- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko, whose knee injury forced him to postpone his mandatory title defense Saturday against Hasim Rahman, will see a knee specialist this week before determining his ring future.
Klitschko tore the meniscus in his right knee and suffered a bone bruise while sparring last Thursday in Los Angeles, just nine days before he was to face the former champion.
Klitschko will have his knee examined, probably Thursday, in Vail, Colo., by knee specialist Dr. Richard Steadman.
Bernd Boente, Klitschko's manager, said Klitschko probably will need surgery to repair his meniscus.
"Vitali will go to Vail to see Dr. Steadman, and if it's only the torn meniscus, he could be back very soon," Boente said. "That's what we hope. He'll probably have surgery, but it is a minor surgery."
"I want to get another opinion on my knee and Dr. Steadman is known as the best in the world," Klitschko said in a statement.
"After reviewing the MRI Friday, Dr. Bert Mandelbaum (of Santa Monica, Calif.) told me that I have at least a torn meniscus and a bone bruise. I was examined again on Saturday by (orthopedic surgeon) Dr. Tony Daly. I was fitted with several knee braces and tried to spar. But nothing worked. My knee was just too unstable."
It is the fourth time this year that Klitschko has postponed the fight because of various injuries, including to his thigh and back. The fight was originally scheduled for April 30 and bumped to June, July and finally this week at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
Top Rank promoter Bob Arum said that if all goes well, the fight would be rescheduled for March 11 or 18. He said he has the Thomas & Mack Center on hold for both dates.
"We'll try to do it in March," said Arum, who met Monday with Klitschko adviser Shelly Finkel and Rahman manager Steve Nelson. "Everybody wants it to happen."
Klitschko said he felt terrible for having to postpone the fight again.
"I want to apologize once again to everyone involved in this fight: Hasim Rahman, the promoters, HBO, all the fans," Klitschko said.
"All of this is very devastating to me. I am not sure anyone can imagine how very sad and depressing this year has been for me because of all of the injuries. Next year can only be better. For now, I am just hoping that I will know more by the end of this week when I will be able to return to the ring."
Klitschko (35-2, 34 KOs) said postponing the fight was the right thing to do, even though he could have gone through with it to collect an $8 million-$10 million payday.
"There was no absolutely no way I would go into the ring in my current condition," Klitschko said.
"Maybe others would have gone in, just for the money. But I am too much of a sportsman for that. I could never betray my fans and the sport of boxing just for a payday, no matter how much it was. I have too much character to enter a fight knowing I am hurt, try and fight a round or two, then quit and go home. I would never take the money and run."
Klitschko has made only one defense of his WBC title, beating Danny Williams on an eighth-round TKO on Dec. 11, 2004, and is long overdue for his mandatory against Rahman (41-5-1, 33 KOs), who claimed the interim title by beating Monte Barrett in August.
Rahman took the Barrett fight because he was tired of waiting for Klitschko.
Rahman promoter Don King is pressuring the WBC to stick to its rules, which would mean stripping Klitschko and elevating Rahman to full WBC champion. But that seems unlikely, and Klitschko's title appears safe for the time being.
"Vitali called (WBC President Jose) Sulaiman personally and he said he would wait before doing anything until after Vitali has visited the doctor," Boente said. "He appreciated that Vitali called him, and Vitali will again call him personally to let him know the status."
Although the WBC has not made an official ruling, Sulaiman told the Associated Press that he is inclined to give Klitschko a three-month window to heal before he will consider stripping him.
Even though the March dates promoter Arum seeks are more than 120 days away, the WBC wants to see that Klitchko is at least ready to defend within 90 days.
"You shouldn't lose your title because you get injured," Sulaiman told The Associated Press. "A decision that is fair for everyone will come in time."
Arum said that Sulaiman called him on Monday and said "he wants to give Klitschko every opportunity to fight Rahman. He's definitely on board."
King, who is not directly involved with Klitschko-Rahman after losing a purse bid to Arum, his main rival, said that if Klitschko was stripped and Rahman was elevated, he would put his four titlists into a tournament to determine the undisputed champ.
King also promotes the other three title holders: Chris Byrd, John Ruiz and Lamon Brewster.
"Don is talking everywhere about heavyweight unification. But a tournament without Klitschko? Who cares?" Boente said.
Indeed, Klitschko is the lone heavyweight able to generate substantial revenue. It is why Arum bid $12.001 million to secure the rights to fight.
That hasn't stopped King from trying to make his case.
"Anyone could tell that Vitali did not want to fight Rock," King said. "This is why I lobbied for Rock's last fight to be for the WBC interim heavyweight title. The moment Vitali canceled his mandatory defense scheduled for Nov. 12, he vacated his title and Rahman immediately assumed his crown according to the rules and regulations of the WBC.
"I would have preferred for Rahman and Klitschko to have settled their differences in the ring this coming weekend, but nobody seems to be able to make Vitali fight his mandatory defense against Rahman. He seems to prefer to give up his title rather than face Rock."
The postponement put on hold Rahman's $4.2 million payday, which he needs badly because he is in bankruptcy. Although he would prefer to fight Klitschko, he also wants to be heavyweight champion again.
"I told WBC President Jose Sulaiman when I became their interim heavyweight champion in August by defeating Monte Barrett that I didn't think Vitali would fight me," Rahman said. "Mr. Sulaiman said that if he pulled out of the fight, he would declare me the WBC champion."
Undercard update: Like Klitschko-Rahman, the three fights slated for Saturday's HBO PPV undercard -- welterweight titlist Antonio Margarito vs. Manuel Gomez, junior bantamweight titlist Martin Castillo vs. Alexander Munoz and a six-rounder involving Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. -- are on hold.
The rest of the undercard, however, still will take place on Saturday night. Arum said those fights will be moved from the Thomas & Mack Center and take place at the Wynn Las Vegas, one of the casinos sponsoring Klitschko-Rahman, at a private party for many of the resort's top customers who were coming to Las Vegas for the heavyweight title fight.
Among those who will see action are three of Top Rank's top prospects: 2004 U.S. Olympian and junior middleweight Vanes Martirosyan (5-0, 2 KOs), junior welterweight Mike Alvarado (12-0, 9 KOs) and 2004 Puerto Rican Olympian and heavyweight Victor Bisbal (3-0, 2 KOs). Also fighting will be heavyweight Yanqui Diaz (13-3, 8 KOs).
Arum said he is working with HBO to reschedule Margarito-Gomez on Nov. 19 on HBO's Floyd Mayweather-Sharmba Mitchell undercard in Portland, Ore. Since HBO won't be airing a replay of Klitschko-Rahman that night, there is time in the broadcast.
"I'm optimistic that it can work out," Arum said. "I'm pushing for it."
As for Castillo-Munoz, Arum said he hoped to reschedule it before the end of the year, possibly on Telefutura. The "worst case scenario" is that the fight would be added to the Jan. 21 HBO PPV card being headlined by the rematch between Erik Morales and Manny Pacquiao.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.
17hMarc Stein and Ramona Shelburne