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By Scoop Malinowski
Lewis Vs. Klitschko, Superfight!
Destiny…The preordained or inevitable course of events. One's fate.
Now this is a Superfight. And it couldn't have come around at a better time considering the recent spate of mediocre matchups. I have a feeling there's another legendary night in the making on June 21st.
First it was Toney vs. Jirov, now Lennox Lewis vs. Vitali Klitschko…HBO is again offering pay-per-view fights without fans having to pay the $49.95.
Lewis vs. Klitschko may well be a superfight like Hearns-Roldan or Dempsey-Firpo…with Klitschko in the role of the largely unknown foreigner taking his chances against the universal superstar.
Respect for Klitschko has somewhat diminished since Corrie Sanders defeated his brother Wladimir in March. But I believe Klitschko is a lot better than some experts give him credit for. He is 32-1 with 31 KO's, he's big, strong, quick, and - dare I say - unbeatable so far, save for a torn rotator cuff injury.
The knock on Klitschko is from when he quit on his stool with that shoulder injury while cruising to an easy win over Chris Byrd on April 1, 2000. I say don't let that fool you. Give the man the benefit of the doubt. If he had a history of quitting on numerous occasions, okay, it would be fair to question his fighting heart. But he knows his body. Maybe the pain was unbearable. And let me add that Buster Douglas was accused by the experts of being a quitter for his losing effort to Oliver McCall back in 1987. Douglas would come back and score one of the most impressive wins in heavyweight history two years later against Mike Tyson.
Klitschko knocked out Herbie Hide in London in 1999 in the second round. Hide was still very respected then, based on his valiant effort against an in-form Riddick Bowe. Bowe himself told me last year that Hide was the “hardest puncher” he had ever faced. Though Hide has had his problems since losing to Vitali and his career has plummeted, at the time it was a very good win for Klitschko.
Klitschko also dominated Larry Donald late last year in a WBA title elimination fight. Klitschko is the only man to ever stop Donald. Don't forget that Riddick Bowe landed a bare-fisted left right combo on Donald's chin at their press conference in the mid-90's. Donald, amazingly, barely even blinked and his legs did not buckle at all. So you know Donald has a solid chin. And you know Klitschko has serious power.
My lasting impression about that win was how Klitschko showed an aura after the stoppage. He jumped up on the ropes and raised his fists in emphatic triumph. It was a very impressive expression of chest-thumping, almost like a non-verbal statement to the world…“I proved myself tonight! Watch out world, I am coming! Nothing will stop me!!”
Another imperfection about Klitschko that the critics like to drudge up is that Pele Reid, a journeyman heavyweight from England, once KO'ed Vitali with a punch in a kickboxing match many years ago. So what? Is Dustin Hoffman's film career judged laregely on his worst film Ishtar or his best films like Marathon Man, Rain Man, The Graduate?
Chris Byrd had some interesting things to say about fighting Vitali Klitschko. “The Klitschko's are so tall and they know how to twist and turn their shoulder to make it difficult to find their chin. I also thought that Vitali was the harder to fight of the Klitschkos. He punches harder. Each one of them is a top fighter for a reason and they bring something different to the table.”
Lennox Lewis, the great champion who has been called “the greatest” by both Ali and Foreman, would - in my humble opinion, pretty easily defeat Klitschko - if all his preparations were perfect and uninterrupted. But that is not the case now after Kirk Johnson forfeited his opportunity of a lifetime. There are whispers that Lewis is taking a substantial pay cut to fight Klitschko now on HBO rather than in November on pay-per-piew, because he really wants to get back into action right now. The fact that he has accepted Klitschko as an opponent on only two weeks notice could be a problem. Great champions are creatures of habit, their preparations are meticulous and concise. I don't know, something just bothers me about the change of opponent two weeks before the fight. But then, I'm not a champion fighter, I'm a writer.
Credit must be given to Lewis - he has never ever in his career cancelled or postponed a fight. Even now when Kirk Johnson backed out, Lewis still made concessions and sacrifices to save the show. He's a complete class champion, always dependable, always reliable.
Klitschko may well be Lewis' toughest test in a long, long time. Tyson was mentally beaten and though still dangerous with his punching power, Lewis had pretty much an easy time of it. At least that's how he made it look. Holyfield didn't fight like a warrior in their 1999 fights (more like a survivor) - if he did he probably would have got knocked out. Grant was out of his class. Tua and Botha tried their best but it wasn't close to enough to trouble Lewis. The Rahman rematch was a pretty easy win too.
Klitschko presents a big threat. He has that all important international amateur experience (Vitali was the no. 1 ranked amateur in 1996 but had to miss the Olympics because of testing positive for a banned substance.) He emanates a remarkable self-belief in his chances against Lewis. Almost like a sense of destiny. I'm a little concerned about this fight for Lewis. He's facing a challenger who hasn't shown (at least not yet anyway) any signs of losing his nerve in the big moment. For Lewis to take such a dangerous fight on two weeks notice, and after the one-year layoff, it makes it all the more intriguing.
