Friday September 25th, 2009

When Vitali Klitschko announced his return to boxing in 2008, he told everyone he was coming back for one reason: He wanted to make history. He wanted to join his younger brother, IBF and WBO titleholder Wladimir Klitschko, as a world champion, thereby becoming the first pair of brothers to hold heavyweight titles simultaneously. Vitali accomplished that feat in his first fight back, knocking out Samuel Peter in a one-sided bout that earned him the WBC belt, the same title he relinquished when he retired.

It was an emotionally charged moment for both brothers. When Peter refused to come out for the ninth round, Wladimir leapt up and down on the ring apron like a lottery winner who had just seen the winning numbers appear on TV.

It has been almost a year since that defining moment, and Vitali (37-2) is still fighting on. Last March, he knocked out No. 1 contender Juan Carlos Gomez, and this Saturday he will face explosive American heavyweight Chris Arreola (27-0) at the Staples Center in Los Angeles (HBO, 9 p.m.). Arreola is young (28) and motivated (in addition to looking to become the only American heavyweight champion, Arreola is seeking to become the first heavyweight of Mexican descent to win a world title). But he is more of a brawler than a boxer. In short, he's tailor-made for Klitschko, who has a potent jab and the highest knockout percentage in heavyweight history.

At 38, and with a litany of lucrative fights behind him, Klitschko is financially secure. He has a Ph.D. in sports medicine and philosophy to fall back on. He has a wife and three young children. And he has a bright future in politics: Despite being defeated in two mayoral campaigns in Kiev, Klitschko remains one of the most popular figures in the Ukraine and is currently serving on the Ukrainian delegation of the Congress of the Council of Europe.

So why is he still fighting?

"To be honest, I'm still very motivated to fight," Klitschko told "I took a lot [four years] of time off. My body feels good. And I'm still fighting very well."

That's certainly true. His performance against Peter was flawless and he put Gomez down twice before the referee stepped in. The memories of Klitschko quitting on his stool against Chris Byrd in 2000 have long since faded and the world is once again seeing the warrior who gave Lennox Lewis all he could handle in 2003 and who Ring Magazine recognized as the world's top fighter before injuries forced him to retire.

But there's another thing that motivates Klitschko: the WBA title, the missing piece of the heavyweight crown. It currently belongs to Russian giant Nicolay Valuev, who will defend the title against David Haye in November.

"We need to get them all," said Klitschko. "When that happens, I will think about my future."

It could happen soon. Klitschko's team, which includes manager Bernd Boente and K2 Promotions managing director Tom Loeffler, have had discussions with Valuev's promoters, Don King and Sauerland Event. And Klitschko was close to a deal to fight Haye this summer before British fighter abruptly pulled out and agreed to face Valuev.

There is also the possibility that his brother could beat him to it. Wladimir was scheduled to fight Haye in June before Haye pulled out with an injury. Plus, a fight with Valuev would be huge in Europe, where Wladimir is immensely popular. His June fight with Ruslan Chagaev drew more than 60,000 fans in Germany. A source close to Haye told that if he does win the title from Valuev, he would prefer his first unification fight to be against Wladimir, not Vitali.

"They are both tough," the source said. "But Vitali's style is all wrong for David."

Regardless of how long it takes, Vitali says he will wait. And by the looks of it, he can wait a long time. At the pre-fight press conference on Tuesday, Klitschko walked onto the dais looking like he was carved out of granite. He has been swimming at UCLA for the last five weeks and has run more than 100 miles and boxed more than 120 rounds in training camp. He is fully prepared to go 12 rounds with Arreola, though no one expects it to go more than five.

"I have been eating and sleeping Chris Arreola," said Klitschko. "This is a big fight. A lot of people are saying this young guy is going to take my title. But I know that is never going to happen."

GRAHAM: Crash course to Klitschko vs. Arreola

MANNIX: Arreola looks to prove naysayers wrong

VIDEO: Arreola goes to work

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.