Sanders tries for clean sweep of Klitschkos

Updated: April 20, 2004, 5:09 PM ET
By Steve Kim |

This Saturday night, more than a year after knocking off his brother Wladimir, South African Corrie Sanders attempts to make it a clean sweep when he takes on Vitali Klitschko for the vacant WBC heavyweight title at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

If he should do it, he not only wins his first major title, he stakes his claim (and it's probably the strongest one) to being the world's best big man, and he could also be putting the Klitschkos out of business.

"The pressure is on Vitali," said Sanders at an open media workout last week in Southern California. "You saw what happened to his brother. It could happen to him."

Two weeks ago Lamon Brewster stopped Wlad in five rounds, which could mean several things. Perhaps, Sanders' win isn't as big as we all thought initially. Or, maybe, it could have an adverse effect on Vitali, since the pressure is on him to uphold the family name.

"Obviously it could go both ways," says Sanders, an agreeable sort. "It could be, 'what happened to my brother, I want to make it right.' But doubts could go through his head. 'It could happen to me, too.' It is going to be tough to get into the ring and know he has to win the fight. There is a lot of pressure on him."

But Sanders concedes that this time around he is facing the more formidable sibling.

"It looks like it, to be honest with you," he admits. "It looks like he is going to be a tougher challenge. I have done the hard work. Whatever comes, I will take it. I am sure it is going to be tougher, but we also thought Wladimir would be tougher. But, once he has been exposed, it is a different story. But I believe Vitali will be tough."

For Vitali, it would be nearly impossible to perform as poorly as his brother did last March. Sanders, who was literally the seventh or eighth choice to face Klitschko, was basically given no chance to defeat Wlad for the WBO belt. It was thought that Sanders, at that stage, was more committed to golf than boxing.

Coming into that bout, Sanders' last fight had taken place in November of 2002 (a second-round KO of Otis Tisdale) and before that, in November of 2001 (a first-round blowout of Michael Sprott). He had previously been stopped by Hasim Rahman in May of 2000.

Sanders, it seemed, was more prone to hit the driving range than the heavy bag. Even now, in a conference call with reporters, he was asked if he was still considering playing on the pro tour.

"It all depends on what happens. I believe I can win the fight next Saturday, and then I will have one or two defenses. As long as I keep winning, I will probably be in the ring," he answered. "Obviously, age is not on my side. So, the time may come to call it a day."

While he is 38 years old, there really isn't too much ring wear and tear on him; if anything, there's probably rust. After his big win last year, his career was bogged down in the usual politics and eventually, he abdicated his title. He may be 38, but it could be as young a 38 as you can get in this game. And with his southpaw style and power -- in what is a very depleted division -- he could be around awhile.

But you just know, eventually he'll be on the fairways. I mean, how many fighters answer as many questions about golf as they do about boxing?

You could make a comparison for Sanders with recent Masters' winner Phil Mickelson. Both are big-hitting left-handers and had unfulfilled expectations in the past. "Lefty" just recently broke an 0-42 skid in the majors by putting on the green jacket. This Saturday night, Sanders can become boxing's Mickelson by having the green belt put around his waist.

Ironically enough, Sanders has actually played more than a few rounds with the guy who Mickelson beat in Augusta, Ernie Els.

"I played with Els a couple of times back home in South Africa," Sanders said on the conference call. "Every December we have the Ernie Els Invitational back home. I play every year there. After I golf with Els, we go back to his house and I enjoy it."

If he can pull the upset on Saturday night, he won't be using his clubs professionally for a while.

He's got the proverbial "punchers chance," ust like he did last year and like Brewster did. They seem to have success against the Klitschkos.