LOS ANGELES - Vitali Klitschko's first reaction to becoming the heavyweight champion by stopping Corrie Sanders in the eighth round last night was not just celebratory.
"This is a big relief," said the new World Boxing Council champion. "I feel a huge weight is off my shoulders."
By pummeling Sanders helpless against the ropes and convincing referee Jon Schorle to stop the bout with 14 seconds left in the eighth round, Klitschko said, "I achieved my goal and my dream to win the WBC heavyweight title."
Sanders left the ring without comment, and went to the hospital with swelling near his left ear. Klitschko voiced respect for his vanquished opponent, saying that Sanders' solid chin and threatening left hook kept the eventual victor cautious.
"I knew his strategy would be to try to come out and land one big punch at a time and then, if there was an explosion, he would try to come back with another explosion," said Klitschko, aware that just such a combination brought Sanders a knockout victory over his younger brother, Wladimir, last year in Germany.
Klitschko, 32, a Ukrainian, was surprised that he could not floor Sanders, 38, a South African.
"I am surprised he never went down," Klitschko (34-2, 33 knockouts) said. "He took so many punches it was unbelievable, and then always came back with punches of his own."
Speaking for the hospitalized Sanders (39-3, 29 KOs), his manager Vernon Smith said, "Corrie took quite a big shot behind the left ear. He was exhausted.
"His biggest regret is that he could not land the left hook better. He got beaten by a better fighter. He will take a long holiday, rest, play golf, then evaluate boxing."
Klitschko will likely take a shorter rest. He still has hopes his future will include a rematch against former WBC champion Lennox Lewis. Klitschko was leading Lewis by two points midway through their scheduled 12-round title bout last June, but cuts around his left eye forced a stoppage that meant a technical knockout victory for Lewis, who opted to retire with that triumph as his last fight.
The Klitschko-Sanders bout brought alternating cheers and boos from a crowd of 17,320 at the Staples Center.
In the first round, Klitschko pawed with his left as Sanders circled away from him. Sanders landed a left jab and sought to be the aggressor until Klitschko began landing his left jab. Sanders rocked Klitschko with a big left hook in the closing seconds. Klitschko hit the canvas, but Schorle ruled it a slip.
Klitschko began landing combinations in the second round, beating his opponent to the punch as Sanders waited and looked to land a big left.
Klitschko hurt Sanders late in Round 5 with two big rights to the head, putting him on shaky legs with a bloodied nose late in the round.
When Sanders tired late in the eighth, Klitschko belted him repeatedly. He drove Sanders into the ropes and convinced Schorle to stop the bout.
The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.