DR. WLADIMIR "STEELHAMMER" KLITSCHKO
Born: March 25, 1976, Kiev, Ukraine
Height: 6' 7"
WINS: 48 LOSSES: 3 DRAWS: 0 KOs: 43
In reel life, Wladimir Klitschko's dream came true. He fought Lennox Lewis. The boxers teamed to film a fight scene for the remake of the movie, "Ocean's Eleven.'' Now, Klitschko wants to fight Lewis for real.
"I want to show that I am the best," he said. "Just to say it is not enough. To be the best, you have to fight the best. You have to beat the men who the people believe are the best to earn the recognition as the best. That is why I want to fight Lewis or Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield or John Ruiz. I am willing to fight whoever has the belts. These are the kinds of fighters I need to get in against. It is going to take some work from the promoters, but the public wants to see me in those fights and I am ready for them now.
"At the present, nobody knows who the real star of the heavyweight division is. That is why I look forward to fighting in America again. I want to show that the Klitschko Brothers are a new wave and we are really champions. Boxers who want to get worldwide attention must step into the ring in the United States.''
Klitschko, who got his doctorate in sports science and philosophy from The University of Kiev in January 2001, first laced up the gloves when he was a young teenager. At the time, he says, there was no way he thought boxing would become an important facet of his life.
"I got interested in boxing when I was 14, but I never thought I would make it as an amateur or as a pro," he said. Rather, he thought he would pursue a career in medicine. "I really wanted to be a doctor. That is what I envisioned I would do in my life. I dreamed about everything as a boy - military man, spaceman, but being a fighter? No, never."
Yet, here he is, at 25, arguably the world's top heavyweight. Many say the good looking, intelligent and personable young man possesses the tools and the potential to become the next dominant champion.
"That is good to hear, but I need to prove myself," he said. "That is why I am looking forward to fighting in the U.S. After what the people in the U.S. have gone through since Sept. 11, it will be an honor for me to try and give something back to them in the form of a good fight.''
Klitschko won the gold medal in the super heavyweight division in the 1996 Olympic Games, becoming the first white gold medallist in the highest weight class in 36 years. In his four Olympic bouts, he defeated Lawrence Clay-Bey of the United States, Attila Levin of Sweden, Russia's Alexei Lezin and Tonga's Paea Wolfgramm. He concluded an outstanding amateur career with a record of 134-6.
Wladimir restored the family name and got his revenge for his brother, Vitali, by beating the slick southpaw, Chris Byrd (31-1 going in), to capture the World Boxing Organization (WBO) heavyweight title on Oct. 14, 2000, in Cologne, Germany. In a much easier-than-expected outing, Klitschko notched an impressive, one-sided, unanimous 12-round decision by the scores of 120-106, 119-107 and 118-108. Byrd, who learned the hard way not to mess with the brothers, went down twice - in the ninth and 11th - and got tagged hard in almost every round. Byrd's right eye started swelling by the fourth and closed sometime thereafter. Byrd's left eye was only half-open at bout's end.
"Byrd was a very difficult boxer to fight, but I kept my cool and my emotions under control," Wladimir said. "He was fast and good. It was special to win since Byrd beat my brother, but I do not hate or dislike Byrd. 'Revenge of the Brother' (as the matchup was billed) was a very hard name. I find that title too brutal. One can look at two aspects. First of all it was a title fight, which I always dreamed about. Second, Byrd did not beat up my brother badly. Vitali lost due to an injury (torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder). I think that win proved that we are not soft. I am the world champion and I love my brother.''
In his initial title defense, Wladimir registered a scintillating second-round TKO over hard-hitting Derrick Jefferson (24-2, 20 KOs going in) on March 24, 2001, in Munich, Germany - at the same venue where brother, Vitali, defeated former world champion Orlin Norris by first-round TKO two months earlier.
The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Jefferson had the physical dimensions seemingly to stay with Wladimir, but he got destroyed. Klitschko, showing terrific poise and patience, dropped Jefferson twice with right hands - once in the first and again in the second. The referee halted the proceedings at 2:09 of the second round.
