Who was the greater fighter, Wladimir or Vitali Klitschko?

By James Slater - 08/04/2017 - Comments

Together they ruled the world as dominant heavyweight champions, realising a lifelong dream as they did so. Now, with Wladimir Klitschko’s retirement announcement coming yesterday, both “Doctors,” Wladimir and Vitali, have ceased operating.

Vitali ruled the division – first as a WBO champ, from 1999 to 2000, and then as a WBC king, from 2004 to 2012 – and he lost just two fights; both due to quite horrific injuries. Wladimir ruled the land of the giants – first as a WBO champ, from 2000 to 2003, and then as THE world champion, from 2006 to 2015 – and he lost five fights; four of them by KO or stoppage.

Now that both brothers are retired and headed towards both The Hall of Fame and the history books, the question comes up: who was the greater fighter of the two?

Wladimir had more natural ability but he was not as tough, Vitali had a better chin and a nastier killer instinct but he was, his critics claimed, too robotic. Vitali engaged in an impressive 17 world title fights. Wladimir boxed in no less than 29 world title bouts!

Vitali managed wins over the likes of: Sam Peter, Chris Arreola, Juan Carlos Gomez, Danny Williams, Corrie Sanders (avenging his younger brother’s KO loss), Kirk Johnson, Odlanier Solis, Shannon Briggs, Tomasz Adamek and Manuel Charr.

Vitali’s defining fight, though, is his gutsy, savage and still debatable loss to Lennox Lewis.

Wladimir picked up wins over the likes of: Chris Byrd (twice, and avenging his older brother’s loss), Frans Botha, Ray Mercer, Lamon Brewster (avenging his earlier defeat), Sam Peter (twice), Calvin Brock, Tony Thompson (twice), Ruslan Chagaev, Eddie Chambers, David Haye, Alexander Povetkin, Kubrat Pulev and Bryant Jennings.

Wladimir’s defining fight is his comprehensive near shut-out decision win over David Haye.

In terms of quality of opposition beaten, Wladimir holds a distinctive edge over his brother. While in terms of longevity, consistence and number of fights, Wladimir also tops his brother’s achievements.

But who was tougher?

Vitali lost to Lewis but in that war he showed the kind of rock-solid chin his brother could only dream of having. To this day, fans argue over what would have happened if the slugfest these two monsters engaged in had been permitted to continue after the sixth round. Vitali was bleeding badly, yes, but he was ahead on all cards and ready to fight on hard. Lewis, meanwhile, was looking exhausted. In the long list of ‘what ifs’ in boxing, this fight is close to the top. In terms of toughness, Vitali holds a big edge over his brother.

But who was more skilful?

Wladimir displayed the kind of superb boxing skills his less athletic sibling could only dream of having in a number of fights. Wladimir, fluid and moving, outboxed fine boxers like Chambers, Haye and Byrd, hammering all three to humbling defeat. With his reflexes, his telephone-pole of a left jab and his fine boxing brain, Wladimir proved his boxing brilliance time and again. In terms of polished boxing skills, Wladimir holds a distinctive edge over his brother.

In terms of numbers, Wladimir had 69 pro fights, over twenty more than Vitali (who of course had a layoff of almost four years – from December 2004 to October 2008) and he won all but five of them. Vitali had 47 fights, winning all but two of them.

In the end, in choosing who was the better fighter of the two, it comes down to what you like the most: do you like the teak-tough, aggressive-minded puncher who never once hit the canvas, or do you prefer the more athletic, more active, longer reigning boxer?

In terms of who I’d put my last $dollar or £pound on, needing for all my life for my fighter to come out on top in a heavyweight war, my money would be placed on Vitali. But in terms of just who really was the better overall fighter – “Dr. Steel Hammer” or “Dr. Iron Fist” – it’s about as 50/50 as you can get.