By Geoffrey Ciani: When Kirk Johnson was forced to pull out of a scheduled bout with heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis just two weeks prior to fight night, it appeared the entire card was in jeopardy, including an under card contest between Vitali Klitschko and Cedric Boswell. This was supposed to be an opportunity for Lewis and Klitschko, his number one contender, to showcase their talents in order to hype up a showdown between the two later that year. As fate would have it, Lewis and Vitali agreed to face-off on two weeks notice, rather than taking tune-ups and waiting until December 2003. This was a brave gesture by both fighters where the stakes could not have been any higher.
The showdown between Lewis and Klitschko wound up being a rather entertaining endeavor in a give and take affair that brought out the best in both. Ultimately, a grotesque cut on Klitschko’s eye prompted referee Lou Moret to halt the bout. This was the second time in his career that an injury cost Vitali a chance at victory, the first coming when he was forced to retire on his stool when defending his WBO championship against Chris Byrd. The stoppage enabled Lewis to retain his championship, but the ending left fans with an inconclusive verdict—there was unfinished business between these two.
The boxing world demanded an immediate rematch, but Lewis had other plans in mind. Instead of having another go at it, Lewis would patiently wait on the sideline, forcing Vitali to fight for the right at another title shot. Instead of a rematch with Lewis, Klitschko was pitted against Lewis’s original opponent from June, Kirk Johnson. In what might have been his best performance as a professional, Klitschko made short work of the obese Johnson, who showed up for the biggest fight in his life in terrible shape. Many fans probably remember Larry Merchant’s humorous quip, Vitali Klitschko just harpooned that whale.
This seemed to pave the way for a Lewis-Klitschko rematch, but again, Lewis had other plans. Shortly after Klitschko’s destruction of Johnson, Lewis announced his retirement. Apparently, the comforts of retirement were more appealing than another scrap with Klitschko, and who could blame him? This left a void in the heavyweight landscape that largely persists to this day. However, at the time, it appeared that Klitschko would be the man who filled that void, and to an extent, he did, albeit, for a very short duration.
In April 2004, Vitali squared off against South African pugilist, Corrie Sanders, the same man who derailed his brother Wladimir’s championship aspirations a year earlier. Klitschko would be victorious in what was known to some as the third installment of “Revenge of the Brother”, and in victory, he landed the vacant WBC strap left behind by Lewis. It appeared as if a figurative passing of the torch had taken place, and Klitschko was seen by many as the obvious heir to Lennox Lewis. Little did we know at the time, Klitschko would fight only once more before his untimely retirement.
Later that year, Klitschko defended his title against Danny Williams, the man who had just beaten a very faded version of “Iron” Mike Tyson. In vintage Klitschko fashion, he systematically wore down his inferior opponent, consistently applying his game plan until Williams ultimately succumbed to the accumulation in the eighth round. Few spectators probably anticipated that this would be the last we would see of the elder Klitschko, but to date, he still has not fought since.
He was, however, supposed to fight Hasim Rahman in his second title defense in April of 2005. However, as a result of injuries he sustained, the bout was rescheduled for June 18. After suffering another injury, the bout was once again rescheduled, this time for July 23, before being postponed yet again for yet another injury suffered during training camp. By this time, the postponements were becoming comical, causing some members of the boxing community to even make the ridiculous claim that Klitschko was afraid of Rahman. The truth, however, was that Vitali’s body was no longer cooperating with him, and when another back injury caused him to pull out of the Rahman bout for a fourth time, Vitali opted for retirement.
Lately, I have been spending more time with my injuries than with my opponents inside the ring—Vitali Klitschko. Klitschko’s decision to retire was commended, for he allowed the heavyweight division to sort itself out in his absence. Since his retirement in December 2005, brother Wladimir emerged as the top dog, even recently managing to do something nobody has done since Lennox Lewis by unifying two of the major sanctioning organizations’ belts.
In January 2007, rumors began to surface regarding a possible comeback for Vitali. Such rumors had been floating around ever since he first retired, but this time, they seemed to have more substance. Klitschko made no secret of his intentions—he wanted a crack at newly crowned WBC champion, Oleg Maskaev, who had recently defeated Hasim Rahman to become champ. Apparently, Klitschko still held aspirations for fulfilling The Klitschko Dream, and what better way to succeed in that than targeting a soft champion like Maskaev?
The Klitschko-Maskaev bout never materialized, so instead, Vitali sought a tune-up fight against a former victim of his brother’s, Jameel “Big Time” McCline. This bout was supposed to take place on September 22 of last year, but as luck would have it, Vitali once again suffered another training camp injury, and the fight was cancelled. Vitali’s latest injury required surgery for a herniated disk. In the meantime, his intended target, Oleg Maskaev, was bested by another former victim of his brother, Sam Peter.
As many of you already know, Vitali is once again looking to get right back in the thick of things. This time, his target is WBC champion Peter. Apparently, preliminary negotiations are already under way, and a scheduled bout between Peter and Vitali may emerge any day. If the fight does come to fruition, the big question is: Can Vitali Klitschko survive training camp? After all, his last five training camps dating back to 2005 have all gotten the best of him and he has not entered a ring in over three years. The odds certainly appear to be against him, and if this match is signed, let us hope they at least have a back-up plan if Klitschko is once again TKO’d by that dastardly opponent, Training Camp! I am sure Andrew Golota would happily step-in as a replacement should Vitali once again succumb to injury.
This article was also published at East Side Boxing