On the day Vitali Klitschko celebrates his 51st birthday, Elliot Worsell imagines a world in which both Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko were opponents rather than brothers
IT is certainly no exaggeration to say that if Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko were not brothers but instead one fighter, with their wealth of skills combined, we would be looking at not two great heavyweight champions but perhaps the greatest heavyweight of all time.
After all, between the two of them, Vitali and Wladimir possess pretty much every ingredient required in a heavyweight champion. They have the physical attributes, they have the mental attributes, and they have the experience, too, as both amateur boxers and professionals. They have seen it all and they have done it all. They have, between them, conquered all.
In fact, the only thing missing from their respective careers was a fight against one another, which, of course, was never likely to happen. This, had it happened, would have not only crowned a single heavyweight champion but would have also ended a long-running debate among boxing fans: which of the two Klitschkos was the best?
As it stands, without them having boxed, it is impossible to say. Yet, given how different they were in terms of both their physical and mental makeup, as well as their approach to the sport, it is fascinating nonetheless to consider what might have happened had they fought and also which of their attributes would be selected if blending the Klitschkos to make one almighty, terrifying, all-conquering Klitschko.
So, with this in mind, here are the Klitschko brothers fighting – in a sense – for their key attributes.
Wladimir: With 53 knockouts from 64 pro wins, there can be little doubt Wladimir packed a punch, especially in his destructive right cross. Time and time again, in fact, he would set up opponents with his thudding, ramrod left jab before bringing down the steel hammer in the form of either his cross or, now and again, his left hook, which was a punch underused but no less damaging for opponents.
Vitali: Whereas his brother was the smoother puncher, the puncher more pleasing on the eye, and the one whose style screamed power, it was Vitali who boasted the higher knockout percentage, registering 87% to Wladimir’s 78%. Yes, Vitali had fewer pro fights (47 to Wladimir’s 69), but the KO ratio still speaks to the immense power he was able to generate when both at range and up close. This, combined with his physical strength, made him a monstrous proposition for any heavyweight unfortunate enough to share a ring with him.
Wladimir: For a man of 6’5, the speed of Wladimir’s jab, cross and hook was most impressive and his combinations, when he dared to put them together, were also thrown with surprising snap and speed. He could get about the ring on light feet, too, and was often able to outmanoeuvre smaller and supposedly quicker opponents, the best example of which was his 2011 win against David Haye.
Vitali: If Vitali had an Achilles’ Heel, it was likely his speed, or lack thereof. His feet were sometimes slow and his punches, especially his right hand, were sometimes telegraphed and slow to reach their target. That said, occasionally Vitali would shock opponents with punches, bringing up sneaky uppercuts, and slashing left hooks around the corner, none of which, when landing, would be labelled slow.
Wladimir: To understand Wladimir’s fragility, one need only look at how his style changed at the halfway mark in his career in order to protect his chin. Up to that point, he had been known as a heavyweight prone to folding whenever a decent punch landed anywhere near his jaw. However, after this adjustment, and after trainer Emanuel Steward reinvented him, Wladimir’s entire style was geared towards reducing the likelihood of this event happening.
Vitali: In stark contrast to his brother, Vitali often seemed an immovable object in the boxing ring. Never knocked out, and never even dropped, he was rarely ever flustered by punches and was therefore allowed to take risks his brother, especially in later years, couldn’t afford to take.
Wladimir: Just as Wladimir’s style overhaul catered for his chin issues, it also solved the issue he had with punching himself out and exhausting himself late on in fights. This was evident in more than one of his early career defeats and was something, along with Emanuel Steward, he fixed by reducing his punch output and increasing the rate at which he held opponents.
Vitali: As busy as any heavyweight his size, much of Vitali’s success in this department stemmed from the fact he never loaded up on attacks the way his brother tended to do. Instead, Vitali, though typically awkward and ugly in his execution, would take some of the sting out of his punches and piece together combinations rather than look for the single knockout blow. This allowed him to fight for longer and at a decent pace, too.
Wladimir: In many ways the template heavyweight boxer, Wladimir relied a lot on his natural physical gifts and his athleticism to achieve success. A fine mover, with a remarkable ability to explode, Wladimir could match the strength of larger opponents and, crucially, also match the speed of his many smaller opponents. It was for this reason some critics called him an athlete first and a fighter second, though this, in hindsight, seems a little harsh.
