My Sportsman: The Klitschkos
All they've done is become the first pair of brothers to hold pieces of the world heavyweight championship at the same time. That alone might warrant Sportsman of the Year consideration, if they didn't already embody the classical definition of
Mind? Both have Ph.D.s, speak four languages and play chess avidly, a brand of renaissance overachievement not seen in pro sports' uppermost flights since
Body? Vitali (6-7, 250) and Wladimir (6-6, 240) have been models of masculine perfection throughout their careers and longtime advocates of physical education to foster confidence and hope among young people. "It's never tough to get in shape," Vitali, 38, told reporters before a September KO of
Spirit? It seems awfully obtuse to pin the alleged death of boxing on the heavyweight division when the Klitschkos are selling out soccer stadiums in Europe. More than 61,000 fans packed Germany's Veltins-Arena for Wladimir's ninth-round TKO of
Wladimir (53-3, 47 KOs) is the superior fighter today and, at 33, insists that he's entering the prime of his career. He consolidated power with the Chagaev victory, adding the
Vitali (38-2, 37 KOs), who holds the WBC title, rates better in the history books: He has never been knocked down or taken a standing eight count and boasts the highest knockout rate of any heavyweight champion (92.5 percent). It's not a stretch to suggest that he would still be undefeated if not for bad luck with injuries: Both of his losses came on injury stoppages while he was ahead on the scorecards.
They seldom talk trash, even if provoked. When
The breadth of their achievement is almost... annoying. You can practically hear your mother over breakfast:
Yes, they're boring. But so is glacial formation, plate tectonics and the process through which coal becomes diamond. The workmanlike Klitschkos don't feed the tabloid machine. In the ring, they don't overthink it, don't play for style or try to be something they're not. Their biggest strength is a realistic knowledge of their own weaknesses. Most of their fights conform to a familiar pattern: They press the size advantage to measure distance and tenderize the challenger early with left jabs and straight rights. There's a knockdown or two along the way before the fight ends in the middle or late rounds.
We've seen predictable, maddening efficiency in sports before. They banned the dunk for
Say what you want about the moribund state of their division, but fight fans have complained about the lack of great heavyweights in almost every era of boxing.
In our insular sporting culture, a sport is seldom popular if an American isn't the best. Men's tennis was hot when
The sweet science is a victim of the same trend, as the shortage of American heavyweight contenders -- coupled with the rise of homegrown alternatives like mixed martial arts -- pushes the sport further toward the periphery. Yet there would be far less hand-wringing about boxing's vitality if the Klitschkos came from Yonkers and not Ukraine.