If Lewis can shake the rust and perform at his best, like we all know he is capable of, he should outskill Klitschko with his dominant pugilistic abilities. But if his reflexes and timing are just a little bit off, one punch - one overhand right - could upset everything.
Lewis's trainer Emanuel Steward said, “There is a lot of credit due to Lennox Lewis because it is very difficult to change an opponent up to the last moment. In this case, changing up means fighting a guy three inches taller as opposed to three inches shorter. Fighting Klitschko is a major change. We have to adjust to punching up instead of punching down. It is very difficult to get him to adjust. But Lewis's natural talent will get him through. This is the biggest fight in the heavyweight division.”
“If Lennox comes out and makes it a tough, physical fight, which is what it has to be with two big explosive guys like this, it won't go past round 6…I'm more excited and scintillated (Lennox is) fighting this guy (Klitschko) than Kirk Johnson myself…I think when Lennox fights a big, threatening opponent, he turns into a very aggressive predator. He changes completely. He's a different fighter. You saw it against Akinwande, Golota, Grant and I even saw it in some of his amateur tapes against guys who were like 6-10. Lennox is a very accurate puncher for a big man. He has an unbelievable accuracy rate for a big guy…(Vitali) is a technical fighter. He fights well for his size. A lot of guys who are tall bend down to fight. But he stands straight up. He has a good overhand right hand. I think it's going to be an interesting fight…I do not think Klitschko is a fast enough boxer to box around the ring. So he is going to have to get involved. I think the fight is going to be over early…(Lennox vs. Roy Jones) looks very realistic, from what Murad Muhammad says, for November 15th.”
Lennox said, “(I'm) still feeling good…I know what to do in certain situations, I've learned to adapt. I'm a true professional, a seasoned professional, I adjust very easily…Vitali Klitschko hasn't seen a boxer like me, with all my size, power and equipment…In my mind, he's biting off more than he can chew. He hasn't been through what I've been through…I'm going to show him what it's like to be in there with an A class opponent who's not afraid of him. He's been taking B fighters over to Germany and making spectacles of them. I'm no Mickey Mouse…He won't be able to take my kind of pressure…I am much more motivated for this fight against Klitschko. I am more motivated because of his size and because he has been trying to take me into court to take my title.”
Is Klitschko just another “bum of the month?” “No he is not really a bum of the month,” Lewis answered. “Guys like that are mandatory fights, guys the public wants me to fight. This is the situation.”
Did you give any consideration to fighting Chris Byrd? "You can't put a lion in there with a bird [laughter].“
Vitali Klitschko said: ”I was seeing a lot of fights with Lennox Lewis. Actually I see what he prefers to do. I don't want to talk about how I will fight. I would like to show it in the ring. Much better to see it live than hear it from me a thousand times…I think he is actually the best in the heavyweight division and everyone knows it. I like when he says about himself, Lennox Lewis is the king, Lennox Lewis is the best one. So I think Lennox is from Jamaica, Canada and originally from England. And in England, not the king makes himself king, the people around him make him king…Great opportunity for me to fight Lennox Lewis, he is the best in the world. Of course, I've heard many times I'm not strong enough, I heard about it a lot. But I don't worry about it. All my opponents were saying the same stuff, knock me out, too strong for me. But where are they all right now?…Nobody knows right now (how the short notice will affect the fight). We both have to change our whole preparation, sparring partners, tactics. It will show at the end of the match who is the real best one. Who can best change operations in the short amount of time. Let's see who is the real champ…He's strong fighter, smart fighter, he has good technique, a lot of experience. I don't want to talk about his weaknesses right now. I want to use his weaknesses in the ring…I will do everything to win this fight."
The questions about this fight are we don't know if Lewis is still the same great Lewis at age 37. Is the passion still there? Are the incredible reflexes still there? After conquering Tyson and Holyfield, what more is there to prove? Can Lewis summon his greatness again? Will he need to? How will Klitschko handle the pressure of fighting for the richest prize in sport, the moment he has waited all his life for? Is he ready to be the new superstar of boxing? Has this sudden change in plans (Kirk Johnson's injury) all been preordained, like some sort of destiny?
Even if Lewis destroys Klitschko, it's the kind of fight that won't thrill the chump experts who will just say Klitschko was nothing anyway. But Klitschko is dangerous. He is gigantic, awkward, quick and powerful. Roy Jones has never spoken a word about fighting him - that fact tells you how respected Klitschko really is. That's a far more reliable indicator than what some of our hack boxing journalists write. Remember…99% of the media told you that Tyson would KO Holyfield.
If Lewis conquers again, it will be yet another crowning moment for his incomparable legacy, an encore performance by one of the greatest heavyweight masters of all times. I can see a Lewis win but I'm not so sure this time. This could end up being one of the hardest fights of his career. Or maybe he'll make it all look so easy again. This fight is just so hard to figure.
June 21st. Los Angeles. Lewis. Klitschko. Destiny.