What’s next for the Klitschko Brothers?

The past few months have not been easy for the Klitschko brothers, with both Wladimir and Vitali struggling to secure marketable opponents for their fall world title fights. Nearly four months since Wladimir comfortably defeated Eddie Chambers and two months since Vitali finished Albert Sosnowski only now do we know who will face the world’s Number One and Number Two heavyweight boxers.

It all seemed so simple when we last looked at the future of the heavyweight division with Wladimir determined to face the WBA Heavyweight Champion David Haye in a title unification fight where a Klitschko victory would finally bring all the world titles under the brothers’ control. There was also a personal score to settle between the Klitschkos and Haye with the Brit having twice backed out of world title fights against either brother, even after frequently insulting the Ukrainians. Fresh off his victories against Nikolai Valeuv and John Ruiz, Haye’s Hayemaker group was in the unusual position of being able to negotiate with the Klitschkos’ fearsome promotional company K2 as an equal. With both fighters publicly calling each other out, the negotiations between the two camps began in earnest with K2 eventually offering Haye and his various partners a 50-50 split on all revenues, with no rematch clause.

Unfortunately there was a problem.

K2 has an exclusive deal with German television network RTL, and they were insistent that any Haye-Klitschko fight to be shown on that network. Hayemaker were insistent that all television rights in all countries be sold to the highest bidder, a stance borne not just out of a desire to maximize revenue but also Haye’s ties to rival German promoter Sauerland, who have an exclusive deal with German television network ARD. Haye’s camp made a counteroffer of K2 retaining all revenues from the German television rights while Hayemaker would retain all revenues from the British television rights. Not wanting to be Floyd Mayweather to Haye’s Ricky Hatton, K2 sensibly refused this offer leaving the negotiations at an impasse.

Wladimir would respond by giving the go-ahead for his mandatory IBF title defense against Alexander Povetkin. After receiving confirmation from HBO Sport’s Senior Vice President Kerry Davis that they would be show the fight on September 11th K2 booked Frankfurt’s Commerzbank Arena for that date. K2’s plans were disrupted by HBO Sports’ President Ross Greenberg unilaterally announcing that he was not interesting in broadcasting any Klitschko world title defenses that didn’t involve David Haye or Tomas Adamek. And unfortunately for K2 they were unable to take Showtime up on their previous offer for the American rights, as the broadcaster needed the fight to take place on September 18th where it would act as a lead-in to Rafael Marquez vs. Juan Manuel Lopez, but K2 couldn’t move the data of the fight as the venue was no longer available. The judgment of Klitschkos’ manager Bernd Boente was brutal “HBO screwed us and now we lose $250,000″ and because of this Boente is currently threatening that the brothers will never do business with HBO again.

Vitali was having no better luck than his younger brother, with the WBC Champion once again trying to put together a ‘Clash of the Titans’ match with seven-footer Nikolai Valuev. Protracted negotiations once again collapsed with Don King eager for Valuev to receive a larger payment than the rumored $2million offered while Sauerland objected to K2 demanding that the fight be shown on RTL (sound familiar?). As was first reported by Teddy Atlas on ESPN’s Friday Fight Night a couple of weeks ago Vitali’s fallback was to fight former WBO Heavyweight Champion Shannon Briggs. Briggs has been on the comeback trail after a prolonged absence from the sport and in 2010 has won three fights by first-round knockout. Briggs may well have the size, reach and power to cause Vitali some problems early-on, but unless he manages to magically improve his stamina it’s difficult to see how he will be able to handle Vitali in the later rounds.

With Vitali nearing a deal with Briggs, Wladimir’s fight against Povetkin fell apart with the Russian forfeiting his mandatory title shot after failing to attend a press conference in Germany last week. While there were rumors that the fight collapsed due to Sauerland being unhappy with the terms of the contract offered to Povetkin, the former Olympic Super-Heavyweight Gold Medalist’s trainer Teddy Atlas publicly said that it was because he needed more time to develop his protégé into a boxer who could defeat the world’s best heavyweight. This seems a rather sad, desperate admission when you consider that Povetkin has been the Number One Contender to the IBF Title since January 2008 and is already thirty-one years old. If the time was now or never then it seems that Povetkin’s camp has chosen ‘never’.

With less than two months to go until the September 11th date, Wladimir moved quickly to organize a rematch against former WBC champion Samuel Peter. The two last fought in 2005 in what was Wladimir’s last truly competitive fight, with ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ knocking him down three times before losing by unanimous decision. Peter was the ranked second only to Povetkin by the IBF after going on a four-match winning streak over the past twelve months. Peter has certainly revived his career after a misjudged decision to bulk up to around 260Ibs when facing both Vitali and Eddie Chambers, with his recent fights showing a leaner, more energetic fighter. With many having fond memories of the match that Wladimir calls “one of the hardest of my career” this is a fight that may actually attract far more fan interest worldwide than Wladimir-Povetkin.

Both Vitali-Briggs and Wladimir-Peter were made official over the past few days while the two brothers were in attendance at the WBC Night of Champions international boxing convention in Cardiff, with Vitali-Briggs taking place on October 16th. In trying circumstances the Klitschkos have done their best to make two interesting fights against plausible challengers but nothing should disguise the fact that rivalries between promoters and television networks have once again denied boxing fans the biggest fights.

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