12 years ago today, a heavyweight comeback that most doubted would never actually happen did happen in Berlin, Germany. WBC heavyweight ‘champion emeritus’ Vitali Klitschko, who had retired in 2005 due to serious knee injuries, came back after almost four full years out of the ring to hammer current WBC heavyweight champ Samuel Peter in a brilliant performance.
The elder of the two Klitschko brothers attempted a comeback in September of 2007, against Jameel McCline, but a back injury that required surgery put paid to that. It seemed 37-year-old Vitali’s fighting days were over. But then, in October of 2008, “Dr. Iron Fist” put his name in the annals of fistic comeback history. Klitschko looked like he’d never been away as he jabbed, moved, made Peter miss and pay, and ultimately forced the powerful Nigerian puncher quit on his stool after eight one-sided rounds.
The two Klitschko’s had seen their dream come true due to the inspirational victory: the two now reigned together as heavyweight champions. No way would they ever agree to fight each other of course (although the question was put to both siblings far more than just once!). No, now that he was champ again for real, Vitali had only one man in his sights – Lennox Lewis.
The two giants had shared a ring in 2003, the epic slugfest thrilling millions. As fans know, Klitschko, who was ahead on all cards, had to be pulled out after six rounds due to some of the most shockingly atrocious facial injuries ever suffered by a prizefighter. The loss and the manner in which it came (this mostly) angered Klitschko, it left him with sleepless nights – a second fight with Lewis obsessed him.
Soon after hammering Peter and showing everyone he was BACK! Klitschko began calling for that return with Lewis. But Lewis had retired himself by then, in fact in 2004, this around a year or so after the Klitschko fight (and, Vitali says, after promising him a rematch). Would Lennox be tempted to end his own retirement so as to tend to some unfinished business?
“Many people said to me that after having over three years out I would not be able to come back,” Vitali said to this writer the day after his great win over Peter. “But these people thought I was just sleeping for three years. But every day I was out of the ring, I trained. Every day for two or three hours. Also, the time out gave me time to recover from injuries and I now have total health. Wladimir and I, we always had the dream to reign as champions at the same time. You know, without dreams life is boring.
“I now have big hopes – big hopes – for a second fight with Lennox Lewis. I want to give the world the fight they all want to see. I’m grateful to Lewis, he gave me a chance to prove my skills against the strongest heavyweight in the world. It would be so interesting to do it again. It would only take Lewis a few months to get back in top condition, he will never lose his skills. And Lewis is like me, in that he lives a healthy life. So I do have big hopes he fights me again.”
Unfortunately, as we all know, it never happened. As a result, Lewis-Klitschko II, and what would have happened had it happened, remains a topic of interest even now, 12 years after Klitschko’s return to glory against Peter.
Would Lewis have been able to repeat his win, maybe with a points win or even a KO? Or would Klitschko have been too strong, too determined and too powerful in a return fight?
Plenty of fans have a very strong opinion one way or the other, that’s for sure.
Photos by Y.Nesterenko / Klitschko.com & Tom Casino / Showtime