For a moment, the contenders in the best heavyweight bout that will never happen looked each other in the eye as if they meant it. “You know, when you were a boy you stole my toys,” big brother Vitali said. “I like your belt, maybe I want it.” “I remember, when I was small, you kicked my a***,” Wladimir, the little brother, replied, and burst out laughing, The Times reported.
It was nearly 2am yesterday and the brothers Klitschko had the world at their feet. Vitali’s brilliant eight-round victory over Samuel Peter a couple of hours earlier to regain the WBC title after nearly four years out of the ring realised the brothers’ dream of reigning together as world heavyweight champion. “Der champion ist zurück!”, a light show outside the O2 World arena in Berlin had said before the bout. Coming back is something champions are never supposed to do.
But plenty of former champions told the Ukrainian that he could do it. In a series of taped messages, Foreman, Frazier, Lewis, Holyfield and Tyson — indeed, any heavyweight ghost looking for a pay cheque — was wishing him well. As Don King, the co-promoter of Peter, said after the bout: “Vitali gave hope for all old people.”
Klitschko’s previous fight had been a successful defence of the same title against Danny Williams in Las Vegas in 2004. After that a series of injuries forced his retirement and another wrecked a comeback last year. The WBC had invented a “champion emeritus” tag, allowing him a shot at his former title if he got fit. It proved to be a golden ticket.
Reflexes are meant to be the first thing to go as a boxer ages. But the 37-year-old, derided before for being robotic, came back transformed, loose-limbed, boxing with his hands by his side, taunting the Nigerian. The champion could not get close, walking into jabs, left hooks, clubbing rights and was rocked on three occasions in the first round alone.
It got no better for Peter, 28, who was soon bleeding from the mouth. Klitschko could not miss, landing showboating hooks and sickening rights at will as Peter became an increasingly immobile target. By the fifth round, as Klitschko waved his unprotected chin in front of Peter, the only question remaining was how much punishment the champion could take.
The WBC allows judges’ scores to be announced after the fourth and eighth rounds. Confirmation that Peter needed a knockout (one judge had amazingly given him a round) no doubt encouraged the Nigerian to tell his corner that he wanted out and he was retired on his stool at the end of the eighth. Too small, too slow, Peter did not have any answers.
First in the ring was Wladimir, 32, who had brought his WBO, IBF and IBO belts for a family portrait. “I said, ‘Bro, respect,’ ” Wladimir said. “That was definitely the best I have ever seen him. He didn’t take any punches. When he won I just exploded.”
Vitali said that he was unsure if he would box on, but with the family dream fulfilled, the man who has twice tried and failed to be elected mayor of Kiev since his previous appearance in the ring is not in any hurry to hand back the belt. “Without dreams, life is very boring,” he said. “It would be great to take all the world titles in the Klitschko family.” Nikolay Valuev, of Russia, holds the remaining belt not in the clutches of the Klitschko family, the WBA one, but first Wladimir defends his titles against Alexander Povetkin, of Russia, the 2004 Olympic super-heavyweight champion in December. Shelly Finkel, the Klitschkos’ American adviser, threw in the name of Britain’s David Haye. “There aren’t many big names out there for them,” Finkel said.
The victory has raised Vitali’s status. The only two defeats on his record were caused by injuries in bouts he was winning — against Chris Byrd when he suffered a shoulder injury and against Lennox Lewis when he was cut. “There was a big question before I came back,” Vitali said. “I had very different opinions from my friends and my parents who were worried. If I’m healthy, I’m always confident. I didn’t lose that title, I gave it back for free. One dream came true, but I will carry on dreaming.”
Brothers with form for fighting their corner
The Klitschkos are the first brothers to hold versions of the world heavyweight title simultaneously, but are not the only brothers to make a big impression in the ring:
Leon and Michael Spinks Both reigned as world heavyweight champion. Leon beat Muhammad Ali for the undisputed title in 1978 but lost a rematch the same year. Michael won the IBF title from Larry Holmes in 1986 but lost it in 91 seconds to Mike Tyson in 1988. Both also won gold medals at the Montreal Olympics in 1976.
Max and Buddy Baer Max reigned as world heavyweight champion from 1934-35. Buddy came close to defeating Joe Louis in a title challenge in 1941, knocking “The Brown Bomber” out of the ring. Louis prevailed by a disqualification and won a rematch inside one round.
Juan Manuel and Rafael Márquez These Mexican brothers twice held different world titles at the same time. From 2003-05 Juan Manuel held the WBA and IBF featherweight titles while Rafael was IBF bantamweight champion. In 2007, Juan Manuel was WBC super-featherweight champion and Rafael WBC super-bantamweight champion.