What if Kirk Johnson hadn’t torn his pectoral?
30.01.07 - By Geoffrey Ciani: On June 21, 2003, WBC heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis was originally slated to face Canadian Kirk Johnson in an unsanctioned bout. Mike Tyson was initially scheduled to appear on the under card against boxing’s most common foe, ‘TBA’. This was designed as a prelude to the Lewis-Tyson rematch that, thankfully, never happened..
Article posted on 30.01.2007
When Tyson rightfully expressed his reluctance to face Lewis in a return bout, he was replaced on the under card by one, Vitali Klitschko; Klitschko’s opponent was the unheralded, Cedric Boswell. At the time, Klitschko was the WBC’s number one contender so this card was a fitting design. If all went according to plan, Lewis would beat Johnson and Vitali would beat Boswell, paving the way for a big money PPV fight later that year. Unfortunately, this plan was thrown askew when Johnson was forced to pull out at the last minute, citing a partially torn pectoral muscle as the cause.
Amazingly enough, the card was salvaged! On just two weeks notice, Vitali Klitschko stepped in for the injured Kirk Johnson. That the details for this fight were finalized in such a short period is nothing short of a miracle. Furthermore, simply taking this bout was a tremendous testament to the championship character of both Lewis and Klitschko.
Ultimately, their fight ended in disappointing fashion, with Lewis winning via sixth round stoppage due to a grotesque cut on Klitschko’s eye. Despite the fact Lewis was the clear winner, having chopped Vitali’s eye into mincemeat, the conclusion was most unsatisfactory from a fan’s perspective, especially given that Klitschko was ahead on all three judge’s scorecards at the time of stoppage. After the bout, Lewis initially promised Klitschko a rematch, but upon further reflection, he became wishy-washy about whether or not he wanted to resume his career. Unsure of what to do next, he played the waiting game.
Six months later, the WBC sanctioned a title eliminator between Vitali Klitschko and Kirk Johnson while Lennox Lewis, undecided about his future, was still playing the waiting game. Klitschko would go on to annihilate Johnson in a mere two rounds. On one hand, this may well have been the elder Klitschko’s best performance as a professional, having literally walked through his opponent in just two rounds. On the other hand, Johnson showed up grossly out-of-shape for the biggest bout of his career. The great Larry Merchant best put things into perspective when he declared, “Vitali Klitschko just harpooned that whale.”
In February 2004, Lennox Lewis officially announced his retirement, although, most suspect his decision had been made two months prior after Klitschko destroyed Johnson. Who can blame him? He was thirty-nine years old and had beaten every man he ever stepped in the ring with, having secured his legacy as an all-time great. At the same time, there was something unsatisfying about the way Lewis bowed out. Not only had he held the heavyweight division hostage while he contemplated his future, but he also went against his word, having publicly stated would grant a rematch to Klitschko. Many people feel the heavyweight division has been in disarray ever since.
That begs the question: What if Kirk Johnson hadn’t torn his pectoral muscle?
Well, in reality, we’ll never know the answer to that question, however, that doesn’t preclude us from making some informed assumptions on what may have happened.
Firstly, for argument’s sake, I think it’s safe to assume that Lewis and Klitschko would have won their scheduled bouts on June 21, 2003. Had that happened, then it’s also probably safe to assume that the preordained bout between Lewis and Klitschko would have happened in December. If nothing else, this would have extended Lewis’s career an extra six months from the date of his last bout.
Assuming the December mega-bout between Klitschko and Lewis came to fruition, one of two things would most likely happen: Either Klitschko would win or Lewis would win. Had Klitschko won, I reckon there’s a strong likelihood that Lewis would have wanted a rematch, making that his last bout—win, lose, or draw. Had Lewis won, would he have retired? In a sense, I guess it depends on what type of fight they had and what other options may have presented himself had history unfolded differently.
The only thing I can say with some certainty is that Lewis encountered a more difficult fight with Klitschko than he anticipated. Earlier that year, Lewis’s friend and semi-pro golfer, Corrie Sanders, had brought the Wladimir Klitschko express to an abrupt halt. It seems to me Lewis incorrectly assumed he could stop Vitali just as quickly as his golfer buddy had stopped Wladimir. That was not to be. While Wladimir might well be the more talented brother in terms of raw offense and power, Vitali proved to be much tougher. In any case, when Vitali destroyed Johnson, Lewis clearly didn’t want to go through the time and effort required to prepare for another grueling battle with the elder Klitschko. At thirty-nine years old, who could blame him?
What do you think would have happened had Kirk Johnson not torn his pectoral muscle?
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