Sharkie’s Machine: The Year Of The Upsets


Vladimir Klitschko Vs. Corrie Sanders

By Frank Gonzalez

11.03 - For all the criticisms professional Boxing takes for unbelievably lame mismatches, bogus rankings, questionable judgments and corruption, every now and then something happens to dispel the illegitimacy of the sport. Something real happens.

Anyone who follows boxing on a regularly is aware of the sorry state of the Heavyweight Division. It’s been about 20 years since that division has been well stocked with talent. The days of Ali, Frazier, Foreman and Norton are long gone. The 15 round championship fight is history, replaced by the 12 round varieties. Like everything else, the quality of things has declined while the price of it all has soared. A new Cadillac in 1975 might cost anywhere from $7000 to $9000. It was big and comfortable, with all the status and creature comforts that make a luxury car worth being called such. Today’s cheapest Caddy, which looks like a less than elegant, typical General Motors vehicle, starts at around $20,000 to $40,000 and is designed to break down within five years. Times have changed.

When Ali and Frazier were the big fish in boxing, you could watch it all on regular TV, for free. Boxing got loads of exposure in those days, which made the sport much more popular. Nowadays, if you are a boxing fan, you better have Cable Television, complete with subscription to the extra costing Premium Channels like HBO and Showtime. You’re also going to need to dig deep on occasion to afford all the Pay-Per-Views that show the marquee fighters of this era, an era undeserving of such extravagant expense.

Today’s Heavyweights are a rag-tag collection of unexciting fighters who rarely prove themselves worthy of the expense to see them fight. Former "Champions" like John Ruiz, who was beaten in every round by a Light Heavyweight named Roy Jones Jr. because Ruiz didn’t employ the common sense needed to address his smaller and faster opponent. Mike Tyson no longer instills fear in opponents as his skills have eroded significantly. Evander Holyfield should consider retirement since he is but a shadow of his former Champion-caliber self. Chris Byrd is a man with good boxing skills that make him an unattractive opponent to the rest of the class who prefer to play it safe and fight marginal fighters to build their resumes.

Between Kirk Johnson, David Tua, Hasim Rahman, Vitali Klitschko, Fres Oquendo, and Jameel McCline, there’s little to get excited about unless you’re a big fan of B and C class fighters. Until this past weekend, the only exception has been Lennox Lewis and Vladimir Klitschko, who appear to be the only Heavies capable of ruling the division. Lewis, who seems unwilling to fight anyone except for the diminished Mike Tyson in a rematch that has nothing to do with settling a score as much as about a huge payday for both fighters, neither of whom deserve it.

Vladimir Klitschko (40-2-0-37 KO’s) who in the last two years has emerged as the prospective "heir apparent" to conquer the division. The 6’6", 240 plus pound Ukrainian has and Olympic Gold Medal and 37 KO’s in 41 pro fights. He’s got a good jab and boxes like a chess player, slow but sure. He’s not your typical prizefighter, with a college degree in sports science, well spoken and personable. The cameras seem to love him with his chiseled physique and sculptured face. He may have more female fans than Oscar De La Hoya.

Although Vladimir has been criticized for a lack of quality opponents throughout his career, never showing how he’d react in the face of trouble, his win over highly ranked Jameel McCline (who was too afraid to let the punches fly against Vladimir) lent him a sense of legitimacy. Coming into his fight with South Afrikaner, Corrie Sanders, his only loss came against American Journeyman, Ross Puritty, in December of 1998, when Vladimir ran out of gas against late in the fight and his corner stopped the fight due to Vladimir being dehydrated in the 11th round.

Corrie Sanders (39-2-0-28 KO’s) is 37 years old. He’s 6’4" tall, weighs about 225-pounds and 18 out of 28 of his KO’s came in the first round. His two losses were to American Nate Tubbs (brother of Tony Tubbs, a former HW Champion) and Hasim Rahman, who Sanders knocked down early in the fight but was eventually KO’d by Rahman in the seventh round. In the last three years, he KO’d Michael Spratt in 2 and Otis Tinsdale in a KO1.

Corrie Sanders, a southpaw, who had retired from boxing and was getting comfortable playing Golf in South Africa’s PGA tour, came out of retirement to take this fight with Vladimir since no Americans would take a fight with the Ukrainian out of fear of losing their bogus ranking spots.

Sanders sought the help of a sports therapist to help regain his confidence. He employed Ross Puritty as a sparring partner, who advised Corrie to keep his hands up high when facing Vladimir. He even got a call from WBC Heavyweight Champion, Lennox Lewis, who advised Sanders to attack Klitschko aggressively, saying that Vladimir is afraid of being hit. Sanders even shaved his mustache in an effort to remake himself.

Sanders has fought a total of three rounds in three years. Nobody expected Sanders to be anything more than an easy tune-up fight for Vladimir, myself included.