"That was an important fight for me," Wladimir said. "I was hungry for it. Jefferson had a very big mouth, saying he would put me and my brother under the earth. Well, there was no funeral.''
Wladimir retained his title a second time with a fifth-round TKO over Charles Shufford on Aug. 4, 2001, in Las Vegas. He dominated Shufford, flooring him three times while winning every round. Klitschko, content to stay outside and throw jabs and an occasional right hand, decked Shufford in the second with a straight right that blasted the challenger off his feet and into the ropes like a crash test dummy. He went down again from a right in the third. A left hook that traveled about 18 inches finished Shufford at 2:52 of the sixth.
"This fight was important because it was my championship debut in America," Klitschko said. "I knew a lot of people would be watching. I wanted to win convincingly and leave a good impression. I would have liked to give the crowd a more boisterous performance, but I knew he was a very cautious fighter and it is tough to fight a careful, cautious fighter like that and look good. So I had to fight smart and do some problem solving. My left hook was very sharp in training, so that solved my problem, but I knew it would not be easy. I knew I would have to be patient and wait for the right spot. Which is why I trained and worked so hard for him. Overall, I was very pleased with my performance and the result.''
In preparation for his second Vegas outing, he arrived in town two months early to acclimate himself with the summer desert heat. "It was a good idea that I arrived when I did because the heat was terrible," he said. "The preparation itself was difficult, but I finally became perfectly adapted. I like Las Vegas, and meeting new people. I wish I had a Ph.D. in the English language so I would be able to make more friends in Las Vegas and all the United States, but I am doing OK.''
Klitschko was scheduled to defend against David Izon in New York Dec. 1, 2001, on HBO, but he was forced to withdraw after injuring his left shoulder two days before Thanksgiving.
"To say the least, it was very depressing and unfortunate and the last thing I wanted to happen,'' Klitschko said. "I was really excited and looking forward to defending my title in New York. As I said to the press there a few weeks before, that fight was going to be my way to show support to all the people who had gone through so much since the tragedy of Sept. 11. The fact I could not fight was quite upsetting. The timing could not be worse. I was supposed to fly to New York three days later.''
The injury occurred when the popular Klitschko got hit on the back of his left shoulder during a sparring session.
"It was really a fluke thing,'' he said. "My serious sparring had almost been completed. I knew something was wrong as soon as I got hit, but I tried to work through it. When the pain did not go away immediately and I saw that I could not even throw a jab, I had to stop. The thing is, it was not that strong of a punch.''
Klitschko was examined by doctors E. Peter Benckendorff and Dr. Michael Finkenstaedt in Hamburg. Catscan results revealed a torn muscle fiber inside the Musculus infraspinatus of his left shoulder.
"Wladimir wanted to go ahead and fight,'' Dr. Benckendorff said, "but by doing so he could have torn the entire muscle, instead of just a portion of it. That would have meant maybe six months of rehabilitation instead of just a few weeks.''
"I really regretted that I was unable to fight,'' Wladimir said. "This was a very important fight for me and I had prepared very conscientiously for it.''
When he returned to the ring three and one-half months later, Klitschko successfully defended his WBO title a third time by registering an eighth-round TKO over former International Boxing Federation (IBF) heavyweight titleholder Frans Botha on March 16, 2002, in Stuttgart, Germany.
The one-sided affair was stopped 48 seconds into the eighth round by the referee shortly after Klitschko recorded the bout's lone knockdown, flooring the game but ineffective Botha with a left hook. Klitschko won every round in his first start in nine months.
"It took me a while to shake off the ring rust, but once I got going, I felt great," said Klitschko after he sent the sellout crowd of 11,000 at Schleyer Arena home happy. "By the fifth round I was able to establish and then dominate with my jab, and get into a good rhythm. At that point, I knew it was just a matter of time. I was surprised Botha lasted as long as he did. I hit him with a lot of hard punches and he took a lot of punishment.
