Oh, brother! What Vitali
will do to Sanders

Apr 20, 2004 1:34 AM

My kid brother grew up to be bigger and stronger than me, but though we never tested each other, there was no way he could beat me in a fist fight. I was Big Brother. He was Little Brother. End story.

That’s why don’t believe that Vitali Klitschko is going to befall the same fate of his baby brother, Wladimir. Besides, I think Vitali proved he had a chin when, last June, he took some pretty good right hands from a pretty good right-handed puncher, Lennox Lewis.

In fact, not only should Vitali avenge a second-round loss of Wladimir to Corrie Sanders, I think he has a chance to do it as quickly as the South African would-be golf pro unmasked Little Brother 13 months ago.

Sanders, who had been debating whether to finally give up boxing at age 37 and go for a spot on either the PGA or European tours, shocked the world with his four-knockdown rout of Wladimir.

But the shock, in retrospect, shouldn’t have been all that much after watching the 1996 Olympic champion unravel against Lamon Brewster.

Wladimir fell apart even earlier in his career against the human punching bag, Ross Purritty. Vitali avenged that loss — the way Wladimir avenged Vitali’s loss to Chris Byrd. But it is now clear who Big Brother really is.

Wladimir was still feeling the effects of Sanders’ punches when he fought Brewster. He had a so-called confidence builder when he was put in with an ancient Argentine of no means, then another against Dannell Nicholson.

John Hornewer, Nicholson’s attorney (and Chris Byrd’s, among others), took Nicholson to Germany for that matchup and said Wladimir was scared.

German writers told me the same thing before the Brewster fight. Hornewer said, "You could see how he looked at Vitali in his corner ”” he was the little brother again."

I was the first kid on the block to pronounce Wladimir better than Vitali. Soon, that was the general perception in this country.

Wladimir was more fluid than Big Brother. He fought more like an American. But it was after Byrd himself said the better of the two was Vitali that, in retrospect, that became clear.

Byrd, beaten badly by Wladimir and on his way to take down the tiring Vitali ”” big men, remember, are not known for stamina ”” said that Vitali, the taller at 6-foot-7, stood erect and leaned back, making him much tougher to hit. Byrd said also that Vitali was the bigger puncher.

There is more. Klaus-Peter Kohl said all along that Vitali was "the man." The German promoter was not alone. The Soviet and Ukraine coaches had selected Vitali over Baby Brother as their big Olympic hope.

Wladimir, 6-foot-5, was going to have to scrimp down to the 201-pound limit if he wanted to be an Olympian. The super heavyweight spot was reserved for Big Brother.

Then Vitali flunked a drug test (he said it was because he was taking a cold medicine). Wladimir went to Atlanta and won the gold.

Yet, even with an Olympic gold medal on his breast, when he turned pro with Vitali in Germany, Wladimir had to play second fiddle. The Germans, too, thought Vitali was No. 1 in the family. Vitali was the star, Wladimir the prelim kid.

But when Vitali quit against Byrd, claiming he could not go on while ahead on the scorecards because of a torn rotator cuff, I dubbed him "Chicken Kiev" and his ratings plunged. Some chicken!

Don’t tell that to Lennox Lewis. Vitali, I believe, did not realize that in boxing you had to fight through pain sometimes. He had his doctorate already and was smart enough to realize that he could quit now and fight another day.

The reaction to his quitting, though, taught him the lesson. I don’t think he’ll ever do that again. He is a fighter, and perhaps the best heavyweight out there, which, granted is not saying much. But he’s in only with Corrie Sanders, a hard-hitting left-hander who can drive a golf ball well over 300 yards, but was never top level as a boxer.

Sanders was ready to quit when he got the opportunity to fight Wladimir for the WBOgus title 13 months ago. He blasted the surprised Klitschko right out. It won’t happen again. Vitali is much better defensively.

Sanders is 38 now. Like most big men, he too has little stamina. He faded badly, and quickly, against Hasim Rahman in what should have been his farewell to major league boxing.

Earlier, he had been taken out quickly by Nate Tubbs, the Little Brother of Tony Tubbs, and a Mike Tyson sparring partner.

Emanuel Steward is a better fit with Vitali than he was with Wladimir. Steward is an offensive genius, but Wladimir needed a Willie Pep in his corner.

Vitali has become more and more aggressive. He attacked Lewis and he obliterated Kirk (Blubber) Johnson in his last two fights.

I don’t care what the odds are. This is almost a "gimme."

Big Brother and under.