Boxing: KO for Klitschko's heavyweight hopes

The world of heavyweight boxing was as stunned as Wladimir Klitschko last night when the unrated South African veteran Corrie Sanders stopped the Ukrainian giant who had been touted as the heir-apparent to Lennox Lewis 27 seconds into the second round of their bout in Hanover.

Sanders caught Klitschko, the 1996 Olympic champion and holder of the World Boxing Organisation title, with a short, hard left with 33 seconds left in the first round, then sent him down to the canvas three more times. Klitschko, one of two German-based heavyweight boxing brothers, was defending his title for the sixth time and had been confidently expected to dispatch the 37-year-old journeyman in similar fashion to the fate which instead sensationally befel him.

Sanders, never one of boxing's serious players, immediately jumped into the arms of his trainer, apparently as shocked as the audience, though he said: "I gave myself big chances to beat him – I knew I could do it. But I wasn't planning it that way. It just happened."

What happened was that Sanders, after a slow opening minute, went after the 6ft 7in Klitschko, knocking him down three times in the last minute of the round and forcing the referee's intervention after flooring him again with a left hook early in the second.

It was an expensive aberarration for Klitschko, who had been beaten only once before in 41 fights, as he had just signed a nine-fight deal with the American TV organisation Home Box Office who were hoping to sell him as heavyweight boxing's new white hope.

Indeed, the future of heavyweight boxing was deemed to be in the hands of the dignified, erudite sons of a former Soviet air force colonel, Wladimir, 27, and 31-year-old Vitali. Wladimir had been regarded as the better of the two but Vitali is also seen as being more than a handful for most heavyweights outside the élite. He had been lined up to meet Lewis as a prelude to his brother challenging the Briton in what was projected as the endgame of Lewis's career.

Wladimir's prospects of a multi-million dollar fortune collapsed alongside him last night, but at least Vitali has been named as the next challenger for the newly-acquired World Boxing Association heavyweight belt won last weekend by Roy Jones jnr.

Right now the whole town's talking about the Jones boy. The whole world, too. Is he the greatest boxer ever? The question is posed on the front cover of the trade paper, Boxing News, whose editor, after watching the one-time middleweight champion's classy conquest of John Ruiz in Las Vegas to win the World Boxing Association heavyweight title, declared: "Jones is the finest boxer I have ever seen, in the flesh, or otherwise."

This view from the respected Claude Abrams is one that will be contested by many of those who did observe Henry Armstrong, Sugar Ray Robinson or Muhammad Ali at the peaks of their respective careers. Sugar Ray Leonard, too.

Yes, Jones is a wonderful craftsman, the best, pound-for-pound boxer of the age, a hi-tech stylist. But let's put his achievement in perspective. He beat a lumbering, humdrum Puerto Rican who does not carry a hurtful punch and whose defensive versatility is limited. He did not beat Lennox Lewis, nor would he.

Meantime it is back to reality here. Audley Harrison's 10th – and last – opponent under his current BBC TV deal at Wembley on 29 March will be 37-year-old Ratko Draskovic, an old banger from the Balkans who at least has never been stopped in 32 bouts. Harrison maintains he does have genuine aspirations to succeed Lewis as a British world champion but no doubt he will have noted the untimely demise last night of a fellow former Olympic champion, which proves once again that there is no such thing as a boxing certainty.

Klitschko obviously suspected as much when he said before the fight: "I've read what's written about me, that the future belongs to me, how I'll dominate the heavyweight division. But I know how fast that can be over – it just takes one blow." Indeed it did.