother Wladimir, who recently defeated bomber Sam Peter in a decision. This was a fight many thought would see Wlad destroyed, but it never happened. If Wlad steps up and takes the reigns from Vitali, we just might have some hope for an interesting Heavyweight division next year.

Article posted on 09.11.2005

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