"I expected Botha to come out strong and try to land a lucky punch and that is what he did. He kept trying to land a haymaker on me all night. That is why I knew it was important for me to keep my poise and be patient and not take any unnecessary chances at the beginning. Still, coming off a long layoff and an injury made it tough. But, overall, I am very happy with the result and my performance.''
At the finish, Botha had two swollen eyes and his face was puffy.
"My trainer, Abel Sanchez, said I have never been in better shape or boxed this well, but Wladimir is a great fighter and I wish him all the best on his way to the top,'' Botha said.
Klitschko became the first boxer to stop Ray Mercer when he recorded an impressive sixth-round TKO over the former Marine in his most recent start on June 29 in Atlantic City on HBO.
Sharp and dominant from the outset, Klitschko knocked down Mercer in the first, landed countless brutal shots with both hands throughout, and had his eyes cut and swollen by the time the referee halted the one-sided proceedings at the 1:08 mark of the sixth round.
"I enjoyed the fight very much,'' said Klitschko, who landed 104 of 167 power shots, including a left hook to the head that put Mercer down with 30 seconds remaining in the opening round. "I never saw anybody quite like him. I have a lot of respect for Mercer. He has the strongest chin in the world.
"This was a big fight for me because America is where my brother, Vitali, and I need to go to make our marks and show what we can do. I think I can prove my talent in a fight against Lewis, Holyfield or Tyson. From my side, I am ready to fight Lewis.''
Klitschko turned pro at age 20 on Nov. 16, 1996, and scored a first-round TKO over Fabian Meza in Hamburg, Germany. He went 2-0 that year, and 13-0 the next. In his 1998 debut, Wladimir captured the WBC International heavyweight by knocking out Marcus McIntyre (15-1 going in) in the second round on Feb. 14. His 17-fight knockout streak ended the following March 14 when he was taken the distance by Everett "Big Foot" Martin in an eight-round bout.
He won his next six by knockout. Two came in WBC International title defenses, another in his United States debut against Carlos "The Shock Absorber" Monroe on Aug. 6, 1998, in Marksville, La.
Klitschko's 24-fight winning streak ended when he lost on an 11th-round TKO to veteran Ross Puritty (23-13-1 going in) on Dec. 15, 1998, in his first appearance as a pro in his hometown of Kiev, Ukraine. It was a lack of stamina more than anything Puritty did that cost Wladimir, who was making the third defense of his WBC International title. Klitschko, who had never gone past eight rounds, was comfortably ahead on the scorecards, but he literally collapsed from exhaustion. He went down twice in the 10th - only one was ruled a knockdown - and stopped at 0:18 of the 11th.
"This fight, even though I lost, made me stronger," he said. "I feel that I won because I learned so much. I did a lot of promotion for the fight. I wanted it to be perfect for my hometown audience. But I did not have the proper focus or concentration. I did not prepare mentally and physically the way I should have and I ran out of gas. I was only 22. I was arrogant and I paid the price. But it was a positive experience.
"No one wants to lose, but it made me an overall better fighter. I was having it go my way for so long. I felt invincible. I felt I was the best and nothing could happen to me, much like Lewis in his fight against Hasim Rahman. But boxers must lose sometimes and I simply learned a hard lesson about what it takes to be a professional. You must train hard, not only in the ring but in the gym every day. I did not do that for that fight. So even though I lost, I won. I will make sure such a defeat will never happen again."
Said his trainer, Fritz Sdunek: "Like Vitali, Wladimir started in the pros with an incredibly high tempo and thought that everything would go very fast. Then came the defeat with Wladimir against Puritty in Kiev. Since then, they have worked a lot better. They trust me more and everything has gone well."
Since the loss, Klitschko has won 15 in a row, all but one - the bout with Byrd -- by knockout. Along the way, he won the WBA Continental heavyweight title with a fifth-round TKO over Joseph Chingangu on July 17, 1999, in Dusseldorf, Germany. The following Sept. 26, he captured the vacant European heavyweight title with an eighth-round TKO over two-time world challenger Axel Schulz in Cologne, Germany. In front of 18,000 fans and 11 million TV viewers, Klitschko dominated. He knocked down Schulz twice in the eighth and the bout was terminated at 2:43. The German had never been stopped before and had been competitive with George Foreman, Botha and Michael Moorer. But in this one, Schultz took a beating from the opening bell.
