The Underestimation of Vitali Klitschko
01.12.04 - By Scoop Malinowski / Boxinginsider.com - Seldom does a heavyweight make such a grand entrance on the boxing scene like a Mike Tyson. Most often, our heavyweight kings are at first doubted and even sometimes sneered at by the so-called experts, who maintain a loyal devotion to nostalgia and a skeptical cynicism towards the present. Lewis, Holmes, Holyfield and even Cassius Clay are clear examples of the all-time great heavyweights who ultimately proved their early doubters to be foolishly wrong.
Article posted on 01.12.2004
Today we have the interesting career of Vitali Klitschko to ponder. As is the way of human nature, so much of the boxing world remains in disbelief that Vitali is the next dominant heavyweight champion. For the crux of their argument, they point to April Fool's Day 2000, the fight with Chris Byrd (rotator cuff injury).
Klitschko overcame that moment of (mechanical) failure by earning a crack at Lennox Lewis in June of 2003. Thinking they knew Klitschko based on the worst moment of his career, most everyone gave Vitali no chance to win the title. Even though Lewis publically mocked Klitschko's ability, what slipped by the public perception was the reality that Lewis privately had broken three contracts to fight Vitali.
Today this crucially important, smoking gun of a truth is still not fully realized, so let me present the exact words of Peter Kohl to Boxinginsider.com in December of 2002: "(Lewis-Klitschko) was settled originally for the 8th of December (2002)," Kohl told me. "And Lewis has the chance to change the fight to February. And that was his possibility. And he changed the fight to February. And then he came in December and said, Oh no, we will not do the fight in February. We will do it definitely in April. Adrian Ogun (Lewis manager) came to Hamburg and said the deal was done for April. And still Vitali was not fighting (he was waiting to fight Lewis). Then we get a letter saying Lennox would give a direct rematch to Mike Tyson in June (Tyson eventually rejected that opportunity). Lennox had four times to fight Vitali. And he didn't do it. And with your open mind - it's not the money - we have the signed deal. The deal was perfect. 52 times the contracts are changing from my lawyers to (Lewis's lawyer) Judd Burstein and back - 52 times! So the contract was done. But they didn't do it. Ask yourself, Does Lennox Lewis want to fight Vitali or not? Four times he could fight Vitali."
When the Tyson rematch fell through, Lewis, curiously opted to defend his title against Kirk Johnson in June 2003 in Los Angeles - despite the signed contract with Klitschko. Lewis said he needed a warm-up after a year off, but if Klitschko was going to be so easy to "eat for lunch", why not get right to it? You see? These are the clues that tell the real story. Of course, as we all know now, Kirk got hurt (allegedly) and Vitali stepped in on 10 day's notice and their superfight was one of the most exciting in history. Though Lewis defended his title, Vitali won the hearts of the audience with his courageous effort. If you watch that fight again closely, even before round one you will see the huge respect Lewis actually has for Vitali as the two titans sized each other up with an absolutely riveting five-minute stare contest. Lewis certainly was fully aware that Vitali had never shown him ANY hint of fear or even hesitation over the previous three years. And he knew Vitali was more than ready, willing and eager for this battle. As a great admirer and observer of Lewis, I firmly believe he was slightly disconcerted by Vitali's confidence and determination and secretly, deep-down he knew he was in for a vicious dogfight....even though he came across as condescending to Vitali in his media statements, "He hasn't seen a boxer like me, with all my size, power and equipment...I'm going to show him what it's like to be in there with a class A opponent who's not afraid of him...He won't be able to take my kind of pressure."
When Lewis entered the ring in his last fight, he was bouncing with his custom cool. But things were just a bit off as his hood fell over his eyes and his corner had to fix it. Then quickly HBO quickly and perfectly zoomed over and showed Vitali eyeing his prey. Man, what a sight that was! Vitali looked absolutely awesome and supremely confident as the two made their initial contact with each other inside the ring that night. (Readers, you must watch this again if you can.)
Each warrior showed his unique brand of greatness in this monumental classic. Lewis must be commended for his effort in such a brutal fight at age 37. The boxing gods seemed to favor Lewis as he opened that horrible gash over Vitali's left eye with his first punch of the third round. The timing of that cut was almost supernatural, as Lewis was in desperate need of something to stop his own bleeding - his title and career were pouring away.
Lewis' status was at severe risk considering how Vitali had bashed him in the first two rounds. Maybe those gods appreciated and were repaying the class and honor, the beautiful way Lewis made his mark on boxing during an impeccable career. Maybe they gave him that cut as a one, last omen that this was to be the final page of the Lennox legend.
I believe Lewis used up the last surge of his greatness that night. Vitali proved his worthiness beyond any shadow of a doubt. I believe, had the doctor not acted, the bout would have been a 12-round draw as neither man was going to lose. Neither man was going to surrender. Those two lions both wanted it so badly.
So now, after that unforgettable night and after Lewis decided to walk away from the violence of a $20,000,000 rematch, and after Klitschko destroyed Kirk Johnson and Corrie Sanders, the pundits remain doubtful of the new king and discredit his achievements by complaining that it's a weak era. But no era is weak in boxing. The best is the best. The fist of any 200 lb. man is dangerous. Instead of understanding the evidence that Vitali has been beating every man he's ever fought, they prefer to criticize his opposition. They mock Johnson and Sanders as if they were bums.
