Boxing


Kirk Johnson-Vitali Klitschko: When similar paths cross

01.12.03 - By Vaughn "Bigboscoe" Featherstone: Ahhh, How refreshing. The classic matchup of a devastating knockout artist versus a smooth boxer. The ironic twist to these two fighters (Klitschko and Johnson) are that their careers have taken similar paths of triumph and disappointment. This is not to say that both fighters have not reached the expectations of fans of either fighter, but to say that with their fighting spirits, they have overcome certain odds to meet head to head on December 5th.

In Vitaly Klitschko (32-2 31KO), you have a former Heavyweight Champion who rose to the top of his respective sanctioning bodies' rankings (WBO) with a punishing right hand and killer instincts. With that combination, success is nearly automatic. This is a Heavyweight who was practically unknown to the Western world but made his mark quickly. With punishing knockout wins over Jose Ribalta (TKO2), Herbie Hide (KO2-who was 31-1), Ed Mahone (TKO3-who was 21-0-2 at the time) and Obed Sullivan (TKO10), Vitaly was obviously a fighter that many heavyweights would not want to see on the other side of the ring.

But an injury during his fight with Chris Byrd forced him to retire on his stool and attain the moniker of "QUITschko." This is a fight that he was ahead comfortably but no one had any sympathy for a fighter that many unfairly labeled as a quitter.


This didn't stop his career. Vitaly returned to action with 5 wins (4 by KO) and lined him up with a title shot against WBC Champion Lennox Lewis when his (Lewis') opponent, Kirk Johnson, was scratched from the card because of an injury.

To the surprise of many, the fighter once dubbed "QUITschko" gave a performance (in losing) that sent one fighter's career into limbo (Lewis) while restoring his (Vitaly) credibility as one of the Heavyweight's top fighters.

Kirk Johnson (34-1-1 25KO) was dubbed "The Next Lennox Lewis" because of his Canadian heritage as well as his classical boxing skills. This former Canadian Olympic star rose slowly but eventually became a major player in the Heavyweight division and would rival (because of media hype) his Canadian counterpart (Lewis). His jab and footwork reminded fans of Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes. His deceptive power stopped 23 of 32 opponents and lined him up with a title opportunity against WBA champion John Ruiz.

This fight seemed to be deja vu for Johnson as he fouled out of yet another fight. (The first against Al Cole in Dec 1998 (D10)). Johnson looked off his game and was dropped twice (although they were not official but clearly seen as knockdowns by the public) by Ruiz before fouling out.

So now these two meet face to face to perhaps be the one who replaces Lennox Lewis. With these two having disappointments and broken dreams, who will be the hungriest?

Vitaly's power cannot be questioned, neither can his heart. Before the fight with Lennox Lewis, many questioned his chin as well but we all saw how he continously came forward and met Lewis with great success.

His stamina cannot be question either. In his last 8 fights, Vitaly has gone to or past 10 rounds six times with 5 knockout victories. With Vitaly's height (6' 8"), a overhand right could send Johnson to his backside early. Vitaly's punishing hooks and rights can be compared to Undisputed Jr. Welterweight champion Kostya Tsyzu: They are straight and punishing.

But will he have a let down against Johnson? Many fighters have had title opportunities, come up short but end with impressive performances just to be destroyed the second time around. Vitaly's style is made for Johnson, who is a lateral fighter who uses a stiff jab to keep his opponents away combined with textbook head and body movement when backed up. Will this frustrate Vitaly and make him get out of his game? He'll be there for Johnson to hit and who knows? Did that ghastly cut he suffered against Lewis heal enough to take an assortment of jabs?

Kirk Johnson is a superb boxer who uses the ring and a textbook jab. He also a good counterpuncher who absorbs shots well to the body and rarely takes solid head shots. When in shape, Johnson can frustrate a puncher into making mistakes such as lunging and leaving themselves open for counter hooks and uppercuts. As I stated earlier, his power is deceptive and with the combinations he throws, he could drop you at a moments notice.

In Vitaly Klitschko, he will be fighting a fighter who will be in front of him throughout the fight. His jab will connect as well as quick combinations. But Johnson is known for coming into the ring "soft". His conditioning will be tested throughout the bout as well as his ability to take hard punches furiously. Vitaly will throw the right hand without any respect for Johnson. Johnson has a good chin but as we saw in the bout with John Ruiz, a physical fighter can wear him down late and hurt him. Vitaly isn't a quick or nimble fighter but his punches come with such force that it could make Johnson respect him.

Johnson is notoriously known for keeping his hands low. This could prove costly if Vitaly can bait Johnson in throwing a lazy jab. Johnson's mentality when dealing with a physical fighter is suspect. His knack for throwing low blows in pressure situations have haunted him and may be a mental stumbling block for him against Vitaly. Vitaly is very big and strong and will definitely use it against the smaller Johnson.

Keys to victory: Klitschko

Be physical:
Johnson is a much smaller person and doesn't like to be tied up inside. You must bang the body in close corners and work Johnson's "extra-self" whenever possible. Rising body hooks and kidney shots will wear a dancer down quickly. Also, you'll need to keep your hands up and pick your shots. Johnson isn't coming foward so you need to watch for counter shots.

Use the jab:
Johnson, as stated, is smaller. Johnson likes to keep his left low after he jabs. Feints with the jab followed by the right hand will keep Johnson thinking. A fighter who thinks too much usually winds up thinking on the canvas. Johnson will be looking for the right hand but a few jabs will keep him honest.

Forget about Lewis and Byrd:
Those fights are done with. Let the public talk about them. You have to fight Johnson. You need to fight like this is your title shot. If you think about Byrd (the disappointment) and Lewis (the respect from the boxing world), you'll wind up like your brother did. Johnson is the wall between you and greatness. Tear it down!!

Keys to victory: Johnson

Come ready to fight!
You will need to be in peak shape. The fight will be grueling and he'll have to dig deep. Vitaly is a Ukranian volcano and can explode at any time (his fists!). When he does, be ready to be on the defensive and weather the storm. Coming in soft will prove costly.

Keep your hands up and use your tools:
The jab is your dealiest weapon but it can also be your achilles heal. Pop the jab, don't use it as a range finder. Vitaly is too big and strong for you to leave the jab out to dry.

Counter and tie up:
Vitaly is a big heavyweight. He'll bang the body if either hand is free. Lock him up ala John Ruiz when he gets close. Vitaly isn't going to grab you, he's going to punch!

Stay focussed:
Low blows have killed you when it was showtime. Vitaly, and I can't say this enough, is much bigger and the low blows will be far easier to commit. Use your jab and stay on your toes. Change directions when needed. Vitaly has iron fists but also two left feet. Don't stand there with him to impress the crowd nor the judges. Lewis tried that and it didn't work and he is much bigger than you.

My prediction

I like this fight because of the styles involved and you know the saying, styles make fights. Vitaly is coming forward for one thing: To turn off the lights. He'll come forward and he'll take some very good shots from Johnson. Johnson will look good early but

I think he will be fighting a fight similar to Michael Spinks when he fought Mike Tyson: Scared.
I feel Vitaly will be relentless and won't stop coming until he gets knocked out or he knocks Johnson out. If the fight doesn't end in a foul, Vitaly wins by knockout inside of 8 rounds.

Comments? Feel free to send an email: thirdman_boxing@yahoo.com

Article posted on 01.12.2003



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