Vitali Klitschko (born 19 July 1971) and Wladimir Klitschko (born 25 March 1976), known as the Klitschko Brothers, are Ukrainian former professional boxers. During their peak years between 2004 and 2015, they were considered the dominant world heavyweight champions of their era, and among the most successful champions in boxing history. In 2011, they entered the Guinness World Records book as the pair of brothers with most world heavyweight title fight wins (30 at the time; 40 as of 2020). In the years following the retirement of undisputed heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis in 2004, the Klitschko brothers would eventually accumulate all four major world heavyweight titles. Known for their exceptionally large physiques and technical boxing styles, they each developed a style that utilized their athleticism and arm reach to break down opponents.
Older brother Vitali retired from boxing in 2013, relinquishing the WBC world title, and became a politician in his native Ukraine. Wladimir continued to successfully defend the WBA (Super), IBF, WBO, IBO, and The Ring magazine titles until he was defeated by Tyson Fury in 2015.
Both brothers made their professional debuts on November 16, 1996 in Hamburg. Since then, both have been world heavyweight boxing champions. They promised their mother that they would never fight each other.
As an amateur, Wladimir Klitschko represented Ukraine at the 1996 Olympics, winning a gold medal in the super-heavyweight division. In 1996, when still an amateur, Vitali Klitschko tested positive for a banned substance and was removed from the Ukrainian boxing team.
1999–2003: First world title reigns and defenses
In June 1999, Vitali Klitschko won the WBO Heavyweight title from Herbie Hide via second-round knockout. He successfully defended the title twice before losing it to Chris Byrd. Six months later, younger brother Wladimir dethroned Byrd via lopsided points decision. He registered five successful title defenses, all by TKO until suffering an upset TKO loss to Corrie Sanders in March 2003. Vitali Klitschko lost his fight with Lennox Lewis in his attempt to win the WBC, IBO, The Ring and lineal heavyweight championships.
2004–2006: Second world title reigns and Vitali's first retirement
Vitali faced South African Corrie Sanders on 24 April 2004 for the WBC heavyweight championship and The Ring belts that had been vacated by Lewis. Vitali won by 8th round stoppage, he defended his titles just once, stopping Danny Williams in the 8th round before retiring in late 2005 due to injuries. Wladimir bounced back from a stoppage loss in a prior vacant title attempt, to dethrone Byrd for a second time for his IBF title in April 2006, this time by stoppage in the 7th round.
2008–2012: Heavyweight title co-dominance, Vitali's final retirement
After a series of injuries, Vitali had a career break of almost four years. In his comeback fight in Berlin on October 11, 2008 he defeated Samuel Peter to regain the title of WBC world heavyweight champion. At that time Wladimir was already world heavyweight champion with the WBO, IBF and IBO. That was the first time in history with two brothers world champions at the same time. On July 2, 2011, Wladimir won the WBA Title, which means that the Klitschko brothers held all of the World Heavyweight Titles simultaneously for 2 years, 5 months & 13 days. Vitali retained the WBC Heavyweight Championship until 15 December 2013, relinquishing his belt in pursuit of his political aspirations in his native Ukraine.
The Klitschko brothers jointly run the professional boxing promotion companies "K2 Promotions" and "K2 East Promotions", as well as the "Klitschko Brothers Fund", a charity organization. They appear together on German TV shows and commercials, have a website shared between them, and support each other's training and fights.
2013–2015: Wladimir dominance
After Vitali's retirement, Wladimir continued to reign as champion & successfully defend all remaining title belts except for the WBC belt. He eventually lost all the belts by unanimous decision to Tyson Fury. The brothers have a combined professional boxing record of 109 wins (94 KO's) and 7 defeats, including 46 world title fights.
Reception and legacy
Both Klitschko brothers are considered the best heavyweight boxers of their era. Having remained undefeated for a large majority of their careers and refusing to fight each other, both brothers remained largely unchallenged throughout their careers. Notably, both brothers were particularly well known for using their large size to nullify other heavyweights, particularly Wladimir, who became notorious for his use of the jab.
Having never been knocked down, Vitali Klitschko is widely regarded as the tougher fighter of the two. In fact, Vitali is the only heavyweight world champion to have never been knocked down in any fight, and alongside George Foreman he is the only heavyweight boxer in history to defend a world title after turning 40. Furthermore, his 87% knockout percentage is one of the best knockout-to-fight ratios of any champion in heavyweight boxing history. Vitali was also known for being unusually dominant in his fights, having almost never lost a round in his professional career as a boxer.
As heavyweight champion, Wladimir was unbeaten for over a decade. Wladimir Klitschko is considered to be one of the greatest heavyweight champions of all time, and amongst the hardest punching knockout artists in history. He has been heavily praised for his fundamental approach to boxing, during which he nullifies opponents with his jab, before knocking opponents out with a straight right. His reign as champion is second only to the reign of Joe Louis. While not as durable as Vitali, his knowledge of the fundamentals and athleticism gave him considerable advantage over other heavyweights. Wladimir has beaten 12 undefeated fighters in his career which is a record at heavyweight.
A criticism of the Klitschkos is that their dominant championship reign was the result of a heavyweight landscape devoid of world class competition. Previous heavyweight eras had multiple boxers considered world class fighters competing, such as Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali and George Foreman during the 1970s, and Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield during the 1990s. According to some observers, this was not the case for the Klitschkos, who were able to dominate other heavyweights with relative ease. The list of fighters the Klitschkos have defeated, however, includes unified world cruiserweight champion David Haye, long-time top ranked contender Alexander Povetkin and two-weight world champion Tomasz Adamek.
Wladimir Klitschko's style receives strong criticism from the boxing community, commonly being described as "boring" or "robotic". While initially an exciting fighter, a series of losses led him to hire legendary boxing trainer Emmanuel Steward to cultivate his defensive abilities. At 6′ 6″, and one of the largest heavyweights in the division, Wladimir typically relies on an excellent jab to keep opponents at arms reach, and then clinching opponents once they get too close. This was meant to fatigue opponents before he would knock them out in the later rounds or win on scorecards.
Timeline of Klitschkos' championship
- Asteroid 212723 Klitschko, which was discovered at Andrushivka in 2007, is named after Klitschko brothers.
- In 2010, "Klitschko" postage stamps were issued by Ukrposhta, the national postal service of Ukraine.
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- 212723 Klitschko at the JPL Small-Body Database
- Про введення в обіг поштової марки № 1047 "Кличко" Archived 2016-03-03 at the Wayback Machine – Севастопольська дирекція – Укрпошта, 3 June 2010. (in Ukrainian)