I like to look at it this way. Johnson came in the ring so heavy against Vitali because his only hope, his sole strategy was to catch Vitali with one shot early. I believe Johnson had such respect for Vitali's unorthodox technical skills and his ferocious mental intensity, that this was the only way he felt he could win - one perfect punch. As for Sanders, he too came in heavy, hoping for the early KO. The herd mentality scorns Sanders's choice of strategy but the truth is he was extremely and rightfully confident going into the Vitali fight, considering the spectacular way he had won against then top-ranked brother Wladimir. KO wins like that take fighters to another level. Yet Vitali overcame the confidence and power of "Sniper" Sanders. How Sanders endured that frightful and vicious beating was a testament of the amazing self-belief Corrie had that he would score (eventually) the KO with that lightning fast left. Sanders' confidence and determination are what survived him in that fight...he was dead-set on winning. He only failed when his body broke down from all the punishment. Vitali gradually destroyed Sanders with a clever attack based on patience and intelligence. It was an absolute masterpiece of a performance in such a pressure-packed moment, just two weeks after brother Wladimir was defeated by Lamon Brewster. If you were there live you would have experienced the electricity and excitement of the event. And if you knew how confident Sanders and his pal Lennox Lewis were (inside sources have told me Lewis "knew", not thought, Sanders would win), you would appreciate Vitali's victory that much more.
Still after all the recent success, Klitschko is viewed with a certain pessimism. It's as if the experts just can't imagine or comprehend an educated Ukrainian with a doctorate degree dominating the most violent sport in the world. They just can't see his totally original and unorthodox style succeeding in the long run.
They can't fathom that Klitschko, 33, possesses that extraordinary mentality, that rare winning spirit such as that of Lennox Lewis, who made this comment at his retirement press conference: "I had to go through all those trials and tribulations. And let me tell you, there were a lot out there. Not just physical but mental. People question you, doubt you, and you start to question and doubt yourself. But I I believe that everything happens for a reason. In order for me to become great, I had to lose. I had to lose to Oliver McCall. I had to lose to Hasim Rahman. Both times I came back stronger. I was better." Maybe "losing" to Byrd and Lewis is what transformed Vitali from very good to great.
But you have to remember, as universally respected as Lewis is now, it was not the case just a few years ago. Lewis was considered by the pundits to be awkward, clumsy, lacking heart, too much of a gentleman to be heavyweight champ, etc. Lewis proved his critics incorrect.
The same patterns seems to be developing with Klitschko. Since Klitschko won the title earlier this year, he seems to me to have actually grown in stature. He actually seems somehow taller now when you stand to interview him in-person. His words and his eyes seem more authoritative, more precise and more striking now.
Becoming champion, overcoming the massive pressures that he has, to redeem the Klitschko name, must have some effect, and I sense the subtle changes in Vitali. For the many people who remain derisive of this new champion, let's just hope they are not putting their money where their mouth's are.
The most telling evidence may be the words of Don King, who is as keen as they come in matters of boxing. As you may have noticed, King is not in any sort of rush to match any of his trio of champions to fight Klitschko. And we know King will only do so if he can somehow wangle future options on Vitali's fights. Listen closely to King's bitter verbal tirades against Vitali, they sound exactly like how King use to degrade Lennox Lewis in the 1990s. King never would let Tyson fight Lewis and he steered Holyfield from Lewis for three years. As it turned out, now we know why King spoke so disdainfully of Lewis. Because he respected him so much.
All the tell-tale hints and clues are apparent. And aside from all the obvious signs of a looming great career, there also is another underlying motivation behind Vitali. There is major unrest in his native country Ukraine. As we are learning now, Ukraine is currently on the possible verge of a civil war. It's a confusing ordeal to understand but apparently Russian interests favoring the west are at dangerously severe odds with the eastern side of the nation.
Some people believe the instability of the Ukraine may hinder Vitali's career. Others like "Langford" on the eastsideboxing.com forum feel otherwise: "Perhaps the best thing that Vitali Klitschko can do is carry on with the Danny Williams fight as planned and use the press that will be coming from the fight as a stand to get the rest of the world interested in the importance of the situation of his country. He will be meeting with a lot of people in the American and British press in the next weeks, before and after the fight. This should be something that motivates him more, to destroy Williams, so more people will consider him the real champ, become more interested in him and put the spotlight on him...so he can turn the spotlight on the importance of his country. With a win vs. Williams, the man who beat Tyson, Vitali Klitschko will be the biggest international figurehead tp come from the Ukraine. He has the intelligence to make the most of that. It could be the first step for him to become more than a fighter, but a world leader...like Ali."
Those powerful comments make you start to wonder if maybe it's not a coincidence after all that Vitali Klitschko is the WBC Heavyweight champion today. Just like maybe it was not a random happening of chance that Joe Louis became such a revered champion for Americans, black and white alike...that Muhammad Ali's charismatic and outspoken nature achieved so much for civil rights around the world...that the dignified, well-mannered and honorable ways Lennox Lewis came along at just the time when violence and immorality in the world seemed to be at all-time highs.
Perhaps it is slowly becoming understandable and believable that Vitali Klitschko may eventually become something more important to boxing and the world than a lot of people realize at this moment.
Scoop Malinowski has completed his 12-chapter manuscript "Lewis vs. Tyson: Heavyweight Armageddon! The Inside Story About the Biggest Money Fight in Boxing History." Publishers make note!
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