Vitali Klitschko will be honoured with the prestigious Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2022 ESPYS on July 20th, ESPN reports. The former heavyweight king, now the mayor of Ukraine’s capital, has as we know been fighting against the Russian invasion that took place in February. Along with his brother Wladimir, and former lightweight ruler Vasiliy Lomachenko, Vitali has been fighting a far bigger fight than any of the ones he had in the boxing ring.
And now Vitali will be suitably honoured for his efforts.
“It is a great honour for me to receive this award,” 50 year old Klitschko said. “I am convinced that this is a recognition of the courage and inviolability of the Ukrainian people, who have been bravely resisting the Russian aggressor for more than 3 months. This is an award for everyone who defends the independence and freedom of Ukraine.”
Vitali was of course a great fighter in the 2000s, his career seeing him earn a reputation as one of the toughest big men ever. But it took Vitali some time to earn the full respect of the fans. It was the April 1, 2000 loss to Chris Byrd that hurt Vitali. Having “quit” after the ninth round in a fight he was winning quite handily, Vitali had to hear plenty of bad things from the critics. But the shoulder injury Vitali suffered in the Byrd fight, actually a torn rotator cuff, was an extremely serious one. Indeed, later, after the damage had been done (both to Vitali’s shoulder and to his reputation), a doctor said that had Klitschko fought on, he would have very likely seen his career come to an end, so permanently messed up would his shoulder have been.
The decision to “quit” saved Vitali’s career. It wasn’t until his gutsy and heroic performance in the 2003 war with Lennox Lewis that fans finally accepted Vitali as a damn fine fighter. The horrific cuts Vitali suffered in the Lewis fight, and his desire to carry on fighting through the blood, redeemed Klitschko. But it was another loss; one that haunted Vitali for years. To this day, fans debate what would have happened had there been a return fight.
It’s entirely possible the Lewis fight and the near upset-causing performance he gave in June of 2003, was the finest moment of Vitali’s career; his defining fight. Wins over Corrie Sanders earn Vitali points, as do wins over Samuel Peter (this win seeing Vitali return from what was thought to be a full-time retirement), Shannon Briggs, Odlanier Solis, Tomasz Adamek and one or two others. But no, Vitali’s resume is not decorated with huge names. Lewis is without doubt the best fighter Vitali faced.
Klitschko’s longevity earns Vitali points as far as his greatness, as does the fact that he had an absolutely granite chin, one of the best in heavyweight history perhaps. Also, it can be argued that Vitali never “really” lost a pro fight, that he fell victim to injuries on two occasions (and Vitali was ahead on points at the time of the stoppages in both the Byrd and Lewis fights). Vitali turned pro in 1996, he endured an almost four-year layoff, and he retired in 2012, aged 41. Vitali certainly made his mark on the sport, on boxing history.
And now Vitali is busy and passionately making his mark in the field of world politics.