You still can’t spell his name or pronounce it, but by now you know who Vitali Klitschko is: He’s the older brother of that other guy from the Ukraine. Respect? Not in this league, buster.
Maybe you know a little bit about Vitali because he‘s the WBC heavyweight champ of the world, which, by today’s standards, is like being crowned King of Wisconsin.
Still, you can count the number of heavyweight champs on one hand and still thumb a ride home, and that alone puts you in a pretty special club.
Maybe Vitali doesn’t get a lot of respect because he’s from a neighborhood most of us have never visited. He was born in Belovodsk, Kyrgystan.
Maybe if he was from Brooklyn or Philadelphia and his name was Johnson or Williams or Marciano, we‘d pay him a little more attention, give him another chance. But how do you cheer for a guy when you’re not even sure what country he’s from?
If you’re a little fuzzy on Vitali, maybe you‘ve heard of his younger brother, Wladimir. They’re pretty close, you know, two brothers chasing the same zany dream, hoping to share the same lofty title of heavyweight champion of the world.
For awhile, Wladimir was the guy everyone pointed to and talked about. He was the future of the division, the big promise. We thought he had been blessed with all the tools and most of the gifts in the family. We figured he was on a fast track to win the heavyweight title and then hold onto it for a lifetime.
But then he fooled us. He showed us he didn’t have quite the chin we thought he had, that he was missing an essential piece of the heavyweight puzzle, the ability to stand and fight in Las Vegas while your head was busy spinning in Oz. If you can’t take a punch, they’ll eat you up in this business when you get near the top.
Wladimir was good, but he wasn’t great, and there‘s a chasm separating the two. That’s where Vitali comes in. He isn‘t great yet, but he‘s more than halfway across the great divide separating him from his brother. He’s like one of those guys in the old American Express commercials who asks, “Do you know me?”
No we don’t, not really. Just give us a little more time.
The big slam against Vitali goes way back to the night he quit in his fight with Chris Byrd because of a bad shoulder. Fighters from Brooklyn and Philadelphia don’t quit. Arturo Gatti doesn‘t quit. Micky Ward doesn‘t quit. Why did he?
But then, just like his brother, Vitali fooled us. He fought Lennox Lewis and was beating him before a gash the size of a coffee mug opened over his eye. The guy who quit against Chris Byrd because of a torn rotator cuff didn’t quit against Lennox Lewis.
Maybe we’ve got something here.
Since the Lewis fight, Vitali has stopped Kirk Johnson, Corrie Sanders and most recently, Danny Williams. None of these guys will see their bust displayed in the Boxing Hall of Fame, but they are all fair fighters.
And we still shake our heads and roll our eyes when someone claims Vitali Klitschko is the best heavyweight in the world. His win against Johnson? Kirk had a bad day. His win against Sanders? Corrie didn’t have any heart. His fight against Williams? He should have stopped him earlier. If he fights Hasim Rahman later this year, he’ll be destroyed.
Sure he will. Wink, wink.
Tell us again how you pronounce your first name, Vitali.