14.05 - On paper this looked like a tune-up fight for Vlad on his way to bigger and better things. Thousands of proud Ukrainians flocked to see Vlad pummel yet another opponent into submission.
Vitaly * : "It was our initiative. We wanted to showcase our bouts in Kiev in order to display the fascination of professional boxing in Ukraine. Many watched boxing on TV, but cannot imagine what a spectacular show this is. The main difference between professional and amateur boxing is that the former is the synthesis of sport and show. I believe that only such a synthesis can garner attention to this game".
As matters transpired, the divine plan contained a different script. This rude awakening became an important part of Vlads steep learning curve, but the memories of that night will come back to haunt him forever.
Vitaly: "It was a mistake. There are no fortuities in boxing".
In the much-anticipated main event on 5 December 1998, Vladimir Klichko was pitted against Ross Puritty. Truth be told, Ross "The Boss" was hand-picked by Universum Box-Promotions to lose, but not without putting up some fight, so that the 22-year old prospect from Ukraine could showcase his talent for a couple of rounds and then take care of business. Going into this fight, Vlad had a sterling 24-0-0 record with 22 whacks. However impressive this may sound, he was still a rookie in this game, having fought professionally for as little as 65 one-sided rounds with only five of his 24 bouts going beyond three rounds. His longest fight was an eight-round decision over Everett Martin, who absorbed some terrific amount of punishment without landing a single clean punch. For the record, he agreed to a "rematch" with Vlad and was stopped inside the distance. Three weeks prior to the encounter with Puritty, Vlad quickly disposed of some Donnell Wingfield and looked good in doing so. The rumour had it that Vlad spent way too much time organizing his first bout on home turf and lost some 15 pounds in the process, but understandably nobody paid attention at the time.
Vitaly: "Prior to the bout, I was absolutely certain that Vladimir would go in and win. This was based on the knowledge that his preparation went real well. He boxed with good sparring partners and went all the rounds, including twelve rounds in high tempo with partners alternating every two rounds. He looked marvellous throughout his preparation and didnt take a single punch. Everything was excellent in the lead-up. I think that the main cause, the main error was a psychological one".
Ross Puritty was and still is a durable and heavy-handed fighter, who was capable of sending home early 25 opponents in his 28 wins. He normally fought on short notice and lost every third fight, but there was one "odd" thing about this journeyman: unlike most of the so-called trial horses he would always come to win. Puritty lost two of his first five fights by KO
and that was it. His rock-solid chin would allow him to hear the final bell in all the fights he lost since while he faced excellent opposition in Brian Nielsen (L4), Kirk Johnson (L6), Hasim Rachman (L10), Michael Grant (L10), Corrie Sanders (L12), Larry Donald (L10), Chris Byrd (L10) etc. He fought ten and twelve- rounders since 1994. Occasionally, he was able to do better than just hold his own, contriving to hold Tommy Morrison to a draw over ten and stop the then-useful Jorge Luis Gonzalez in seven. On the fight night, he was two weeks short of his 32nd birthday. He went in 25 pounds heavier than Vlad and surprisingly could match him in terms of reach.
Vladimir: "My fight in Kiev stands alone big time. It was very special for me on many accounts. This bout took place in my home town. I had to fight and defend my international champions title on home ground against a rather
well very, very competent opponent. Thats because he boxed with some famous foes, such as Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. Perhaps his record wasnt too impressive, he lost some five of his fights [HB: he actually lost thirteen going into this fight], but he was very experienced and mature at 32 years of age, and these factors turned out to be telling in this fight".
From the get-go Vlad set an incredibly fast pace. He was hammering Puritty from pillar to post, and everybody thought it was only a matter of time until Purity would be beaten into oblivion. The only person who had certain reservations about such an outcome was Puritty himself. He contrived to hide behind his guard (two hands raised very high, much like Timo Hoffmann did to go the distance with Vitaly) and summoned all his courage (and he had it galore) to survive. Purittys refusal to "play by the book" drove Vlad mad and he endeavoured to further up his already ridiculous tempo and workrate.
