Associated Press - April 8, 2004
LAS VEGAS (AP) - They are huge heavyweights so polite and educated that every mother would love them. Their own mother loves them so much that they
vow never to fight one another, no matter what the price.
Neither will be the next Mike Tyson, mostly because they don't want to be like Mike. Their idea of a big evening is dinner and a good book, not a
strip club and a street brawl.
Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko are heavyweight contenders straight out of a Hollywood script, though their story probably wouldn't fly on the big
screen because even Hollywood would find it hard to believe.
In case you haven't heard, it goes something like this: Two brothers grow up in the former Soviet Union and begin fighting in the country's sports
programs. One earns an Olympic gold medal for Ukraine, and both turn pro and develop a rabid fan base in Germany.
Along the way, they each learn four languages and earn PhDs in college. Then they go to America to seek their fame and fortune.
Wait, that's not all. In the next few weeks, both could become heavyweight champions in their adopted land.
No, don't get me rewrite. This stuff has got to be better than ``Rocky.''
``It is about our dream to be the same-time champion,'' Wladimir Klitschko said. ``It's very difficult, not easy. But we're on our way.''
Indeed they are, though dangers and skeptics still lurk along the way. Spend some time with them, though, and it's hard not to root them on.
``They have a great sense of humor and they're very warm with people,'' said Emanuel Steward, who trained Lennox Lewis and now helps train the two
brothers. ``They're probably the most accommodating of heavyweights I have known since possibly Muhammad Ali.''
They can also fight a bit, though no one is comparing either to Ali in the ring. Both are massive heavyweights (6-foot-5 for Wladimir, 6-foot-7 for
Vitali) who can punch, though they often fight with a stilted style of the old Soviet Union amateur program.
Wladimir, who at 28 is four years younger, won an Olympic gold in 1996 and was thought to be the best of the two until he suffered a shocking knockout
loss to Corrie Sanders last year. A few months later, Vitali made a case for himself as the top Klitschko by brawling with Lewis in a fight he was
winning when the ring doctor stopped it on cuts after six rounds.
Little brother concedes the edge.
``My brother is better than me, I can tell that right now,'' Wladimir said. ``He's better than me, he's the real champion.''
Wladimir has a chance to become a champion of sorts himself Saturday night when he fights Lamon Brewster for the WBO title he held before Sanders
knocked him out. It's regarded as a fringe title, and Brewster is a questionable opponent at best, but Wladimir knows the fight is crucial to his
chances of resurrecting his career.
``For me, it's about myself,'' Wladimir said. ``Do I belong to the champion's league or am I just good enough for the first league?''
Vitali Klitschko already knows where he belongs. His heart was questioned after he quit on his stool after injuring his shoulder against Chris Byrd,
but his bloody brawl with Lewis put that to rest.
Klitschko practically begged Lewis for a rematch, but Lewis decided retirement was a better plan. Now, Vitali will fight April 24 in Los Angeles for
the vacant WBC title against - now take notes - the same fighter who knocked out his brother.
Wladimir will work his corner, as always. Revenge, title, brotherly love. It's all wrapped up in one tidy package.
``There is a very good American saying: 'step by step,''' Vitali said. ``First of all, we have to get the titles, and that will be very
Though the brothers will never fight each other - they don't want to, and Mom won't allow it - that doesn't stop promoters from drooling over their
prospects. They're big, punch hard and are polite and well-spoken.
They're also white, which never hurts in the boxing business.
HBO has spent the last few weeks hyping Wladimir's fight, almost ignoring the welterweight title fight between Cory Spinks and Zab Judah on the same
Wladimir said he and his brother knew their future would be in America when they met their idol, Max Schmeling, a few years ago and he told them to
follow the path he took in the 1930s. Schmeling came to the United States and won recognition by knocking out Joe Louis at Yankee Stadium.
Unlike Schmeling, who trained on an ocean liner on his way overseas, the Klitschkos can fly. Besides, they now spend most of their time in Los Angeles
anyway, where Vitali lives with his wife and two American-born children.
``We're Ukrainian, and I don't want to hide it,'' Wladimir said. ``But America is a great country with great people. It is the mecca of boxing, and
that's where we want to be.''
Spoken like a true champion, indeed.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org.
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved.