Big Shannon Briggs couldn't get it done versus Vitali. Could the equally XL Solis? (photo by Hogan Photos)
In four months it'll be nearly eight years since WBC heavyweight title holder Vitali Klitschko 41-2 (38) was stopped by former champ Lennox Lewis after the sixth round of their title clash at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Vitali, due to a terrible eye gash suffered during the bout, was not allowed to come out for the seventh round. At the time of the stoppage Klitschko was leading on all three judges scorecards by two points. Since trading punches with Lewis back in June of 2003, Vitali hasn't been really pushed to the point to where he's faced adversity in any of his subsequent bouts.
Due to the way Vitali's face seemed to bust up and all the injuries and postponements he's been subject to since fighting Lewis, most boxing observers have been predicting how Vitali's body will soon implode and that'll pretty much be it for him as far as being an elite heavyweight and title holder. Well, nearly eight years and nine fights later, Vitali is still one of the two premier heavyweights in boxing (along with his younger brother Wladimir) and hasn't lost since fighting Lewis.
In a little over a month Vitali will defend his WBC title for the sixth time against Cuban Olympic Gold Medalist Odlanier Solis 17-0 (12) in Germany. The fight will be shown in the United States via the Epix cable network out of New York. And with the fight looming on the horizon, those who'll want to make a case for Solis pulling the upset will build it around whether or not this will be the night that Vitali's body will finally betray him. Don't count me amongst those who will say that. Sure, that's about the best case for the raw boned 260 pounder with skills and confidence---minus a work ethic. However, if you've been betting against Vitali to lose based on his body breaking down in his last few fights, you're probably underwater like more than two million mortgages in the country.
For those who have picked against Vitali since his comeback win over Samuel Peter, it's been strictly based on the inkling that they'd see his body breaking down during a bout or perhaps in training camp. They've thought he'd be hindered physically as to what he could do during the fight. And although it hasn't paid off so far, it's a plausible scenario with merit. In terms of his legs, they seem to become very stiff during patches of his recent bouts and you can tell they're bothering him. At times it appears that he has virtually no mobility, and then he works through it and his movement smoothes out and he fights with more fluidity. Recently, Vitali's people have reiterated that his legs are almost gone due to his time spent fighting as a kickboxer. I think it's more father time and genetics, although I don't doubt that his years taking kicks to the legs aggravated and escalated whatever seems to hinder his moment during spurts of his recent fights.
For the better part of Vitali's comeback, it's been common to hear that in the end his body will cost him his title on fight night more so than his inability as a fighter, or the skill-set and fighting ability of his opponent. Which I guess in a roundabout way is a supreme compliment to him and an indictment on the upper-tier elite who make up today's heavyweight division. I believe it's a combination of the two. And at this time I cannot pick Odlanier Solis to upset Vitali Klitschko on March 19th simply based on the fact that I'm rolling the dice that this is the night his body will implode in some form and he won't be able to finish the fight. Vitali may be unorthodox to watch, but he's shown through his career that he's an outstanding natural fighter. He doesn't have the technique that his younger brother Wladimir has, but he's more talented and tougher. Which is also why he'd fare better in a hypothetical tournament against some of the past heavyweight greats who dominated their respective eras.
The only trepidation that I have picking Vitali every time out is, (and about Wladimir too, for that matter) is that if something's wrong with them, they're not a given to fight through it. They'll worry about their health first, their legacies second. They have sensibilities that'll kick in different from the likes of some past greats who fought to almost deaths doorstep, and even then feared defeat more than being carried out of the ring.
In conclusion, I don't see Odlanier Solis pushing Vitali Klitschko close to the point to where discretion will be the better part of valor. If Vitali loses before he retires, I won't be one of those who can claim they predicted the upset before the fight. I just don't see anybody out there that a case can be made on their behalf to justify them as even money, let alone a favorite to beat him before he retires from boxing.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com