Vitali Klitschko: The Doctor Takes Down His Shingle

09.11.05 - By Geoff McKay: We’ve all heard it by now, and most of us were likely surprised by Vitali Klitschko’s announcement that he has decided to retire after suffering another injury during training. Another thing that has surprised me, although it shouldn’t have, is the negative reaction toward Vitali, from fans and media alike, after the announcement had been made.

I say it shouldn’t have surprised me because Vitali is probably the most criticized man in boxing. There is hatred, yes; I said it, hatred among certain groups of boxing fans, for both the brothers Klitschko. This dislike goes deeper than general unpopularity with the fans, such as is the case with John Ruiz. It is, in fact, so great that even to admit to being a fan of Vitali carries the risk of being branded with a particularly vulgar term reserved just for Klitschko supporters.

When Vitali was matched with an opponent, there would come predictions by the truckload that whoever it was would KO Klitschko. When he consequently won, or put in a good performance, it was always because his opponent was out of shape, or never any good anyway. I am certain that even if Vitali won the Presidency of the Ukraine, flew a shuttle to the moon, and knocked out the Incredible Hulk, all on the same day, it would be said that the elections were rigged, the shuttle was flown by remote control, and the Hulk wasn’t very angry when he stepped in the ring.

The same holds true for this situation. When reports of the injury first surfaced, many assumed Vitali was faking it, and then when a doctor concurred the injury was serious, there were calls for Vitali to step down and allow action in the division to continue. Now he has done so and there are cries of outrage from boxing fans and writers, calling him a coward.

The question is why? Why such intense dislike? I am not talking about general disapproval of Klitschko’s boxing style. The fact that different fans like, and dislike differing styles is an essential element of boxing. It leads to a deeper appreciation for the sport. However, this goes far beyond that.

I believe the greatest reason Klitschko’s popularity has suffered among some fans is because he is different. Not because he quit against Byrd, his performance against Lewis showed he has heart. Not because he’s slow and robotic, his KO percentage was over 90%, and despite what some might say, that’s what most people come to see. No, it was because he didn’t fit our expectations of what a boxer should be.

He was different because he did not trash talk his opponents, fistfight at press conferences, get thrown in jail for rape, or assault, or act condescending toward those he spoke too. Vitali was respectful toward his opponents. This is not the kind of behavior shows like Survivor, the Apprentice, or Monday Night Raw, have taught us to respect.

His style was different. Many called it awkward, slow and robotic, but the truth is that Vitali had very fast hands for most heavyweights, let alone for a man of his size. His wide stance gave his fighting style a displeasing look to some, and I believe it limited his punching power, but it also allowed him to lean back to avoid punches, and keep out of range of most of his shorter opponents.

His lifestyle was different. One any given day, you might have found him influencing the political development of his country, assisting in the construction of a schoolhouse for underprivileged children, or slugging it out with an opponent in the ring.

There are those that would have you believe this has been a ploy, that Vitali was afraid of Hasim Rahman, and that this is his final solution to avoiding a fight with “the Rock”. I simply don’t believe this, and I’ll tell you why. I just spent the past half hour listening to Bob Arum speak on a conference call. This is a man that has lost a great deal of money over the cancellation of the fight. Here is what he had to say when asked about Klitschko ducking Rahman,

“The last guy that wanted to see this fight not happen, even more than me, was Vitali Klitschko”

On Klitschko being cleared to fight medically, and then refusing;

“That was a mix-up; he was never given the green light to fight by any doctor. I was there”

Arum did say that there was something Vitali was afraid of. He was afraid of letting his fans down again, and this is why he retired. Arum said Vitali stated that “his body had betrayed him” and that he was terrified of signing another fight, having people make travel arrangements, get excited about the fight, then disappointing them again.

Are there other fighters, other champions that would have continued on? Of course. Many are the stories of fighters who tried to keep fighting when they shouldn’t have. Champions who tried to forge on, even though their skills, their age, or their bodies had “betrayed them”. We as fight fans usually end up regretting that they did.

By now there will no doubt be quite a few readers with smoke billowing from there ears, so I must get one thing straight. I am not claiming Vitali Klitschko is the greatest fighter ever, I’m not saying I think he was unbeatable, or that I wouldn’t have like to see him face more name opponents. I am saying that I, for one, respect the man for the way he conducted himself, both in and outside of the ring, and I believe the negative backlash he has received throughout his career is undeserved. I look at it this way, when he fought, there were those that liked him, and those that couldn’t stand him, but almost all of them watched, and that is the biggest statement that can be made about Vitali Klitschko.


Article posted on 09.11.2005

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