Commentary

Klitschko brothers spurred on by the other's achievements

Never before have two brothers ruled the heavyweight roost simultaneously. Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko would like to change that. Elder brother Vitali will hold destiny in his hands when he steps into the ring against titlist Sam Peter on Saturday.

Originally Published: October 8, 2008
By Brian Doogan | Special to ESPN.com

Vladimir KlitschkoAndreas Rentz/Bongarts/Getty Images"Home, sweet home!" Vitali Klitschko returns to the sports arena after a four-year hiatus on Saturday.
Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko fired their hooks almost simultaneously on Thursday; Vitali at a sparring partner in the Austrian Alps, his younger brother on the 12th hole at Kingsbarns Golf Links near St. Andrews in Scotland. Both hooks did damage.

"Out of 10 drives, I can sometimes hit one straight and as far as the pros," Wladimir, 32, told ESPN.com while playing with Swedish Ryder Cup golfer Soren Hansen in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. "The trouble is, the other nine can go anywhere -- and one of these was on the 12th hole. It was not pretty."

[+] EnlargeWladimir Klitschko
Andrew Redington/Getty ImagesWho would have thought Wladimir Klitschko would be the one on the golf links?
Wladimir's golf game received mixed reviews. The Times of London reported that witnesses suggested "making contact with the ball definitely was [a problem] for him," while The Press and Journal of Aberdeen insisted "he looked far better than his 18 handicap suggests."

"I was afraid he was going to let it go on a few holes and break a few clubs," Hansen said.

The irony is that Vitali, 37, is the Klitschko who might have been expected to be playing golf last week -- back strains and knee injuries permitting.

Instead, he was wrapping up his training ahead of arriving in Berlin to challenge heavyweight titleholder Samuel Peter on Saturday at the O2 World Arena. It will be his first fight in four years.

When little brother saw that I was a boxer, he wanted to become a boxer, too. When little brother saw me receive Ph.D., he had to get Ph.D. also. And when I won a heavyweight title, little brother was not satisfied until he had won a title. Now I want to accomplish what little brother did three years ago by beating Sam Peter … now I am following Wladimir.

-- Vitali Klitschko, on how he and his brother, Wladimir, find inspiration in each other

"I have had to order some new sparring partners because a couple of them could not spar anymore," Vitali said. "My preparation has been great, and I am hungry to fight. This has been my dream and my brother's dream, that we should both hold heavyweight title belts at the same time. This is a moment that we are looking forward to sharing together."

In a Hamburg, Germany, apartment several years ago, Wladimir described the emotion of watching his brother box as "the bungee-jump feeling." They have been in each other's corner throughout their respective careers. Now, they are on the verge of an unprecedented kind of domination: Two brothers have never ruled the heavyweights simultaneously.

Regardless of title belts, if Vitali beats Peter, the Klitschkos will be the two best heavyweights in the world. This might be a moderate boast in one of the most mediocre periods in the history of heavyweight boxing, but it says something about the way that two brothers from Ukraine have been spurred on by the other's achievements.

"When little brother saw that I was a boxer, he wanted to become a boxer, too," Vitali told ESPN.com. "When little brother saw me receive a Ph.D., he had to get a Ph.D. also. And when I won a heavyweight title, little brother was not satisfied until he had won a title. Now I want to accomplish what little brother did three years ago by beating Sam Peter … now I am following Wladimir."

Little brother expects big brother to encounter fewer problems than he did against the Nigerian Nightmare when he was floored by him three times at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City before he prevailed on points in an elimination bout in September 2005.

"Peter, just like other heavyweights, is able to punch hard, and I think that Vitali knows this and will knock Peter out before anything else can happen," Wladimir said. "Vitali's last opponent, Danny Williams, was the same size and style as Peter, and Vitali was exceptional against him. I expect the same from Vitali when he faces Peter."

But the destruction of Williams took place in December 2004. Since then, Vitali has spent more time in the political arena than he has in any other.

In 2006, the two brothers stood shoulder to shoulder with Viktor Yushchenko as they addressed a rally of 250,000 people in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in the center of Kiev at the height of the Orange Revolution, a series of protests following the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election.

Speaking directly after Yushchenko, Vitali applauded the people who came onto the streets to protest against "the liar," then-prime minister Viktor Yanukovych after Yanukovych attempted to steal the presidential election "by falsifying results," Vitali said.

"Our future, our lives will begin to change when the country votes again," Vitali had told the crowd. "This fight of ours is for democracy, for our country to become a true democracy and for our president to be Viktor Yushchenko."

Yushchenko came to power in the subsequent election, and Vitali retired from boxing in November 2005 after undergoing an operation on his right knee, which he had injured while sparring ahead of a title defense against Hasim Rahman.

Four months later, Vitali campaigned to become mayor of Kiev and won 25 percent of the vote. He came in second in the polls to Leonid Chernovetsky but finished ahead of the incumbent, Oleksandr Omelchenko. He was elected as a people's deputy to Kiev's city council.

[+] EnlargeVladimir Klitschko
Richard Heathcote/Action Images/Icon SMIWhether speaking at the podium or trading blows in the ring, Vitali Klitschko's heart can't be questioned.
"I saw that the rules worked for a very small group of people, while the vast majority, maybe 90 percent, had to wait for something to improve their lives. I wanted to make a change in my country," Vitali said.

Since 2002, he and Wladimir have been ambassadors for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which supports more than 180 projects in 87 countries in need of the most elementary aid.

"I remember when I was invited to meet Max Schmeling, along with Wladimir, at his home outside Hollenstedt in northern Germany," Vitali said. "I had lost against Chris Byrd because of a torn shoulder muscle, and Max said, 'I know you have a bad feeling right now, and everybody is kicking you when you are down. But I had the same situation in my life, and I know your time will come.' His time came when he became the first man to beat Joe Louis; mine when I fought Lennox Lewis and no one could ever question my heart again.

"Right now, there is no question that Wladimir is the strongest boxer in the heavyweight division. In my opinion, the second-strongest is Samuel Peter, and just after that is Ruslan Chagaev and Nikolai Valuev. I don't really care about legacy, about what people will think of me as a fighter years from now, but I do want to achieve this feat, for me and my brother to be heavyweight titleholders at the same time."

It would be a nice memory for them to share years from now when they are hooking and slicing their way around the golf course.

Brian Doogan is a sportswriter for the London Sunday Times and is a longtime European correspondent for The Ring magazine.