Klitschko made his second U.S. start on Nov. 12, 1999, and starched Phil Jackson in two rounds in Las Vegas. His finishing thuds against Jackson nearly dropped ringsiders.
After retaining his European title with a second-round TKO over Lajos Eros on Dec. 4, 1999, in Hannover, Germany, Klitschko overwhelmed Olympic rival out Paea Wolfgramm (18-1 going in) to win the WBC International heavyweight title on March 18, 2000. Landing almost every punch he threw, Wladimir bloodied Wolfgramm and knocked him down, and he was counted out on all fours at 1:30 of the first round. Klitschko won the gold in 1996 Olympics by outpointing Wolfgramm on a 7-3 decision in the final.
Klitschko retained his WBA Continental crown with a second-round TKO over David Bostice (32-1-1 going in) on the Lennox Lewis-Michael Grant undercard on April 29, 2000, in New York City. Wladimir scored two knockdowns in the first and two more in the second. After the final knockdown, the fight was stopped without a count at 1:27 of the round. Klitschko recorded a seventh-round TKO over Monte Barrett the following July 15 in London. Barrett went down once in the first and fourth and three times in the seventh before the bout was stopped at 2:42. In his next start, he dethroned Byrd.
One of Klitschko's earliest boxing memories came on the eve of his first amateur bout.
"I was 14 and I remember we drove away to a tournament in Kazakhstan," he said. "About 40 boxers were there. I waited for my first fight. And then I waited some more. Finally, I began to wonder, what happened? So I asked a tournament official, where is my opponent? He said, 'You win. You do not have an opponent. Only you are here in heavyweight division.' I could not believe it. I win my first championship and I do not have an opponent. After that, I had my first amateur fight and lost. After that I knew I had to win everything that I could.''
Klitschko's hobbies include snowboarding, skiing, surfing the internet, watching action movies ("Matrix," "Terminator," "The Mummy"), playing soccer, listening to music (classic, jazz, pop) and, like his brother, Vitali, is a serious chess player.
Wladimir once played a game against world champion Garry Kasparov. "That was a mismatch," he said. "The game was over so fast. Garry went from table to table and played a lot of people at the same time, including against Vitali and myself. It was a great experience.
Regarding his personal beliefs, Wladimir is confident and philosophical. "I believe in God and in myself," he said. "During the Soviet era people didn't have much chance to practice religion. Life without belief is meaningless. To me it does not matter if you are Buddhist, Muslim or Christian, or whatever you put your faith in, a man needs to have beliefs, hopes, dreams. Still, unlike some other boxers - and I don't want to mention any names - I do not make an issue out of religion nor do I feel the need to preach it, or mention my faith in every sentence. My personal beliefs belong to my inner world.
"The people I admire most are those who have good, strong character. The ones with a will and a wish.''
BEFORE THE BELL - A BRIEF GLIMPSE OF WLADIMIR KLITSCHKO
STYLE: A huge, powerful, intimidating guy with great natural ability and tremendous punching power possesses a rare mixture of size, speed and power
. Seemingly improving with every start, one of boxing's biggest attractions has done almost everything asked so far
. A fast starter, he began most every attack against Mercer with a beautiful jab, his most improved weapon, and demonstrated a crisp left hook.
STRENGTHS: Confidence: He is willing to fight anybody
. Punching power: He has won 14 of his last 15 by knockout, including all four of his title defenses, and all his stoppages have been inside eight rounds
. Age: At 26, his potential seems unlimited .
Personality: He is clearly a people's person who loves to meet fans
. Quickness and mobility: He looked anything but bad or clumsy and was able to counter the speed of the slippery Byrd which, as most any heavyweight can attest, is difficult to do
. Amateur experience: Besides winning the gold medal in '96 Olympics, he also won silver medals at the 1996 European Championships and the 1994 Junior World Championships
QUESTION MARKS: Is he the next great heavyweight?
. Is he the future of the division?
