Boxing


Klitschko vs Johnson: Vitali ready for Johnson bout

04.11.03 - By Traolach Kaye: In reading numerous articles in the past several years about Vitali Klitschko, I’ve noticed that writers often mention Vitali’s vital stats in a way that is less than flattering. Paraphrasing Wilt Chamberlain, they’re always out to get the big guy. Tell that to Byrd, who fought Klitschko a full 13lbs heavier than anything Quarry ever weighed. But those same stats helped Vitali last June, when he fought tall to rock defending champ Lennox Lewis repeatedly in 6 hectic rounds. Like Quarry used to, Klitschko lost on cuts. Like Quarry did repeatedly, Vitali has earned “another” chance [if the two weeks notice he got last time constitutes such]-, but like Jerry never used to, Vitali gets his at an opportune moment. Any dregs of longevity Lewis had were knocked out of him last June. Klitschkos last 6 fights [5-1 (4)] having elevated him to and consolidated him as the WBC’s number one contender. Unlike Quarry, Klitschko is now in the right place at the right time. Last June was the right place, just not the right time [As you wish Lennox] The question is, is Johnson the “right” opponent?

Johnson is smart. This is in effect his 3rd title tilt. He lost the first by DQ, low-balling John Ruiz. He lost the second because he pulled out with a pre-fight muscle injury. Perhaps he realized what the media makes of fighters who pull out mid-fight with real injuries. Or maybe Lewis, got “smart” and told him to step aside so he could take out an un-prepared Klitschko. [Lewis has not fought since!] Either ways he brings a certain degree of experience to the fight.

Unfortunately for him, most of that experience is bad. Johnson is considered a fast fighter, by heavyweight standards. He dressed Savarese impressively with fast, well thought out shots en route to a surprisingly one-sided KO. But he had problems with the unimpressive Ruiz, problems that RJJ figured out in 3 minutes. Prior to that again, he struggled against the competent Larry Donalds, picking up a busted face en route to distinctly unimpressive decision win. Then came the Ruiz debacle, and the two hand-picked wins. Now comes Klitschko.

As the incumbent [and incubating?] “champ” says: - “styles make fights”. Klitschko, who has no stylistic heavyweight comparator, is as awkward as he is powerful. Adept at fighting big. Johnson has impressive hand speed, but he is only marginally faster than Klitschko. Johnson appears to have power. But his 6’3” frame is pickled in fat and his blow-out of Savarese flatters to deceive- he had dressed Lou with several big shots over three 1-sided rounds before the inevitable pay-off left-hook in the 4th. And Savarese has never been what we would call “Anvil-Chinned”. Coupled with Klitschkos jaw, a Johnson KO [of Vitali!] seems unlikely. He couldn’t shift Donalds, who Klitschko wrecked in 10 rounds, dropping him repeatedly. Common opponent analysis is misleading, but it cannot be ignored- not least given that both men fought the same version of Donalds. Johnson may argue that his current purple patch is demanding of respect but his last two opponents are far from Championship calibre, and it is that that may make the difference. Klitschko is red-hot. He is coming off a massive fight with Lewis, a fight he was desperately unlucky to lose. He has the momentum entering the fight. He is a cautious powerhouse who will find Johnson’s chin, and when he does, then we will see. Most feel that Ruiz had Johnson hurt in the 10th round of that fight, the right hand doing the damage. If Johnson charges he will get wrestled and mauled to the point of exhaustion before being pounded late on, as is Klitschkos pet tactic, see Donalds/Purritty/Sullivan fights. If he stands on the outside, he must surely suffer the same fate that Lewis very nearly suffered, being bombed unexpectedly from mid-long range with booming right-handers. If he waits he will be jabbed and hooked into doing something stupid. And he cannot afford any moments of hesitancy or foolishness. He may point to his speed and mobility and then bring up the topic of “Super-Middleweight” Chris Byrd, but bad memories of Ruiz and Cole may temper such comments. Johnson fouled out against Ruiz, and the same low-blows cost him against Cole. Considering that Klitschko is a far-harder nut to crack than either of the above, it is Johnson who will be scrutinized for signs of mental fallibility.

This is not to dismiss Johnson. He will have his moments. He did beat Donalds, and a very faded Saverese. Indeed that was as one-sided a beating that Savarese had shipped for a long time. But Lou had been stopped brutally before, in his prime, by the flawed Izon, and, objectively, one labors to plot out even anything vaguely resembling a feasible fight plan for Kirk. Klitschko holds his left dangerously low; ostensibly with a view to delivering the left hook. Maybe this will provide an opening. But even if Johnson can reach Klitschko with the right it seems unlikely that he can do any more damage than Lewis did. At least not cerebrally, as cuts remain a threat. Kirk reached Saverese, but he faces a greater physical gap with Vitali-and Johnson has a history of facial damage, too, so it seems likely that the taller more technically rounded Klitschko will jab and cross safely from the outset, establishing a rhythm and beginning as he means to continue. Johnson is smart enough to know that he has to re-establish himself in this fight- a loss in ignominious fashion will not further his cause. He will retaliate. He may even initiate. His best shot is aggressive mobile fighting from the get-go, a la the Saverese fight, looking to initiate the action, withdrawing and regrouping as necessary. However, such a plan, as attractive on paper as it is, is conditional, in that Johnson must dictate the pace. It is here that he will fail. Klitschkos dictation of the pace versus Lewis played a major role in Lewis exhaustion after 6 rounds. The stronger man, the man with the greater sense of distance, will dictate the pace. See Golota-Grant in this regard. And Johnson does not have, has never had, the conditioning of either Grant or Klitschko. Look for Vitali to steadily outwork him from round 4 on, ultimately battering Johnson late on for a stoppage, or picking up a handy decision win as Johnson hits survival mode. Seconds out!

Short Jabs
Kudos to Irish born Michael Gomez. Gomez, real name Michael Armstrong, became a 2-time British champ at 130lbs [Super-Feather] following his emphatic 5th round KO of previously unbeaten Alex Arthur in Edinburgh, Scotland, a weekend ago. Look for Gomez to challenge for meaningless inter-continental honors before securing a potentially explosive showdown with current WBO champ, Acelino Freitas- provided Freitas stays at 130. Alternatives include a tilt at Affif Djelti, the former European champ at 130. Frenchman Djelti has made a habit of destroying British opposition, and significant wins include TKO’s of Alex Moon, Charles Shepherd and Dean Pithie. Djelti recently lost his title to unsung Russian Boris Sinitsin and would prove a worthy and meaningful step-up for any fighter looking to challenge Sinitsin in the near future. Such a fight must be “makeable”, given Djeltis habit of fighting anytime anywhere.

Article posted on 04.11.2003



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