- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Heavyweight titlist Vitali Klitschko could be involved in two major fights this year, one against beltholder David Haye this summer and one in the fall against top contender and big draw Tomasz Adamek.
Klitschko's younger brother, fellow champion Wladimir Klitschko, is due to face Haye on June 25 or July 2. However, if Wladimir's abdominal injury is not healed, the contract allows for Vitali to step in for him.
The brothers also have a similar deal with Adamek for a fight in September at a new soccer stadium in his native Poland. Again, the opponent for Adamek is at the discretion of the brothers, and Vitali is likely to get the call.
But Vitali won't get either fight if he doesn't take care of business this weekend.
He has to deal with a mandatory defense against 2004 Olympic gold medalist Odlanier Solis; the Cuban is one of the most decorated amateur fighters in history and a rising contender as a professional.
They will meet Saturday before an expected sellout crowd of 19,000 at Lanxess Arena in Cologne, Germany, in the first boxing event to be televised by fledgling American premium cable network Epix (5 p.m. ET, replay at 10 p.m. ET). A cruiserweight fight between contender Ola Afolabi (15-2-3, 6 KOs) and Lubos Suda (23-4-1, 15 KOs) will open the telecast.
As a publicity stunt, Epix, which will also stream the fight on EpixHD.com as part of a free two-week trial offer, will present a simulcast of the fight on a giant screen in New York's Times Square. It is the kickoff of what Epix expects to be regular involvement in boxing, said network president and CEO Mark Greenberg, who used to oversee boxing at Showtime.
"I can see this -- you know we'll evaluate what happens this weekend -- but I can foresee [boxing] being an important part of our mix," Greenberg said. "I don't see us doing as many fights as others, but I think there are ways for us to have a meaningful position in the sport.
"And look, I think the sport needs more outlets. Let's face it, I think what happens is, for a lot of the paid networks, and I ran one for a long time, the number of dates seems to dwindle. My guess is, with our announcement, we may see a few of those other networks come back with more dates in the next 12 months, too."
Greenberg said it was by design to get involved in the sport with a heavyweight title fight.
"We always believed that heavyweights have been the bellwether for boxing," he said. "You know there are always fight fans who love different classes of fights, categories of fighters, but certainly the heavyweights have always drawn the casual sports fan."
Klitschko (41-2, 38 KOs) will be making the sixth defense of his third title reign, and he has been utterly dominant since coming out of an injury-induced four-year retirement in 2008 to regain a title by pummeling Samuel Peter. In his six post-retirement fights, Klitschko is 6-0 with four knockouts and has scarcely lost any of the 61 rounds he has boxed.
Still, Klitschko, 39, of Ukraine, remains very focused. Although he certainly is aware of the big potential business down the road, he knows it goes up in smoke without a win against the 30-year-old Solis (17-0, 12 KOs).
"Without a win in Solis fight, without good result, I don't need to think about the future," Klitschko said. "It's step by step. My management makes the plans. I am not involved in that [on a daily basis]. But I understand without winning, I don't have to think about those other fights in the future. That is why I have the biggest respect for Solis and I won't underestimate him.
"I give my OK to management to make negotiation for the future, but the future without the present day is impossible, and that's why to talk about the future without winning against Solis makes no sense."
Klitschko, however, did allow himself to discuss Haye briefly.
"All boxing fans want to see Klitschko-David Haye," he said. "He talks too much. He [finally signed because he] doesn't have another option. He had to fight. He put himself in a corner. He understands the risk is very big to lose the fight. He's a smart guy. He knows this is not an easy task. He knows his chance to lose to a Klitschko is pretty big.
"He never wants to fight me. I know I will knock him out in the early rounds and Wladimir will beat him badly for all 12 rounds and knock him out in the last round. It will be very painful. I can promise him."
Since turning pro in 2007 after defecting from Cuba, Solis' credentials are thin. His most notable victories are a second-round knockout of faded former contender Monte Barrett in 2009 and a 10th-round disqualification victory against Ray Austin in the December title eliminator that landed him the mandatory shot against Klitschko.
But as an amateur, Solis did it all: four world championships, six consecutive Cuban national championships (a huge accomplishment on that powerhouse team) and the Olympic gold in Athens.
Klitschko respects those accomplishments.
"He's hungry and a good fighter. Solis is the best fighter with the best amateur career I have fought," he said. "He's undefeated as a professional. I know it will not be an easy fight. I don't underestimate him. For him to beat me, he has to be aggressive against me. There is no way to beat me. I am prepared for him. He is very fast. I have good reaction. I have my skills and I try to use my skills and show I am the best one. It will be a real battle, but I will knock him out in the later rounds."
Former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, a Hall of Famer who will be part of the Epix broadcast team, stopped Klitschko on a terrible cut in the sixth round to retain the title in 2003 in what turned out to be Lewis' final fight.
Although, like Klitschko, Lewis respects Solis' deep amateur background and undefeated pro record, Lewis still tabs Klitschko to get the job done.
"I think Klitschko has a tremendous advantage just because, you know, the experience aspect, the height, the reach and the fact that he doesn't get hit too often," Lewis said. "And he knows how to really use his weight. So I think the man with the most advantages is obviously Vitali Klitschko. So, you know, I'm edging him to win."
Before the deal for the fight was made, Solis and his promoter, Arena's Ahmet Öner, did a lot of talking. They have, however, remained pretty quiet during the promotion.
"Why should we run our mouth like everybody else did it in the past? That makes no sense," Öner said. "We worked very hard to get to where we are right now. Now let's see what happens. On Saturday, we will find out who is the best heavyweight fighter in the world. Whatever we can say about the fight now will not matter anymore anyways as soon as the guys have entered the ring."
Said Solis, "All I know is that after 12 rounds I will be the new world champion. If I can win the fight before that I will do it. But you never know."
2hMichael C. Wright