Vladimir: "I had to listen to myself and to my corner
while I was listening to the audience. I underestimated my foe from the very outset and that proved to be my main mistake. I watched the tapes of his fights and I knew I would be able to beat this opponent and most likely stop him in the fifth or sixth round".
Vlad managed to hurt Puritty on several occasions, but was unable to put him down despite the fact that Purittys head snapped back at least a couple of times in virtually every round. Rosses ability to absorb punishment was truly uncanny. He dug dip and from time to time was exploding with simple one-twos. Vlad ducked these bombs until round eight when he was caught with a few snatching body shots. From this moment onwards he was quickly losing his legs, but was still winning the rounds with his aggressiveness.
Vitaly: "A tactical mistake was committed in Kiev, series of mistakes in fact. Its impossible to say that just one mistake was made or single out the tussock over which he stumbled. No, it was a chain of mistakes that led to this result".
If he slowed down at that stage, he would have coasted to an easy victory on points, but anything less than taking Puritty out wasnt good enough for the swashbuckling Ukrainian. By the end of the ninth stanza, his legs betrayed him. He was wobbling pretty badly and his shots had no pop in them.
Vladimir: "This opponent was a couple of notches below my technical level. But he was very, very smart and I learnt a lot from him. He was waiting for his moment. I know exactly what he was waiting for. He took note of my accelerated pace and he realized that I wouldnt be able to sustain it for all the twelve rounds. He was patiently waiting and I think everybody was able to see when he started to explode towards the end of the bout".
Purrity, sensing the upset, came out for the tenth offensive-minded and tagged Vlad with a few good shots, one of them catching Vlad on the back of his head and prompting the referee to warn Puritty. Vlad was quickly running out of gas and the end was nigh. 13 seconds before the bell Vlad went down. This wasnt caused by a clean punch, but rather by his legs refusing to support the exhausted fighter. He bravely got up by the count of three (it wasnt really necessary) and survived the round. A few seconds into round 11 Puritty exploded with a seven-punch combo with most of his punches reaching the target. Amazingly, Vlad was still standing right in front of his tormentor.
Vladimir: "I had an enormous desire to win this fight. I was boxing till the very end and strained myself to the utmost to win, but I was completely exhausted".
16 seconds into the round Friz Zdunek entered the ring and effectively stopped the fight. Vlad greeted his trainer with a four-letter word. This may be presumptuous on my part, but I felt he wasnt about to surrender.
Vitaly: "Many observers predicted Vladimirs victory in this fight, but Ill just say: this is boxing and there should be no prognostications as each and every fight may be lost".
Vladimir: "I had a terrific desire to fight this opponent once again, literally the moment I left the ring. This bout is and will always be a very important one for me, the one I will never forget. This happened for the first time in my career and many regretted the outcome, but fully realizing that should I rise from defeat, regain my form and continue boxing, I will be much, much stronger than the version of Vladimir Klichko that existed before the fight in Kiev on 5 December. Lots of professional boxers, such as Lewis, Holyfield or Tyson, lost some fights, but these losses served as yet one more drop in the bowl of their professional fighting experience. Nobody is invincible, for now that is, but one day it may change".
Moments later Vitaly went into the ring looking for fresh blood. He stopped Francesco Spinelli in brutal fashion in the first round. If the ref didnt stop the fight, he could have killed the gutsy, but limited Italian.
Vitaly: "In this bout I wasnt boxing, I was more of a street brawler".
Everybody knows what happened after that memorable night: Vlad went on to win his next twelve, stopping all his opponents but the game and crafty Chrys Byrd, who shares (with Timo Hofmann and Ross Puritty) the honour of not having been halted by the bros. The remaining 60 opponents that the brothers met in the squared circle failed to go the distance. In fact, not a single one of them made it out of round nine.
* all the quotes represent an unedited translation from the licensed "KlichKO" videos.