BERLIN (Reuters) - Vitali and Vladimir Klitschko are turning their muscular backs on Germany in a bid to make boxing history by becoming the first
brothers to hold world titles simultaneously.
The Ukrainian giants, who have regarded themselves as the future of the sport for quite some time, have lived and trained in Germany for years but now
want to make it big in the United States.
It is there that their common dream could come true in the next few weeks with a title fight for each brother and a chance to prove that they are the
most exciting heavyweights around.
Vladimir, the younger at 28 and arguably the more gifted, will be the first to step into the ring, to challenge American Lamon Brewster for the
lightly-regarded World Boxing Organisation crown on Saturday in Las Vegas.
Exactly two weeks later Vitali, 32, will take on South African Corrie Sanders for the more prestigious World Boxing Council (WBC) belt left vacant by
Lennox Lewis, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Vitali gave Lewis a hard time in the Briton's last title defence in June last year before the fight was stopped in the sixth round after the Ukrainian
received a bad cut above his left eye.
The elder Klitschko jumped into the ring and confronted Sanders after Vladimir was stopped inside two rounds by the South African in their WBO bout
last year in Hanover, Germany.
"I respect Sanders a lot because I regard my brother as the best heavyweight boxer in the world and Sanders beat him," said Vitali.
Before his shock defeat to Sanders, Vladimir, who won Olympic gold in the super-heavyweight division in 1996 in Atlanta, was regarded as the better
fighter in the family.
Many argued that Vitali had fought mostly obscure opponents but he silenced his critics by fully extending Lewis until injury ruled him out.
There are still question marks over the abilities of the two but the retirement of Lewis has offered them new opportunities and shaped them into top
contenders in the showcase division, which is desperately seeking a suitable replacement for the Briton.
The two best-known heavyweight fighters are Mike Tyson, now a parody of the fearsome fighter who terrorised opponents in the 1980s, and Roy Jones Jr.,
probably the most technically skilled boxer in the world but fighting out of his natural weight class.
Worshipped in Germany for years, the Klitschko brothers, sculptural athletes with cheerful natures, were almost unheard of in the United States until
recently but things are changing.
Ferocious inside the ropes but gentle and funny outside the ring, the two are excellent at promoting themselves as a package, which they did
successfully in Germany for years before deciding to concentrate on the American market.
The two are miles away from the traditional image of professional fighters. Vitali, who rarely boasts about his intellectual endeavours, is a doctor
of science in Ukraine and would be the first to argue that Vladimir is just as clever.
Their American strategy became clear when the highly respected Emanuel Steward, formerly with Lewis, was officially presented last month as Vladimir's
Fritz Sdunek, who has trained both Klitschko brothers for years, remains in charge of Vladimir's physical training while still looking after
"They are the new generation in boxing," Steward said after attending a training session by the pair. "Nobody works as hard as Vitali and Vladimir and
nobody wants to win as badly as they do."
Hamburg-based promotion company Universum still manages the Ukrainians but its contract is coming to an end and it will face a struggle to keep
control if the two do become leading figures in the United States.
The days when the brothers appeared almost daily on talk shows and television commercials in Germany while the rest of the world, Ukraine apart,
hardly knew who they were are already over.
What the Klitschkos have to do now is win their next fights. But then they would face a new dilemma.
Boxing, perhaps more than any other sport, needs rivalries and one between brothers would be a marketing dream.
The Klitschko brothers have always said they would never fight each other but, with decent challengers hard to find, the pressure on them to do so
could soon become unbearable.
Copyright 2004 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.
[Edited on 6-4-2004 by Ocelot]