It is too easy to dismiss Vitali Klitschko as a boring, predictable and towering freak of a fighter from the old Soviet system because, in addition to all of the above, he can really fight.
Tonight in Berne, Switzerland, 17,220 people have paid to make Klitschko's latest defence of his World Boxing Council heavyweight title against American unknown Kevin Johnson a genuine sell-out. The truth is that the fight is an event first and a world heavyweight championship contest second, and Johnson, a smooth talker without a punch of significance, is a minor attraction.
Klitschko is now 38 and tonight's workout will be his fourth fight in 14 months after ending a forced and uneasy sabbatical from the ring when his body collapsed under the relentless strain of training and forced him to quit for four years.
It looked like Klitschko, whose younger brother Wladimir holds three versions of the world heavyweight title, would never fight again, but slowly, after taking herbal cures in a dozen countries and resting his battered body, he was strong enough to return; winning the WBC title in his first fight and so far making two quick defences.
"The break was not perfect for me," admitted Klitschko. "I always wanted a rematch with [Lennox] Lewis, but now I have my sights set on [David] Haye – he is a foolish man, a bad example of a champion." In 2003 Klitschko required nearly 100 stitches to close his facial wounds after losing a six-round tiny epic with Lewis. In July a fight between Haye and Klitschko was agreed in loose terms, but a deal was done in haste and privacy for Haye to fight Nikolai Valuev for the World Boxing Association's bauble. Haye won and the rest is bitter history to Klitschko, who ruthlessly beat the latest great American hope, Chris Arreola, in 10 one-sided rounds in place of a lucrative fight with Haye in Germany.
Haye, understandably, has a different opinion of the way events unfolded and insists that both Klitschko brothers were so desperate to avoid fighting him that they made him insulting offers assuming that he would simply say no. "They never really wanted to fight me," insisted Haye. "Now I will embarrass one or both of them into the ring and this time I will have some say at the negotiating table. Let's face it, Vitali needs to fight me or his legacy will be a beating from Lennox and a few wins against unknown Americans."
Johnson has not lost in 23 fights and, in the time-honoured tradition of modern heavyweight challengers, managed to avoid sharing the ring with anybody resembling a real contender, and he starts as a massive underdog. He will be four inches shorter, but he has a two-inch reach advantage and as an infamously light puncher he has developed a fine straight jab, the punch Lewis used to slice open Klitschko's big face.
"Guys like Johnson and Arreola simply don't have the necessary skills to beat a fighter like Vitali," claimed Lewis, who still has to constantly refuse offers to end his retirement. "I'm friends now with Vitali, but his wife is always asking me to fight him one more time. She tells me that he has not got over the fight!"
Klitschko has methodically broken the hearts of his last three opponents, all of whom delivered more than Johnson, before forcing the corner, the fighter, the referee or a combination of all three to end the massacre in rounds 8, 9 and 10: Johnson will do well to make it that far.
Klitschko v Johnson: Tale of the tape
Height: 6ft 7in
Wins: (KO) 38 (37)
Last Fight: Arreola, 26th Sept 2009, Opp retired.
Birthplace: New Jersey
Height: 6ft 3in
Wins (KO): 22 (9)
Last Fight: Vargas, 15 May 2009, technical KOReuse content