* * *

The Fight

As the fighters entered the ring, Sanders was introduced first. He looked a bit flabby around the sides but seemed in good spirits. Vladimir entered the ring with all the ceremonial decorum worthy of a king. His robe was royal red with gold leaf trimming, reminiscent of the Roman lords of yesteryear. His trunks adorned with the word "BOSS." Pomp and circumstance don’t win fights though. The National anthems of both men were played, reminding me of the music played while riding a Merry Go Round.

During the stare down, Klitschko looked like a statue of a man possessed by confidence. Sanders looked like a humble Beagle next to a regal Rottweiller. Klitschko looked dry and stiff coming in.

Round One

The fighters circled each other around the very small ring, as Klitschko led the dance with his long jab and Sanders moving nicely to avoid it. The ring was so small it must have been about 16 square feet. Sanders scored the first significant punch, a right jab to the face of Vladimir. Then as they mixed it up, Sanders caught Klitschko with a solid right to the cheek, staggering the big man, who immediately held Sanders to gather himself. The referee, Genero Rodriguez, separated them and with less than a minute to go in the first round. Corrie shoe-shinned his body and then raised his combinations to the head, knocking Vladimir down like a sack of potatoes. Klitschko didn’t seem to see the left hand coming.

The crowd was in shock. A woman standing next to Vitali and Fritz Sdunek (Vladimir’s trainer) covered her mouth with one hand in a gesture that captured the gloom of the moment for 26-year-old Vladimir.

Vladimir gets up on the count of seven, with 34 seconds left in the round. As the action continues, Vladimir holds Sanders’ head with his gloves while Corrie kept slugging away to the body and quickly caught Klitschko with another left hand that sent Vladimir stumbling to the canvas in an awkward way. Klitschko beats the count, rising on the count of eight. With a few seconds remaining, Sanders batters Klitschko, who is in survival mode. As the bell rings, Klitschko wobbles to his corner.

10-7 Sanders.

Round Two

Sanders, smelling blood, proceeds to finish Klitschko off, almost immediately catching the defensively challenged Klitschko with a clean left hand to the chin that put him on the seat of his red and gold BOSS trunks. Klitschko didn’t seem to see any of Sanders left hands coming. Again Vladimir beats the count, although his legs looked rubbery and ready to give in.

Once up, Klitschko ineffectively bull-rushes Sanders, who looked like a matador as he steered Vladimir into the ropes where Klitschko tried to cover up in vain as Sanders whaled on him until he dropped to the canvas for a fourth time. The referee, standing over the fallen Klitschko, waved the fight off.

It was over.

Corrie Sanders jumped for joy in his corner.

So much for The Ring Magazine and its rankings or the two Americans and one German Judge who would be no part of deciding this result. And the new WBO Heavyweight Champion is…Corrie Sanders.


* * *

During the post fight interview, Sanders was gracious and humble. He told Larry Merchant that Lennox Lewis called him the night before with advice on beating Vladimir, telling him to be aggressive because Klitschko was afraid of being hit and would succumb to that. Sanders said how honored he was by that call from the WBC Champ, who shares promoters with Sanders. Sanders also noted that Vladimir didn’t use his jab the way he expected he would and took advantage of that situation.

When asked what the story was with Vitali Klitschko (Vladimir’s elder brother) --challenging him in the ring after beating his younger brother, saying he would "take the title back to his family." Sanders said he felt that Vitali was a "bad sportsman" noting that you win some and you lose some. Corrie said he would ignore Vitali’s boorish attitude and enjoy the moment. Sanders showed good sportsmanship after the fight, reaching out to Vladimir with a friendly pat on the back although barely acknowledged by Vladimir.

When Vladimir was interviewed, he was clearly disappointed in himself. He said that he would get a rematch and show the world that he is better than this. He downplayed the incident of Vitali approaching Sanders a moment earlier.

Supposedly Vladimir Klitschko was intending to move to California’s Beverly Hills. That may not be such a good idea in wake of what just happened. With all the distractions of modeling and touring the world as a celebrity, maybe Vladimir needs to refocus on Boxing and make this loss pay for itself with the valuable lesson it hopefully taught him. All the greatest fighters have a loss somewhere on their records. Mohammad Ali lost a few times and is still a legend.

It took Corrie Sanders to ask the question: Could Vladimir Klitschko deal with adversity? The answer was crystal clear this past Saturday. The Heavyweight picture changes dramatically now. The only thing that stays the same is that reality is reality and hype is just hype.

Congratulations to Corrie Sanders, who earned his new title without any controversy. As for Vladimir, he’s still young and has a lot to learn. He is still a promising prospect that hopefully will learn his greatest lesson from this loss. Maybe Vladimir should invest in a reliable little Toyota with extra headroom instead of than a big Caddy that might look nicer in a Beverly Hills garage but breaks down in bad weather. Sometimes a fighter’s greatest enemy is his own ego.

On a lighter note, imagine Roy Jones Jr. instead of fighting a man like John Ruiz, took on Corrie Sanders, who hits with bad intentions and isn’t afraid to mix it up? It would take weeks or maybe months for Roy’s ego to deflate.

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