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Wait Wladimir Klitschko got another slice of the heavyweight title, but brotherly love will delay any unification of the crown

IMAGINE SERENA WILLIAMS refusing to play at Wimbledon because her sister Venus was entered. Or Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber boycotting the Super Bowl until twin Tiki comes out of retirement to win one himself. Sound crazy? Well, consider what happened last Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. Wladimir Klitschko, who just an hour earlier had added the WBO heavyweight title to the IBF and IBO crowns he already held with a dull-but-decisive 12-round decision over Sultan Ibragimov, announced that he would not vie for the next available title. Why? He has given dibs on the winner of the March 8 WBC title fight between Samuel Peter and Oleg Maskaev to his older brother, Vitali, the former heavyweight champion who came out of retirement last year. Says Wladimir, "I'm going to let my brother handle that one."

Klitschko's family loyalty is admirable but shortsighted. By passing on the winner of Peter-Maskaev, the 31-year-old Klitschko (50--3, 44 KO's) effectively ensures that he will not challenge for another title in 2008. The WBA crown is held by Ruslan Chagaev, who's set for a rematch against 7-foot Nikolay Valuev at a date yet to be determined. Vitali, 36, won't get his shot until the fall at the earliest, and even if he wins, that belt isn't an option for Wladimir; the Klitschkos have no intention of facing off. Resigned to defending his current titles in the near term, Wladimir says, "I will fight the next best fighter."

Small consolation. The list of heavyweight "contenders" consists of the overrated (Tony Thompson), the over-the-hill (Hasim Rahman, John Ruiz) and the out of control (Andrew Golota). In all likelihood Klitschko's next opponent will be Alexander Povetkin (15--0), who won an IBF elimination tournament in January granting him the right to challenge for the title.

It's a shame, really, because the younger Klitschko is the best hope to become the first undisputed heavyweight champ since Lennox Lewis in 2000. While Saturday's showdown with Ibragimov won't garner any Fight of the Year votes, the 6'7" Ukrainian did put on a boxing clinic. Using his five-inch height advantage, he repeatedly bounced his jab off the southpaw Ibragimov (22-1-1, 17 KO's), who fought like a man less intent on winning than on avoiding a KO. Ibragimov's plan was to wait for Klitschko to get impatient and leave himself open.

Klitschko, alas, remained determinedly disciplined. (He didn't throw his first right hand until the fourth round and used it sparingly thereafter.) His best opportunity for a knockdown came in the ninth, when a hard right sent Ibragimov into the ropes, where he crouched until Klitschko was close enough to grab. "I wanted the knockout," says Klitschko, "but how do you fight a guy who doesn't want to fight?"

Now he's the guy who doesn't want to fight. The younger Klitschko would be a heavy favorite against either Peter—whom he defeated in a tough decision in 2005 but who has recently resembled a walking punching bag—or Maskaev. All he has to do is tell his big brother to back off.

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Once Is Never Enough

While the heavyweights dither, boxing's smaller stars are busy squaring off—and not just once, but again and again. On March 1 in Carson, Calif., Israel Vazquez (right) and Rafael Marquez, who traded the WBC 122-pound title in two of 2007's bloodiest fights, will meet in a rubber match that should be just as spectacular. Two weeks later in Las Vegas, Juan Manuel Marquez, who in '04 came back from three first-round knockdowns to earn a draw against Manny Pacquiao, gets another shot at the explosive 130-pound Filipino puncher. And on April 12 Kermit Cintron will defend his 147-pound title against Antonio Margarito, who knocked him out in '05.



SWAT OF SULTAN Wladimir beat Ibragimov with the jab, then posed with Vitali (inset).



[See caption above]