LOS ANGELES -- Vitali Klitschko wasn't supposed to be the best heavyweight in his family, much less the world. Big and awkward, his skills looked amateurish even in comparison with his younger brother, Wladimir.
Six bloody rounds with Lennox Lewis last June changed all of that. Klitschko proved he could do what his brother couldn't -- take a big punch as well as deliver one.
Tonight Klitschko fights Corrie Sanders with a chance to prove something else -- that he can be a legitimate heavyweight champion.
With revenge, family honor, and the World Boxing Council title at stake, he shouldn't be lacking for motivation.
"Everything depends on me," Klitschko said. "That's why I'm very focused."
Klitschko meets the fighter who scored a shocking knockout over his brother at
The fight is scheduled for 12 rounds, but it's not likely to go that far. What the two big men lack in boxing skills, they make up for in punching power, and the 38-year-old Sanders has gone only four rounds in the last four years.
"I took care of his brother and now I'm going to take care of Vitali," said Sanders, who knocked out Wladimir Klitschko in the second round 13 months ago.
That knockout derailed Wladimir Klitschko's career, which was dealt another blow earlier this month when he was knocked out by Lamon Brewster. His brother, meanwhile, made a name for himself by beating Lewis for six rounds before being stopped on cuts.
Vitali Klitschko angrily confronted Sanders after he stopped his brother, but has tried to keep thoughts of revenge out of his mind.
"I cannot think now about what happened to my brother, Wladimir, in his fight," Klitschko said. "Emotions don't help me."
Klitschko, a 3-1 favorite, can stake a claim as being the real heavyweight champion in a division fragmented by the retirement of Lewis. The other two major belts are held by John Ruiz and Chris Byrd, who beat Klitschko in 2000 when Klitschko quit after nine rounds with a rotator cuff injury.
If Klitschko loses, however, it could mean the end of the feel-good story about the two brothers who hold advanced degrees, speak four languages, and grew up fighting in the old Soviet Union.
"It could be a very explosive fight because of the emotions that come because Sanders beat Wladimir Klitschko," said trainer Emanuel Steward, who is helping train Klitschko.
Steward, who was in Lewis's corner when he fought Klitschko, said the former champion underestimated Klitschko and nearly paid for it.
Neither fighter should have a problem finding the other one. Klitschko is 6 feet 7 inches and weighed in at 245 pounds, while the lefthanded Sanders is 6-4 and 235 pounds. Sanders exposed Wladimir Klitschko's chin in their fight in Germany, knocking him down four times. But Vitali's chin was tested by one of the best in Lewis and he survived only to be stopped on cuts.
"I will not make the same mistakes my brother made against him," Klitschko said.