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Klitschko stops Sanders: but just how good is Dr. Ironfist?

BY Chris Gielty ON May 11, 2004
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Vitali Klitschko stopped Corrie Sanders tonight by way of an 8th round TKO at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. It means Vitali Klitschko is now the WBC heavyweight champion.

From what I can gather, it also makes Klitschko the linear heavyweight champion. And if you believe in the statistical integrity of HBO's real-time online polls, he's now the people's champion. So, he's pretty much everybody's champion, that much seems clear. But really just how good is Vitali Klitschko?

In some ways, tonight's WBC heavyweight title fight was a strange bout. It ebbed and flowed. In fact, at times it seemed to mostly ebb. But when it flowed it set the pulse racing, particularly in the 3rd and 6th rounds. In the 3rd and 6th, the Ukrainian - Klitschko -- and the South African -- Sanders threw, and landed, bombs with malicious intent.

When the action heated up, the fight became a slugfest. Round 6 was beauty, and round 3 was a Pier Sixer, which, by deduction, means it too was a beauty. During the rest of the action, however, Sanders was largely inactive, and Klitschko, for all his dominance in the punch stats, seemed unable to emphatically seize the initiative. It was only when Sanders was tiring badly and clearly there for the taking that Klitschko incontrovertibly took control.It was Sanders' lack of conditioning on the night that forced the South African to adopt a strategy which saw him sitting back and hoping to stay in the fight long enough to replenish his reserves so he could periodically adopt an offensive posture, if only briefly.

In the end, rounds 1 and 5 told the tale of the fight. In round 1 Sanders, still fresh, was looking to counter punch aggressively and he wobbled Klitschko badly late in the round. Early in round 2, Sanders appeared to shake Klitschko again, but by then Sanders was visibly tiring and already starting to gasp for air. As Sanders began to tire, the fight took on an air of inevitability, despite the mythical "puncher's chance."

By round 5, Sanders' tank was clearly close to empty and he landed only 1 punch in the round, compared to 38 for Klitschko. Given that Sanders will never be mistaken for Willie Pep, it goes without saying that Sanders lost that round and had the look of a fighter who didn't have a lot left to offer.Sanders made one last stand in the 6th, when, with the South African now walking straight in, the two men exchanged bombs, though Sanders was now clearly getting the worst of the exchanges. The action lulled during the 7th and the inevitable arrived in the 8th.

Klitschko finally pinned the brave Sanders on the ropes late in round 8, and with Sanders now soaking up some torrid punishment, referee John Schorle brought a merciful end to proceedings.

So, now Vitali Klitschko is no longer the heir apparent, but the man himself. HBO were clearly anxious to anoint him champion tonight, and the majority of the boxing media will surely not be far behind.

Indeed, Vitali Klitschko demonstrated tonight that he is the man to be reckoned with in the heavyweight division at this moment. For who else is there in the heavyweight division at this time who is likely to beat Vitali Klitschko? There is no obvious answer to that question.

But in truth, despite the impressive ending to tonight's bout for Klitschko, surely some doubts must remain. As he did against Lewis -- despite the intervening historical revisionism -- Klitschko looked very ordinary when Sanders went on the attack and forced Klitschko onto the back foot. In the 1st round Sanders looked like he might have had the measure of the older brother too, but the South African then proceeded to immediately fall prey to his own lack of conditioning, paving the way for Klitschko to take a stranglehold on the fight and eventually close the show in the 8th.

It may very well be that Klitschko would have beat even the most finely-tuned Corrie Sanders tonight, but it would have nice to know that with certainty. It's hard to shake the notion that if Sanders had shown up in the kind of shape he was in when he stunned Wladimir Klitschko, maybe, just maybe, he could have had himself a double tonight in Los Angeles.

And what should we make of Sanders? For a questionably conditioned, part time, white, 38 year old heavyweight, he creates a lot of dramatic tension in fights he's supposed to lose. It kind of makes one wonder what might have been had Sanders been a full time boxer earlier in his career who was motivated to really be a fighter, and one who was backed by some promotional muscle.

Instead, the real Corrie Sanders will probably return to the sport he seems to truly love, the one where you get to tee off without worrying about other guys teeing off on you. In the not too distant future he'll probably trade in his hand wraps for a driver. After all, a Big Bertha is a lot easier to deal with than a Dr. Ironfist.

And as for the new heavyweight champion of the world … despite the size, the hype, the power, the PHD and the fact HBO wants it so badly, one can't help feeling that the door is still open, if even only slightly, for a well-schooled heavyweight to walk through against Vitali Klitschko. Despite all that is impressive about Klitschko, he still looks beatable.

Of course, maybe no such heavyweight exists in the game today. At least not one who isn't enjoying his retirement playing chess and eating Rolos.

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