Originally created 04/24/04

Klitschko, Sanders the latest to fight for heavyweight title



LOS ANGELES -- Vitali Klitschko wasn't supposed to be the best heavyweight in his family, much less the world. Big and awkward, his skills looked amateurish even in comparison with his younger brother, Wladimir.

Six bloody rounds with Lennox Lewis last June changed all of that. Klitschko proved he could do what his brother couldn't - take a big punch as well as deliver one.

On Saturday night Klitschko fights Corrie Sanders with a chance to prove something else - that he can be a legitimate heavyweight champion.

With revenge, family honor and the WBC title at stake, he shouldn't be lacking for motivation.

"Everything depends on me," Klitschko said. "That's why I'm very focused."

Klitschko meets the fighter who scored a shocking knockout over his brother at Staples Center for the WBC heavyweight title vacated by the retirement of Lewis.

The fight is scheduled for 12 rounds, but it's not likely to go that far. What the two big men lack in boxing skills, they make up for in punching power, and the 38-year-old Sanders has gone only four rounds in the last four years.

"I took care of his brother and now I'm going to take care of Vitali," said Sanders, who knocked out Wladimir Klitschko in the second round 13 months ago.

That knockout derailed Wladimir Klitschko's career, which was dealt another blow earlier this month when he was knocked out again by Lamon Brewster. His brother, meanwhile, made a name for himself by beating Lewis for six rounds before being stopped on cuts.

Vitali Klitschko angrily confronted Sanders after he stopped his brother, but has tried to keep thoughts of revenge out of his mind.

"I cannot think now about what happened to my brother, Wladimir, in his fight," Klitschko said. "Emotions don't help me. What is important for me to do now is do what I have to and become world champion."

Klitschko, a 3-1 favorite, can stake a claim as being the real heavyweight champion in a division fragmented by the retirement of Lewis. The other two major belts are held by John Ruiz and Chris Byrd, who beat Klitschko in 2000 when Klitschko quit after nine rounds with a rotator cuff injury.

If Klitschko loses, however, it could mean the end of the feel-good story about the two brothers who hold advanced degrees, speak four different languages and grew up fighting in the old Soviet Union.

"It could be a very explosive fight because of the emotions that come because Sanders beat Wladimir Klitschko," said trainer Emanuel Steward, who is helping train Klitschko. "Naturally it got to be a little of a family type situation there. I think the first four rounds will be extremely explosive. As it moves on, I do not think Sanders is going to be as dangerous as in the beginning."

Steward, who was in Lewis' corner when he fought Klitschko, said the former champion underestimated Klitschko and nearly paid for it.

"I was so amazed by his intensity. When he came into the ring he was a man who was totally obsessed with winning," Steward said. "Vitali was just so much more determined and all of us in our camp underestimated that."

Neither fighter should have a problem finding the other one. Klitschko is 6-foot-7 and weighed in at 245 pounds, while the left-handed Sanders is 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds.

Sanders exposed Wladimir Klitschko's chin in their fight in Germany, knocking him down four times. But Vitali's chin was tested by one of the best in Lewis and he survived only to be stopped on cuts.

"I will not make the same mistakes my brother made against him," Klitschko said.

Lewis, who is advising Sanders, said Klitschko showed he can take a punch in their fight when he hit him with some good right hands. Lewis said he was not so certain that Klitschko's face could take much punishment.

"All he has to do is hit him in the face," Lewis said. "Once you've been cut very bad in boxing, especially three or four cuts in the same vicinity, if you hit that spot a few times, it should open up. Of course, you never know if that is going to happen in this fight."

Sanders, meanwhile, is a reluctant warrior at best. He almost retired after being stopped by Hasim Rahman four years ago and has fought only three times since.

A scratch golfer who has thought of playing that sport for money and has a ranch in South Africa with water buffalo, Sanders has fought few legitimate contenders in his career. He says that even if he wins the title he would fight only once or twice more before retiring.

"I want to get in the ring and get out and go home and be champion," Sanders said.