LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Vitali Klitschko began the night wanting to avenge his family's honor and win a heavyweight title.
He did that and more, staking his claim as the best heavyweight around with a devastating performance that left Corrie Sanders battered, bloodied and
Klitschko gave a beating to the fighter who knocked out his brother, stopping Sanders late in the eighth round Saturday night to win the WBC title
vacated by the retirement of Lennox Lewis.
He left the ring with the family's honor back, a gaudy green belt around his waist, and a big weight off of his shoulders.
"This was a big relief," Klitschko said.
Fighting in the same ring where he made a name for himself last year by going six brutal rounds with Lewis, Klitschko landed more than half the
punches he threw in a fight that grew increasingly lopsided as the rounds went on.
Sanders managed to stun Klitschko in the opening round with a big left hand and kept trying to land it again, but took tremendous punishment every
time he tried to lure his bigger opponent in.
Klitschko's brother, Wladimir, stared unblinkingly at Sanders while the fighters were introduced, and was the first in the ring to embrace Klitschko
when the fight was called to an end at 2:46 of the eighth round with Sanders helpless along the ropes.
"I had a dream. It's just not my dream, it's a dream of the two brother's Klitschko," Klitschko said.
Sanders knocked out Wladimir Klitschko 13 months ago, but it was clear from the opening bell that Vitali would not make the same mistakes as his
brother. Before Sanders beat Wladimir, he was thought to be the best of the two brothers from Ukraine.
Klitschko, perhaps mindful of what happened to his brother, stayed away early, got his rhythm after a few rounds and used his jab to set up right
hands between Sanders' gloves.
The fight came to an end after Klitschko landed a big left-right and then backed Sanders up with a flurry of punches. Referee John Schorle kept
watching to see if Sanders would respond, but when he didn't punch back he wrapped his arms around Sanders and called the fight to an end.
Sanders, a journeyman most of his career until he beat Klitschko's brother, never went down despite taking a tremendous beating.
"I was surprised he never went down. He took so many punches," Klitschko said. "Unbelievable. I was surprised."
Klitschko landed more than half of his punches, 230 of the 413 he threw to only 51 of 229 by Sanders. The only suspense after the early rounds was
whether Sanders would land one big left hand to turn the fight around, and he couldn't.
Sanders was bleeding badly from the nose and around the mouth, and his face was marked and swollen by the time the fight ended.
"I knew his strategy would be to try and land one big punch at a time and if there was an explosion he would try to make another explosion," Klitschko
Klitschko was a 3-1 favorite, but there were many questions still to be answered about the 6-foot-7 heavyweight even after he went six strong rounds
in the same ring with Lewis last year before being stopped on cuts.
He answered most of them in a fight that had the crowd of 17,320 at Staples Center standing and cheering much of the way.
"This was a big relief," said Klitschko (33-1, 32 knockouts). "I feel a lot of weight off my shoulders."
Sanders left the ring without comment, and his manager said he was taken to a hospital for treatment of an injury to his left ear.
"He was exhausted, he was tired," Vernon Smith said. "He did not disagree with the referee's decision to stop the fight. His biggest regret is he
couldn't land his left better."
Lewis was at ringside to watch Klitschko and Sanders fight for his old title, just as he was in New York last week when IBF champion Chris Byrd and
WBA champion John Ruiz each defended their titles.
There has been some speculation that Lewis might come back because of the fractured state of the heavyweight division. Klitschko said that would be
all right with him.
"I hope Lennox Lewis makes a comeback," Klitschko said. "He promised me he would fight me again."
While Klitschko (34-2, 33 knockouts) came out cautious, Sanders' strategy from the opening bell was to go right after him with his left hand. He
caught him with 20 seconds left in the first round with a big left hand that sent Klitschko back across the ring into the ropes but it turned out to
be his biggest punch of the fight.
The early rounds were fought in flurries, with periods of little action followed by both fighters trading punches at will. Sanders (39-3) often tried
to lure Klitschko into a corner or onto the ropes, where he would launch a left hand counterpunch.
By the fifth round, Klitschko was controlling the fight with his jab and, suddenly, late in the round, landed three straight right hands that sent
Sanders staggering backward. Klitschko went after him and landed a flurry and Sanders was nearly out on his feet as the bell sounded to end the
Klitschko was three inches taller and, at 245 pounds, 10 pounds heavier than Sanders, a South African who had fought less than four full rounds in the
last four years. Now living in Los Angeles, he entered the ring to the song "Hotel California" and cheers from the crowd.
Klitschko stood next to his brother, while the fighters were introduced and both stared unblinking at Sanders for several minutes.
The Klitschkos had been boxing's ultimate feel-good story, two giant brothers from Ukraine who were carefully groomed to become heavyweight champions.
But Sanders knocked out Wladimir Klitschko last year, resurrecting what had been a mediocre career, and he came into the ring at Staples Center
looking to do the same thing against his older brother.
Sanders was a sometimes reluctant warrior who talked before the fight of retiring and attempting to play golf for a living. His manager suggested
after the fight that he might retire.
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
[Edited on 25-4-2004 by Ocelot]