Klitschko: My goal is to be known as the best of my time
By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Universally recognized heavyweight kingpin Wladimir Klitschko has chosen his next opponent.
"As long as I can have things my way, what I'm looking for is more recognition and a record that at the end of the day I can be proud of," the 32-year-old said this week in a FitzHitz phone interview.
"The time has come for me to begin working on my legacy, and I'm very excited about the opportunity to be remembered as the best fighter of my era. Lewis had his time. Tyson had his time.
"My goal is to be known as the best of my time."
His credentials for such kudos are many.
Fresh off a seventh-round TKO of former belt-holder Hasim Rahman last month in Germany, Klitschko has made six defenses in a second reign atop the division that began with a similarly dominant seven-round defeat of Chris Byrd for the IBO and IBF titles in April 2006.
He had a five-defense run as WBO champion earlier in the decade as well, a stretch cut stunningly short by a second-round stoppage at the hands of Corrie Sanders in March 2003.
Another upset loss - this time to Lamon Brewster in a bout for the vacant WBO crown 13 months later - created a persistent chorus of naysayers the mammoth Ukrainian still hears to this day.
"I enjoy the sport and I like to get ready for events and to perform in them," he said. "And that motivation has always been there. But I had a bad time a few years ago and I know how things can be during those times. I heard a lot of bad things said about me.
"So now I'm trying to get a little payback for all that criticism."
Klitschko has since won 10 straight - eight by stoppage - including a six-round downing of Brewster in a rematch in July 2007.
He re-added the WBO belt to his collection with a unanimous decision over Sultan Ibragimov last February at Madison Square Garden, the first of three 2008 wins - Ibragimov, Tony Thompson (KO 11), Rahman - that have him seeking bigger quarry in the New Year.
"I think the heavyweight division is exciting, but I won't lie, there are problems finding good opponents," he said. "The fighters are good, but they're not famous, and you need fame as a heavyweight. You need to have another big name to have a signature fight.
"I've had mandatory fights for the various organizations and federations, so it's not like I've been choosing my opponents. But now, in 2009, I'll decide who my next opponent will be. No federation is going to tell me to do anything."
Toward that end, Klitschko placed three names on his personal 2009 to-do list - unbeaten Russian Alexander Povetkin, power-punching Californian Chris Arreola and former three-belt cruiserweight champion David Haye.
Povetkin was replaced by Rahman in December after pulling out of a scheduled title shot due to injury, while Arreola is widely thought to be near an agreement for a shot of his own in May - a scenario Klitschko would nonetheless neither confirm nor deny this week.
"Nothing is final. Nothing is done," he said.
"There are a lot of rumors out there that I have no comment on. We're working on things, and within the next few weeks we'll know and then make an announcement. It is my time to be on top, though, and I want to stay busy and use as much of it as possible."
Meanwhile, Haye has made the most tangible recent splash in the division, stopping former WBA title challenger Monte Barrett in five rounds in November and widely proclaiming since that he's the biggest obstacle any of the incumbent champions need to overcome.
The 28-year-old London native has won 12 straight fights - 11 by stoppage - since his lone career loss, a fifth-round TKO by Carl Thompson in 2004.
"A year ago, I didn't know his name," Klitschko said. "People told me that he'd been an undisputed cruiserweight champion, but I must've missed it. And suddenly, a year later, he wants to be in the ring against me.
"That's just the way it happens sometimes. New names are coming in. Haye has made himself famous, but he's been very loud and noisy. I have to teach him how to behave himself."
Beyond that three-pronged list, however, the future seems uncertain.
Complete unification of the division is off limits as long as Klitschko's older brother - 37-year-old Vitali - maintains possession of the WBC belt he won from Samuel Peter in October.
"There is no way we could ever fight," Klitschko said. "If we were to fight each other, our mother wouldn't be able to survive it."
A match with WBA champion Nikolay Valuev is equally unlikely, Klitschko said, as long as the 7-foot Russian is being protected by promoters Don King and Wilfried Sauerland.
Valuev won a disputed decision from 46-year-old Evander Holyfield in a Dec. 20 title defense.
"There's no way his promoters would ever put him in front of us," Klitschko said. "They're afraid he'd lose and there'd be no way for them to get the title back. It'd be fantastic if either one of us could get him, but without that, we have to fight and just continue to write our own successful story."
Klitschko ruled out Holyfield as well, even if he were to win the WBA title in a rematch.
"I have big respect for him for fighting a guy 10 years younger and fighting well enough to have people believe he won," he said. "If he becomes champion, I will not fight him. He's an icon and his achievement would be history. Out of respect for that and congratulations for that, I would not go for it."
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This weeks title-fight capsules:
WBO super middleweight title - Magdeburg, Germany
Denis Inkin (champion) vs. Karoly Balzsay (No. 1 contender)
Inkin (34-0, 24 KO): First title defense; 7-0 (4 KO) in Germany
Balzsay (19-0 (14 KO): Stoppage winner in eight of last nine fights
FitzHitz says: Inkin by decision
WBO light heavyweight title - Magdeburg, Germany
Zsolt Erdei (champion) vs. Yuri Barashian (No. 10 contender)
Erdei (29-0, 17 KO): Turned pro in 2000; 11-0 (4 KO) in title fights
Barashian (25-4, 17 KO): Lost by decision for WBA belt in last outing
FitzHitz says: Erdei by decision
Last weeks record: 1-1
Overall picks record: 54-22
Lyle Fitzsimmons is a 20-year veteran of sports journalism, a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and a periodic contributor to "The Drive with Dave Smith" on KLAA radio (am830klaa.com) and "Cold Hard Sports" on the MVN network (coldhardsports.com). Reach him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.