By Jake Donovan
Vitali Klitschko (43-2, 40KO) fought in the United States in four consecutive bouts during the height of his popularity in 2003-2004, but has played stateside just once since returning to the ring more than three years ago.
That lone appearance on this side of the Atlantic came in Sept. ’09, when the hulking Ukraine thrashed then-unbeaten heavyweight contender Chris Arreola in 10 rounds at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, not too far from his popular challenger’s hometown of Riverside, Calif.
Heading into Saturday's showdown with Dereck Chisora (15-2, 9KO) at Olympiahalle in Munich, Klitschko announced a few days ago that the venue was sold out. The bout airs live on all-fight network Boxnation in the U.K. and on premium cable network EPIX in the United States, along with its online webcast option and a live screening at Times Square in New York City.
Standing-Room-Only crowds has become commonplace for Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko whenever they fight in Europe, but critics remain abound in the United States. Given their popularity closer to home and the resistance with which they are often met when stateside, it stands to reason that there is little to no motivation to fight outside of Europe.
That said, Klitschko continues to enjoy his visits to the United States – both business and pleasure – and doesn’t plan to call it a career without playing to the American crowd at least once more.
“My last fight in the United States was in Staples Center. That was in 2009, two years ago. I will be happy to fight again in the United States, maybe once again in Madison Square Garden,” states Klitschko, who scored a second-round knockout of Kirk Johnson at ‘The Garden’ in Dec. ‘03.
The win came just six month after his brave showing in defeat against Lennox Lewis, which came on short notice at the Staples Center. Lewis never fought again, retiring eight months later, but Klitschko continued to rally the public on his side until his last fight at the time, an eighth round stoppage of Danny Williams in Dec. ’04 in Las Vegas.
Injuries forced him out of the ring for nearly four years before beginning his official comeback in Oct. ’08. This weekend will mark his ninth fight from then until now, with all but one taking place in Europe including six in Germany by the time his fight with Chisora is in the books.
At 40 years old, it’s easy for the elder Klitschko to just coast for the rest of his career, but continues to thrive on seeking the biggest challenges out there. Such passion is recognized by fans around the globe, even among those in a United States market that repeatedly speaks on the demise on the popularity of the heavyweight division compared to generations past.
“I was just back here, and so many fans asked me that very same question,” Klitschko stated when prompted of his potential stateside ring return. “I told them it’s great to fight here and I will be happy to do that. But for that, we need one important thing – a good American challenger.”
That begs the question of just how much longer he plans to fight, given the dearth of American-bred talent at the top level. The options appear fairly bleak.
“Chris Arreola is currently the#1 contender to the WBC (Klitschko is the current WBC titlist, while younger brother Wlad holds pretty much every other major belt, including the lineal championship). It’s possible (in due time) that he can do enough for us to have a rematch.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]