By TIM DAHLBERG
AP Boxing Writer
Corrie Sanders would rather be on the golf course, or tending to the water buffalo on his ranch in South Africa. At 38, he's a little old to be an
overnight success, and he was never too excited about this boxing thing anyway.
It's hard to imagine Sanders is only one big left hand away from being a heavyweight champion. So hard that he even seems to have trouble visualizing
"I want to get in the ring, get out and go home and be champion," Sanders said.
Sanders gets that chance Saturday night when he meets Vitali Klitschko for the WBC heavyweight title that became vacant when Lennox Lewis retired
earlier this year.
Klitschko is the big name, but Sanders knows something about fighting names. It was his shocking knockout of Klitschko's younger brother, Wladimir,
last year that finally made him a contender so late in his career.
The golf and the ranch will have to wait, while Sanders tries to take advantage of a second Klitschko in a fragmented heavyweight division filled with
pretenders and contenders.
A week after John Ruiz and Chris Byrd showed there's plenty of room at the top for a big hitting heavyweight champion to emerge, Sanders gets the
biggest fight of his 15-year career against a brother looking for revenge.
"I got this opportunity, so now I feel like a 32-year-old," Sanders said.
Klitschko is a 3 1/2-1 favorite in the fight at Staples Center, which will be televised on HBO beginning at 9:30 p.m. EDT. But Sanders has nothing to
lose and everything to gain - much as he did in March 2003 when he knocked out Wladimir Klitschko in the second round in Hannover, Germany.
"The pressure is on Vitali," Sanders said. "You saw what happened to his brother. It could happen to him."
Whatever happens, the fight isn't expected to go the distance. It pits two big men - Sanders is a 6-foot-4, 235-pound southpaw and Klitschko is 6-6,
245 - who are known more for their ability to punch than their ability to box.
If it does go more than a few rounds, Sanders could be in trouble. He's fought only four rounds in the last four years, and is not known for his
Sanders won the WBO title in the fight with Wladimir Klitschko, a title so lightly regarded that he gladly gave it up to get a chance to fight for the
WBC crown. Still, it was a step above the South African heavyweight championship which was the best he had done up to that point in a career that
began in 1989.
Things got so bad for Sanders (39-2, 29 knockouts) that he was on the verge of retiring a few years ago when Hasim Rahman stopped him in the seventh
The thought of playing golf for a living instead of getting punched in the face enticed him. He hits the ball 300 yards and is a scratch player, and
Sanders thought there might be an easier way to make money.
"I would love to get into the PGA Tour," he said. "But, it all depends. If I could have gotten on the European tour, I would have done that, too."
Klitschko hopes to make the career choice for Sanders an easy one in the same ring he made a name for himself last June by giving Lewis all he wanted
for six rounds before being stopped on cuts.
Klitschko (33-2, 32 knockouts) not only has a chance to exact revenge for his brother's loss, but also to establish himself as the leading heavyweight
champion with a strong performance.
"I was very disappointed with Lewis' retirement because he disappointed millions of boxing fans who wanted to see the second fight with us," Klitschko
said. "The question is still open about who the winner in the last fight was. Right now, I have a chance to fight for Lewis' title without him."
The fight is somewhat of a hometown event for Klitschko, a Ukrainian native who lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two children. His brother,
Wladimir, will be working in the corner.
The Klitschko brothers had set a goal of becoming heavyweight champions at the same time, but after Wladimir was knocked out earlier this month by
Lamon Brewster, there are questions about both his chin and his future.
Vitali, though, showed he can take a punch against Lewis and his second-round knockout of Kirk Johnson in December showed he may have gained a lot of
confidence in himself with that performance.
"Maybe the dream will just take a little bit longer," Vitali said. "I'm doing everything I can to make our dream come true."
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
[Edited on 23-4-2004 by Ocelot]