Heavyweight Champion Vitali Klitschko Aims To Impress US Fight Fans

STUTTGART, Germany -- Heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko hopes to impress the lucrative American market when he defends his WBC title against Cuban defector Juan Carlos Gomez on Saturday.

Ukrainian Vitali Klitschko (L) and Cuban defector Juan Carlos Gomez.

The 37-year-old Ukrainian's bout is being shown live at 5 p.m. ET in the United States, the traditional home of boxing's signature division where interest has waned since Lennox Lewis retired five years ago.

Klitschko, whose younger brother Wladimir holds the WBO and IBF versions of the heavyweight title, is making a mandatory defence against the 35-year-old Gomez, who is based in Germany.

"I like Juan a lot. He's a real nice guy and a good buddy of mine," Klitschko said. "It's a real pity that I now have to beat him up."

With an eye on future fights that could be marketed in the U.S., Klitschko hopes to record an impressive win and then take on the WBC in a courtroom battle for the right to choose his next opponent.

The sanctioning body wants to force Klitschko to fight Russian Oleg Maskaev within four months because of a past deal it struck when the 40-year-old former soldier was champion.

Klitschko (36-2, with 35 KOs) has appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland to avoid that prospect.

He prefers a challenger more attractive to broadcasters such as Chris Arreola, an unbeaten 28-year-old from Los Angeles.

However, the six-foot-seven Klitschko must first get past Gomez, a former cruiserweight world champion. The 6-3 1/2 Cuban will to use his southpaw style and technical skills in an attempt to overcome his size disadvantage. Klitschko weighed in at 249 pounds on Friday and Gomez was 230 pounds.

Klitschko has promised to teach Gomez "a heavyweight lesson," and give him the "hardest fight of his life."

Gomez used to spar with both brothers and help them prepare to face left-handed fighters at a time when all shared the same promoter in Germany.

Gomez (44-1, with 35 KOs), previously held the WBC cruiserweight title for four years before vacating it in 2002 to move up to the heavyweight ranks.

The Cuban, who calls himself "The Black Panther," predicted he will "destroy" Klitschko, taking a swipe at his nickname, "Dr. Iron Fist."

"I'll toy with 'Dr. Wimp' in such a way and I'll outbox him that there won't be two opinions about the outcome: 'The Black Panther' will be world champion again," Gomez said.

The Cuban earned the right to challenge Klitschko when he won an unanimous decision over Vladimir Virchis last September.

Rankings by The Ring magazine have Gomez at No. 9, while Klitschko is No. 2 behind his brother.

Klitschko is a three-time heavyweight champion with a post-graduate degree in sports science.

He won and lost the WBO belt within 10 months in 1999-2000, then impressed when losing to Lewis in six rounds in 2003. Doctors would not let Klitschko continue with a cut over his left eye.

He captured the vacant WBC title a year later by stopping Corrie Sanders of South Africa in the eighth, but injuries forced him into retirement after one defence.

After twice failing in bids to be elected mayor of the Ukraine capital Kyiv, Klitschko returned to the ring last October and stopped Samuel Peter when the Nigerian decided not to come out for the ninth round.

Source: The Canadian Press