Vitali: The older and stiffer of the two, Vitali must have watched the way young Wladimir moved around the ring on the way up with no small amount of envy. For, in comparison, Vitali was stuck in the mud, unbendable, and liable to being outboxed by quicker and smoother opponents. That this never actually happened had more to do with Vitali’s fighting prowess than anything else. His success, rest assured, was certainly not down to pure athletic ability.
Wladimir: Wladimir improved exponentially in this department throughout his career and, by the end, he was as hard to nail as any fighter in the division. Once a gunslinger with eyes only for the knockout, he started his career easy to hit for a man his size but this all changed when defeat humbled him, premature retirement looked inevitable, and Emanuel Steward altered his style. After that, Wladimir used his legs and his reach to good effect and protected his chin by clinching opponents at just the right time, making the job of hitting him clean almost impossible.
Vitali: A lot of Vitali’s defensive success owed to his sheer size and reach rather than anything spectacular he did in that area. At 6’7, he was a nightmare to hit at the best of times, and Vitali would use his priceless physical advantages, on the whole, really well, even if his actual defence appeared to be quite porous.
Jab and right cross
Wladimir: When Wladimir threw these two shots, particularly in succession, there were few more satisfying sights in a boxing ring. Thrown quickly, smoothly, and seamlessly, almost as though one punch, he would set opponents up with the jab, essentially blinding them with it, and then deliver the right behind it as if it were a train coming through a tunnel, leaving the opponent more often than not unsighted and on their back. Whatever the impact, it was textbook, the execution. Few boxers have ever thrown these two punches as well as Wladimir and the only issue in this regard was that he didn’t always throw them as frequently as fans would have liked.
Vitali: A common theme by now, Vitali’s delivery of these two shots – the jab and the cross – may not have been as aesthetically pleasing as Wladimir’s but that shouldn’t undermine the impact of the punches. Sneakier, and sometimes even heavier than his brother’s, Vitali could dictate the pace of a fight behind his long left jab and was known to bring down his right hand, thrown in an arcing, chopping motion, to devastating effect.
Wladimir: There was definitely a combination puncher in Wladimir somewhere, but rarely was he ever permitted to venture out, particularly once beaten a few times at the start of his career. Back then, at the beginning, Wladimir was known to put his punches together with a greater desire to secure a quick knockout. However, after losing against Lamon Brewster in 2004, he was mostly all about single shots or, at best, his trusted one-two combination, which was usually enough to secure him the result he wanted.
Vitali: Helped by his better stamina, and a seemingly low heart rate, Vitali could shuffle around the ring and rattle off combinations with very little difficulty. He could, for instance, piece together a jab, cross and hook in one movement, and he could also bring his uppercut into the equation with no fear of being countered. Unlike Wladimir, he was willing to take chances with combinations, knowing his chin could probably withstand any counter and his stamina would allow him to reload.
Wladimir: If ring generalship ultimately means control, few were as good in this department as Wladimir, a master at getting his opponent to dance to his beat and fall for his tricks. Indeed, so good was Wladimir at shifting his body around the ring, throwing punches only when he wanted to throw punches, and securing his opponents in the tightest of clinches, there was an almost 10-year period in which opponents counted themselves lucky to take rounds from him, let alone titles.
Vitali: His stature allowed Vitali to claim control in most of his fights, yet, in contrast to Wladimir, this control wasn’t necessarily aided by anything extraordinary he did with his fists. Rather, Vitali was a man who liked to lose control, get dirty, and have a fight, and the idea of easing his way into proceedings, or coasting, or even playing it safe, didn’t appear to sit well with him. Given the choice, he would go after his opponent and get them out of there. Given the choice, he would rather hit than hold.
Wladimir: Though he became arguably one of the most consistent heavyweight champions of all time, Wladimir didn’t start that way, nor will he be remembered, in the grand scheme of things, as a consistent heavyweight. After all, much of what made Wladimir such a fascinating boxer to watch was the very fact that he could come apart at any moment, even in fights he was winning, even against opponents he was supposed to beat with ease. Indeed, it was this unpredictability that led to many of his defeats and also what made him tighten things up and focus more on defence, or self-preservation, as his career progressed.
Vitali: The only knock against Vitali in terms of consistency is that he perhaps didn’t fight as often as people would have liked and perhaps didn’t make up for the four years he spent in retirement between 2004 and 2008. That aside, though, Vitali was ruthless and merciful as far as consistency goes. Each time he fought you knew exactly what you were going to get with him and, having never emphatically been beaten or knocked out as a pro, opponents had no idea how to go about stopping it.
This feature originally appeared in the Boxing News Klitschko Brothers bookazine