Boxing: Klitschko left to rule the world with an iron fist
Sunday 19 December 2004
The nearest Lennox Lewis has been to the inside of a boxing ring in the past 18 months was when he strolled into the media room at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas last week and spotted a couple of British writers playing a computer video game in which he was matched against the former world cruiserweight champion James Toney.
Seeing himself on the brink of defeat he grabbed the controls and manipulated them to land a second-round KO. It was pure make-believe - exactly the same as any prospect of him making a comeback to face the gloved Goliath Vitali Klitschko again.
Oh yes, there was plenty of talk from Lewis after Danny Williams, the putative giant-killer, had been reduced to the role of Humpty Dumpty in Las Vegas's seasonal version of a pugilistic pantomime. He had wanted to climb through the ropes, he said, and show his battered fellow Briton how to do it. He was sorely tempted to consider a return with Dr Ironfist. "A lot of people are pressing me to do it and I could be ready in nine months."
Nine months? That would mean he would have been away from boxing for over two years, and past his 40th birthday. No wonder that after sleeping on it he seems to have reneged on the idea. "I've retired, been there, done that and proved all I needed to prove," he was saying yesterday.
As Klitschko himself says, Lewis is too smart not to stay in retirement. Deep down he must sense a return would end in humiliation, and possibly the sort of torture that Williams, picked off as if he was a dartboard, courageously endured for almost eight ridiculously lop-sided rounds.
So Lewis v Klitschko II is not even virtual reality. But the former champion is right about one thing. It will take a tall, powerful man like himself to beat the Ukrainian. And there isn't one around.
I do not go along with those who scorn Klitschko as one of the poorest heavyweight champions of all time. There has been a post-fight denigration of the Ukrainian. They say he's robotic, which is fair enough. With his height and stance that is inevitable but he punches cleanly and crisply, has a classic jab, his chin is not fragile, and he has never been off his feet. He is hard to hit and harder still to out-manoeuvre.
What is more he is also a smart fighter in every sense. An articulate multi-linguist with a PhD, sleaze-free and with a political conscience. A model champion albeit in an age of moderate heavyweights.
True that as a world heavyweight title holder Klitschko is more Championship than Premiership, and that he would not have beaten Ali, Frazier, Foreman, Holmes and others of similar ilk from bygone eras (though he might have confounded Tyson, who never relished being hit and hurt). But he did not have to beat those guys, only those who are around now.
The Americans may deride him, but they've no one better. So where have all their heavyweights gone? There is a belief that young American athletes who aspired to be boxers are now playing gridiron or basketball where the money is almost as attractive and the pain considerably less. Those kids who might have been decent heavyweights are now linebackers, running backs or tight ends.
The division is starved of talent. Indeed, it has rarely been weaker. Even Don King, who turned up to hold court after the fight, admitted in an uncharacteristic moment of candour: "The heavyweights around - and I've got most of them - are not much good. They're all anonymous. This sport needs rejuvenation."
Klitschko, one of boxing's gang of four heavyweight champions, will next fight one of King's B-listed squad, Hasim Rahman, who once knocked out Lewis but lost similarly in their return. Rahman is the mandatory challenger for the WBC title and of all the King's men may have the best chance against him - according to King. "He has the style to get in close and hammer Klitschko to the body. I guarantee he will hit him properly. Yeah, he's the one to beat him."
One who did is Chris Byrd. Klitschko retired with a career-threatening shoulder when ahead on points four and a half years ago (he was also leading Lewis before he got cut). Byrd, the IBF champion, is a clever boxer with a fly-paper punch. John Ruiz, who holds the WBA version, is as stiff as a statue while Lamon Brewster, who took the WBO crown from Klitschko's younger brother Wladimir, remains as much a journeyman as Williams turned out to be. This heavyweight pot is filled with insipid alphabet soup.
As for Williams, ill-advised to carry so much weight at 19st.4lb, he is some £700,000 richer but bruised of face and ego. He says he'd still like to be a champion one day, which is likely to be another of those impossible dreams of this dignified Londoner.
The reality is retirement, which his management team are urging, or either a British title fight with Matt Skelton or a possible return with Tyson, whose demolition predictably proved an inadequate yardstick by which to measure the 6ft 7in Klitschko. Yet Williams says he wants to keep going "until I am a shot fighter". Like so many in this savagely addictive trade, Williams insists that boxing is in his blood. One just wishes he could be dissuaded from spilling more of it.
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