Is Vitali Klitschko Done?


08.11.05 -By Chris Ireland: On April 1st, 2000, Vitali Klitschko raised a lot of questions about his heart. After dominating American challenger Chris Byrd for nine rounds, Klitschko quit on his stool, clutching his shoulder in front of a stunned crowd in Berlin, Germany. For Vitali, the prospect of future lucrative fights was more important than the outcome of the fight at hand.. To many American sports writers, Klitschko passed up his opportunity to prove he had the kind of inextinguishable determination that defines a champion. For the next three years, disappointed pundits wrote “Quitschko,” played the part of both the Lion and the Tin Man, wandering down the heavyweight division’s yellow brick road, searching for both courage and a heart to fill his hollow tin chest.

Vitali flipped the script in 2003, when he challenged Lennox Lewis for the heavyweight championship of the world.

After six blood bathing and brain bashing, a Vitali Klitschko fight was again ended due to injury. This time, however, the Ukrainian was not sitting on his stool refusing to come out, but desperately pacing around the ring pleading for the fight to continue. On that night, Klitschko erased all memories of his loss to Byrd, and went from a heartless heavyweight to the division’s next hero.

After Lewis retired and opted out of a rematch, Vitali campaigned to bring clarity to the ever-hazy heavyweights and prove without a doubt that he was the best fighter in the division. In twelve months, Klitschko fought Kirk Johnson, Corrie Sanders, and Danny Williams, all of whom he knocked out. At roughly the same time, Chris Byrd, Lamon Brewster, and John Ruiz were struggling with the likes of Fres Oquendo, Andrew Golota, Jameel McCline, and Kali Meehan. Though he had not established himself as the true heavyweight champion (many thought to do so he would first have to beat Chris Byrd) he had separated himself from the other belt holders.

An April 30th defense against former champion Hasim Rahman was then scheduled. Rahman had rebounded from a string of puzzling performances with five straight wins, and was looking capitalize on what appeared to be his last run at the title. Klitschko, however, had to postpone the fight because of an injury suffered while jogging. After the bout being rescheduled for June, then July. Klitschko then postponed the fight due to injury again, this time because of a back injury.

While the elder Klitschko limped and licked his wounds, the separation he had created from the other heavyweight champions had vanished. Though the other title holders didn’t do much to stake their claim as the best heavyweight in the world, they were at least seen in the ring. Vitali was no where to be found.

Rahman understandably felt the champion was ducking him. You would to, if every time you were right in the middle of training for a fight your opponent, he came up with a new injury. It’s like having a friend who keeps on thinking of excuses not to do something. “I would go, but I’ve got a doctor’s opponent,” they say.

For Klitschko, this may actually be the case.

Questions about Vitali’s heart and determinations have once again been raised. However, this author isn’t convinced Klitschko has been ducking anybody. True enough, one can’t help but become suspicious after four postponements, but the latest injury to Klitschko’s leg appears to be legitimate (Though Rahman could argue some of the previous ones were a little fishy).

The fault that may be Vitali’s undoing is not the intangibles that drive him, but his alarmingly fragile body. The china found in Wladimir’s chin may not be in big brother’s, but it may be located virtually everywhere else in Vitali. Against Chris Byrd, “Dr. Ironfist” retired on his stool after nine rounds due to a torn rotator cuff. Against Lennox Lewis, Klitschko’s eye turned into a crimson ocean of blood (though that was a different kind of injury all together), which forced the fight to be stopped after six rounds. After fighting both Corrie Sanders and Danny Williams, the champion complained of sore hands. Then of course, there’s the thigh injury, back injury, and knee injury suffered before a fight with Hasim Rahman.

At 34, the 6’8 Klitschko’s body may be breaking down. It makes sense. Such a big frame is tougher to lug around as one gets older than most. Vitali’s wounds support the theory. Three of his injuries (to the thigh, knee, and back) occurred in areas that have high stress levels on them every day. The bigger the body, the more the stress. Consider that with the fact that 34 is an age where many fighters start noticeably slowing down, and Klitschko has all the symptoms of a fighter that’s body cannot withstand the physical demands of boxing.

So is Vitali done? If he can get his body in good enough shape, he’d probably defeat most of the major players in the division. But who’s to say his body wouldn’t give out in the middle of a match? It has before, and as he gets older, the likelihood of it happening again only increases. One or two fights (preferably against Hasim Rahman and Chris Byrd) may be realistic, but the reality is Vitali Klitschko should retire soon.