. How good can he become?
. Is he the most compelling challenger for Lennox Lewis?
Or is his brother, Vitali?
.. Will McCline, who has not lost since 1996, be his toughest fight?
. Can he go 12 hard, fast-paced rounds if necessary?
. Can he hurt McCline?
. How will he react once McCline connects?
. Will he bruise?
Ring Record: WLADIMIR KLITSCHKO
39-1, 36 KOs
Nov. 16 FABIAN MEZA, Hamburg, Germany TKO 1 220
Nov. 30 EXUM SPEIGHT, Wiener Neustadt, Austria TKO 2 221
Dec. 21 BILL CORRIGAN, Frankfurt, Germany KO 1
Jan. 25 TROY WEIDA, Stuttgart, Germany TKO 3
Feb. 15 CARLOS MONROE, Cottbus, Germany WDSQ 6 222
Apr. 12 MARK YOUNG, Aachen, Germany TKO 3
May 10 MARK WILLS, Frankfurt, Germany KO 1
June 13 PAUL ASHLEY, Oberhausen, Germany KO 2
June 27 SALVADOR MACIEL, Offenburg, Germany KO 1 229
July 12 GILBERTO WILLIAMSON, Hagen, Germany TKO 3 226
Aug. 23 IKOMONIYA BOTOWAMUNGU, Stuttgart, Germany TKO 6
Sept. 20 JAMES PRITCHARD, Aachen, Germany TKO 3 226
Oct. 11 MARCOS GONZALEZ, Cottbus, Germany KO 2
Dec. 6 JERRY HALSTEAD, Offenbach, Germany TKO 2
Dec. 13 LADISLAV HUSARIK, Hamburg, Germany TKO 3
Dec. 20 DERRICK LAMPKINS, Offenburg, Germany TKO 1
Feb. 14 MARCUS MC INTYRE, Stuttgart, Germany KO 3 228
Mar. 14 EVERETT MARTIN, Hamburg, Germany W 8 230
May 23 CODY KOCH, Offenbach, Germany KO 4 228
July 10 NAJEE SHAHEED, Munich, Germany KO 1 228
Aug. 6 CARLOS MONROE, Marksville, LA KO 6 235
Sept. 19 STEVE PANNELL, Oberhausen, Germany KO 2 231
Oct. 3 ELI DIXON, Augsburg, Germany KO 3 226
Nov. 14 DONNELL WINGFIELD, Munich, Germany KO 1 231
Dec. 5 ROSS PURITTY, Kiev, Ukraine TKBY 11 226
Feb. 13 ZORAN VUJECIC, Stuttgart, Germany KO 1 237
Apr. 24 EVERETT MARTIN, Munich, Germany TKO 8 239
May 22 TONY LA ROSA, Budapest, Hungary KO 1 238
July 17 JOSEPH CHINGANGU, Dusseldorf, Germany TKO 5 236
Sept. 26 AXEL SCHULZ, Cologne, Germany, Germany TKO 8 238
Nov. 12 PHIL JACKSON, Las Vegas, NV KO 2 236
Dec. 4 LAJOS EROS, Hannover, Germany TKO 2 236
Mar. 18 PAEA WOLFGRAMM, Hamburg, Germany KO 1 241
Apr. 29 DAVID BOSTICE, New York, NY TKO 2 242
July 15 MONTE BARRETT, London, England TKO 7 244
Oct. 14 CHRIS BYRD, Cologne, Germany W 12 238
(Won WBO Heavyweight Title)
Mar. 24 DERRICK JEFFERSON, Munich, Germany TKO 2 245
(Retained WBO Heavyweight Title)
.CHARLES SHUFFORD, Las Vegas, NV TKO 6 241
(Retained WBO Heavyweight Title)
..FRANS BOTHA, Stuttgart, Germany TKO 8 241
(Retained WBO Heavyweight Title)
. RAY MERCER, Atlantic City, NJ TKO 6 243
(Retained WBO Heavyweight Title)
FIGHTS: 40 WINS: 39 LOSSES: 1 DRAWS: 0 KOs: 36