- NEWS ARTICLES
October 19, 2011
by Warren Curry
The towering Ukranian brothers, Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko, have the distinction of being the only siblings to simultaneously be boxing world heavyweight champions. Right now, the brothers enjoy such dominance that what's historically been the sport's most popular division has become something of an afterthought (at least in the U.S.). Director Sebastian Dehnhardt's documentary traces the brothers' lives from their humble beginnings to their current standing as boxing superstars (especially in their adopted home country, Germany).
While the brothers' accomplishment is an impressive, unique historical achievement, the documentary feels somewhat like a work in progress, primarily because the Klitschkos are still in the midst of their championship reigns. We may have a good idea of what their boxing legacies will be, but there are still more chapters to be written. The timing of this documentary, however, must feel more appropriate in Germany where it seems they are a legitimate cultural phenomenon.
If you're not a boxing fan, you're probably wondering how two boxers could simultaneously be heavyweight champions. The politics of the sport and its many governing bodies have created several champions in each weight class, which on one hand causes confusion (imagine if there were two Super Bowl champions), but on the other hand allows many more boxers to make a decent living in a sport that continues to be marginalized. Between them, the Klitschkos possess every major heavyweight title, and given their enormous popularity in Europe, rake in millions of dollars in earnings every year, something two men who grew up in the former Soviet Union could not have envisioned in their youth.
Aside from the brothers, we hear from their parents, their trainers, Emanuel Steward and Fritz Sdunek, past opponents such as Lennox Lewis, Chris Byrd and Lamon Brewster and boxing media including HBO's Larry Merchant and ESPN's Dan Rafael. Older brother Vitali began as a kickboxer, had his first taste of the U.S. when visiting Florida as a member of the Soviet kickboxing team, earned a PhD and has run for mayor of his hometown, Kiev, Ukraine. Nearly five years younger, Wladimir is an Olympic Gold Medalist and also holds a PhD. In his interview, Lamon Brewster wonders why the brothers, who it appears would have numerous career options, chose to pursue such a tough sport.
As much as the film glorifies the Klitschkos, it also shows the brutality of boxing. Slow motion footage of the brothers in action captures the savage impact of punches landed flush on an opponent's face. Any fan who witnessed Vitali's gallant yet unsuccessful attempt to dethrone then heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis will remember the horrific cut the challenger sustained over his left eye, which we see again here in graphic detail. At one point in Lamon Brewster's interview, the ex-champion removes his sunglasses to reveal an eye damaged so badly that he is currently blind in it (he's awaiting what will hopefully be successful surgery).
The Klitschko's rise to glory hasn't been without pitfalls. Vitali was slammed by the media and fans when, because of a shoulder injury, he quit in a fight against Chris Byrd he was clearly winning. Wladmir has been knocked out three times, the most devastating in the first of his two fights against huge underdog Brewster. Following that knockout, Vitali encouraged his brother to retire from the sport, but armed with self-determination and one of the sport's all-time great trainers, Emanuel Steward, Wladimir has gone on to legitimately accomplish more than his older sibling. If you're wondering whether or not they will ever step into the ring against each other, they promised their mother that such a confrontation will never happen. Nothing indicates they will break that promise.
The Klitschkos now spend much of their time in the U.S., as did their parents who lived in balmy Florida during the winter, prior to their father's death this past summer (I just recently learned of this news). A military man also named Wladimir, the Klitschkos' father was stricken with cancer, an affliction likely caused by his time spent trying to contain the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the '80s. Although one would assume their careers are nearing the end — Vitali's 40, Wladimir's 35 — they both have mastered a cerebral, semi-cautious style of boxing that keeps them from harm while they mete out punishment in a deliberate manner. This style may add several more years to their championship runs.
Dehnhardt displays both men in an unyieldingly positive light, and perhaps it's because this isn't a warts and all documentary that it doesn't attain a real sense of intimacy. If someone was to tell me that the Klitschkos received final cut approval of the film I could easily believe them. Often times, this plays more like a promotional piece than a probing documentary.
Regardless, "Klitschko" is a vibrant, entertaining film about two men who are great ambassadors for a sport that's rarely praised these days.