The big show. Those were the words former unified heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis chose to describe a boxer's seminal moment, a fight that defines his career. Lewis says his came in 2002, against Mike Tyson, when Lewis won a one-sided fight that ended with the once feared Tyson lying battered and bruised on the canvas.
Vitali Klitschko, Lewis says, is still looking for his.
"He's still really looking for his big show, something to really give him a true challenge," Lewis said. "But until he gets that glory, I think he's still searching, in that sense, with all these different opponents. Until some guy steps up and says, 'I'm the man to really give [you] that true challenge that [you] need.'"
Indeed, for the 39-year old Klitschko, the current WBC heavyweight champion, challenges have been hard to come by. Since coming out of retirement in 2008, Klitschko has scarcely lost a round, much less a fight. He's a sterling 6-0 in the past two-and-a-half years and has rolled through would-be contenders Samuel Peter, Chris Arreola and Shannon Briggs. Ironically, the last competitive fight Klitschko (41-2, 38 KOs) was in was against Lewis, who handed him last loss in 2003, when a grotesque cut above Klitschko's left eye forced the ringside doctor to stop the fight (with Vitali ahead on points).
"It's very important not to overestimate yourself and never underestimate your opponent," Klitschko said. "It's my principle. And that's why I work pretty hard and every fight I do my best. It's like the last fight in my life."
The latest in the line of challengers is Odlanier Solis (17-0, 12 KOs), a heavy-handed Cuban with a thick amateur resume. Like many of Klitschko's opponents, Solis has talked tough: He has sniffed at the suggestion Klitschko will be his most difficult fight and promised to rid the division of the aging champion.
And he has the tools to do it. The 6-foot-2 Solis possesses a hard right hand, a sweeping left hook and the skills to give Klitschko trouble on the inside. When the two meet in the ring on Saturday in Cologne, Germany (6 p.m. ET, Epix), Solis will be the second Olympic gold medalist Klitschko has faced. The first: Lewis.
"A fighter's amateur career is very important for professional boxing," Klitschko said. "That's why I know [beating him] will be not easy task."
Or will it? Solis's professional resume is paper thin. His most notable win to date is a second-round knockout of Monte Barrett in 2009. Solis went 10 rounds before being awarded a disqualification victory over Ray Austin in the title eliminator in December, the same Austin that Wladimir Klitschko literally pummeled with one hand inside two rounds three years earlier.
Vitali, the elder Klitschko brother, represents a much tougher test. Solis will have to solve Klitschko's long, stinging jab and keep up with his startling punch output to have any hope of winning a decision. He can't count on Klitschko looking past him, either. When asked during a recent conference call to address his future after Solis, Klitschko told reporters, "I have to win this fight."
But what about that future? Klitschko is tentatively penciled into a September fight with Tomasz Adamek, a former cruiserweight champion who is 5-0 since moving up to heavyweight in '09. Down the line there are possible showdowns with Nikolai Valuev, Denis Boytsov or even David Haye, the WBA champion who is scheduled to fight Wladimir this summer.
Can any of these potential opponents offer Klitschko the career-defining fight he is looking for? Maybe, maybe not. But though Klitschko may still be seeking that fight, Lewis believes he doesn't need it.
"I think [Klitschko's legacy] stacks up very high," Lewis said. "To come back from a [four-year] layoff like he did, and to have just a tremendous fight winning the championship back again is a tremendous accomplishment. And even to continue winning at this, at the age he's at and still have the drive that he does, is amazing.
"As far as the Hall of Fame, that's an automatic."