Michael Rosenthal

Klitschko is at the top of his game at 40

Vitali Klitschko knows exactly what he’ll do when it’s time to walk away from boxing. His homeland of Ukraine, he’ll tell you, is a fledgling democracy rife with corruption that is stunting its development. Klitschko , already a failed reform candidate for office, plans to do his part to clean up the mess.

And that time probably is within sight for the 40-year-old WBC heavyweight champ, who defends his title against Tomasz Adamek on Saturday in Wroclaw, Poland. Ola Afolabi, his longtime sparring partner, said Klitschko hasn’t slowed down a bit and could fight until at least 45.

The big man scoffed at that notion, making it clear he has no intention of fighting for five more years.

Two or three? Maybe.

“Ola is a funny guy,” said Klitschko, speaking to RingTV.com over the phone from Poland last week. “… That’s too long, 45. Not me. Three or fights. After that, we’ll see.”

The irony is that Klitschko retired about six years ago, a series of nagging injuries apparently launching his career in politics full time. As he put it, “My body was playing games with me.”

Well, turns out all his body needed was time away from boxing. He returned at 37 after nearly four years – healthy and hungry – and regained the WBC title he gave up in 2004 by stopping Sam Peter in eight rounds.

Klitschko (42-2, 39 knockouts) is 7-0 in his comeback, with five knockouts. Younger brother Wladimir usually gets more credit but it’s Vitali who has barely lost a round in his career and owns the best KO percentage of any heavyweight in history.

And, as Afolobi said, the elder Klitschko is as good as ever. The cruiserweight contender credits the time off, at least in part.

“That has a lot to do with it,” Afolabi said from Poland. “A football player who doesn’t take many hits can go on a long time, like Jerry Rice. That’s what tears a fighter apart, the punishment. And the problem people face with Vitali in the ring is that they can’t hit him. You eventually get exhausted trying, which is when he rips you apart.

“Vitali could go away for another four years and, with the way the division is, come back and win the title again.”

For now, he just wants to hang onto it.

Adamek (44-1, 28 KOs) is seen as worthy challenger. The former light heavyweight and cruiserweight titleholder, who will be fighting at home, is an extremely tough, experienced foe with a work ethic that rivals the Klitschkos and unwavering belief in himself.

If anyone can give a Klitschko some trouble, many believe, it’s a true professional like Adamek.

Klitschko is among those who admire Adamek but pointed to what he believes will be his opponent’s Achilles heel: Klitschko is 6-foot-7½ and about 250 pounds, Adamek 6-1½ and 215.

Adamek has beaten big men, Andrew Golota and Michael Grant among them. The problem is no big man outside Klitschko’s family has anywhere near his ability, which doesn’t bode well for the brave Pole.

“I have full respect for him,” Klitschko said. “He’s a good boxer, a good technical boxer. He has good movement, good speed, good experience.  He just has one weakness – he’s not a natural heavyweight.

“I’ll show you what that means in the fight.”

What that means is that Adamek will in all likelihood end up like the rest at the end of the fight, battered and beaten. Then will come a little rest for Klitschko, some moving and shaking in the Ukrainian political world and then another victim will be found.

The cycle will end only when Klitschkko determines he is slipping. How will know when that time comes?

“I have an agreement with my coach,” said Klitschko, referring to longtime trainer Fritz Sdunek. “If he feels my reactions, my conditioning, my performance is not so good, he must tell me it’s time to stop. I can’t be objective. I tell everyone under me, ‘Please tell me if you see weaknesses. Tell me if I’m not good enough.’

“Nobody has told me yet. I feel great. That’s why I don’t think about (retirement) right now.”

Klitschko isn’t likely to get that message any time soon.

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