Lewis returns to ring

Posted: Friday, June 20, 2003

LOS ANGELES Vitali Klitschko speaks four languages, has an advanced degree and travels widely to help further the education of children in poor countries.

With all that brainpower, you wouldn't think he would be too eager to fight Lennox Lewis.

Then again, Klitschko is no dummy in the ring, either.

''I am not a god and nobody's perfect,'' Klitschko said. ''But I am really confident to go in the ring and fight against Lennox Lewis.''

A giant of a heavyweight at 6-foot-7, Klitschko takes a giant step up in class Saturday night when he meets Lewis for the WBC heavyweight championship.

It's a fight that two weeks ago he thought he might never get. Suddenly he has it, and Klitschko must now figure out a way to beat one of the most talented heavyweights of recent times.

It won't be easy. Klitschko is seen as a fighter with limited skills and not even the best heavyweight in his family. That honor went to his brother, Wladimir, until he got knocked out a few months ago by Corrie Sanders.

Still, Klitschko is big, strong and can hit. He thinks he sees something in the champion's style he can exploit, and is ready to take advantage of a fight that fell into his lap.

''It is a very big moment,'' Klitschko said. ''I was fighting for this moment for seven years in pro and almost seven years in amateur. Lewis is the best in the heavyweight division and everyone knows it.''

Klitschko has wanted to get Lewis in the ring ever since rising to No. 1 contender in the WBC. As part of a deal to fight Lewis later this year, he agreed to fight Cedric Boswell on the undercard Saturday night of what was supposed to be a Lewis fight against Kirk Johnson.

When Johnson was injured two weeks ago, Lewis turned to Klitschko.

''I was at first surprised. I thought the whole evening might be canceled,'' Klitschko said. ''It shows that Lennox Lewis is pretty confident, a real champion.''

Lewis has reason to be confident, even though he hasn't fought since knocking out Mike Tyson a year ago. At 37, Lewis is a rarity in boxing he seems to be getting better with time.

Klitschko will prove a lot different test than Tyson, though. For one of the few times in his career, the 6-foot-5 Lewis will be punching up at an opponent instead of down, and Klitschko has the punching power to test the most glaring weakness Lewis has a tendency to go down after getting hit on the jaw.

That hasn't swayed oddsmakers, who make Lewis a 4-1 favorite in the scheduled 12-round fight at the Staples Center.

Lewis weighed in Thursday at 256 1/2 pounds, the heaviest he has ever been in his pro career. His previous high was 253 pounds when he was knocked out by Hasim Raham in their first fight in April 2001. Klitschko weighed in at 248 pounds.

''Klitschko has never seen a boxer like me,'' Lewis said. ''I am the last great heavyweight.''

Lewis seems reinvigorated at fighting Klitschko, and his confidence probably rose after seeing Wladimir Klitschko get knocked out by Sanders.

''My brother made a lot of mistakes in that fight and he has to pay for his mistakes,'' Klitschko said. ''He's very motivated to come back.''

First, though, Wladimir will work Vitali's corner Saturday night. Wladimir has helped his brother in training, and showed him some moves that Lewis put on him when they filmed a boxing scene in 2001 for the ''Oceans 11'' movie.

The two brothers grew up boxing in the Soviet Union amateur system, then for Ukraine. Their father is a helicopter pilot, and they grew up valuing education as much as sports. Klitschko has a doctorate in sports training from the University of Kiev.

Klitschko fights with the stilted style that used to be taught to amateur boxers in the Soviet Union, displaying none of the smoothness a fighter like Lewis brings into the ring. But he is 32-1 with 31 knockouts, with his only loss coming to IBF champion Chris Byrd when he quit after the ninth round with a shoulder injury in a fight he was winning.

That fight led some to question whether Klitschko has the heart to be a heavyweight champion, but Klitschko came back to win five fights in a row and moved up in the rankings.

''I may not have the smooth and nice technical style but the result is very important,'' Klitschko said. ''It looks not so nice maybe when watching, but I find for me my style is very effective.''

It will have to be effective for Klitschko to counter Lewis, who knocked out the last big guy he met, Michael Grant, in the second round in April 2000.

''I do well against big guys,'' Lewis said.

The future of both Klitschko brothers could be riding on the outcome. Before the year began, both seemed well on their way to a goal of being heavyweight champions together.

After Wladimir's shocking loss, Vitali now goes into a fight he's not supposed to win. If it bothers him, he's not showing it.

''I don't just want to be in the ring Saturday night, I want to win, too,'' Klitschko said.

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