Vitali Klitschko/Kirk Johnson Analysis & Predictions
04.12.03 - By Paul Ruby: Two fighters with talents and records among the most impressive in the heavyweight division will meet this Saturday, December 6th in the worldís most famous arena with both fighters trying to truly establish and solidify themselves in the upper echelon of today elite heavyweight boxers. Vitali Klitschko and Kirk ĎBubbaí Johnson will go to war in Madison Square Garden on Saturday evening; one man will be leave the ring recognized as the dominant force in the division while the other will be left with the difficult, but not insurmountable, task of picking up the pieces and re-establishing himself as a Top 5 heavyweight. Saturdayís fight is one of contrasting styles, and this makes it a very interesting one. Vitali Klitschkoís movement is typically more calculated and plodding while Johnson moves laterally quicker and with greater fluidity than nearly all heavyweights. Likewise, Vitali Klitschko has adequate, but certainly unremarkable handspeed, while Kirk Johnsonís handspeed is quite impressive and is often belied by his larger physique. Of course, there is also the question of natural power where Vitali Klitschko is far superior to his Canadian counterpart. Still, there are many areas of this fight that are not so cut-and-driedóconditioning, desire, and game-plan; and I believe that one of these variables will have an important role in determining who leaves the ring Saturday evening the victor. In the paragraphs that follows, I will explore the advantages and disadvantages of each fighter, as well as the variables in this fight before rendering a final (but qualified) prediction for Saturday nightís event.
Article posted on 04.12.2003
Kirk Johnsonís training habits have too often been questioned due to a physique that is not, perhaps, as aesthetically pleasing as that of most heavyweight contenders. I, for one, think his physique is one of genetics, not one of sloth. I predict he will show up for this fight in the best shape of his career; even better than his most recent performance against Lou Savarese. I think Kirkís training has been motivated by an almost personal animosity towards Vitali. It was Kirkís injury that allowed Klitschko the chance to clash with Lennox Lewis is June and I believe that somewhere deep down inside of Kirk, he feels that he, and not Vitali, is the one who should have been in the ring giving the champion all he could handle six months ago. Kirk will arrive in great shape, but I have serious doubts that he will be the best conditioned fighter in the ring on Saturday evening. To be totally honest, I donít really see conditioning being a make or break issue in this fight, but I think it will still be a very important one.
Kirk Johnsonís best skills as a fighter are his handspeed and his movement. I believe if Johnson can use his jab as a weapon to set up other punches, rather than as a Ďrange-finder,í he will do fairly well. Kirkís poorest showing as a professional was against John Ruiz who has a penchant for clinching and bull-rushing when heís in even slight trouble (due largely to over-cautiousness from a :19 KO by David Tua). In doing this, Ruiz frustrated Johnson, who was unable to really utilize his jab effectively. I donít see Vitali employing Ruiz-like tactics, but I also cannot see Johnsonís jab being as effective against the 6í8Ē Ukranian as it was against the Lou Savarese. Nonetheless, Johnson has very quick hands. A stiff, constant jab, along with good side-to-side movement will be his keys to winning this fight. If Kirk can move well while at the same time keeping Vitali honest with good jabs and the occasional power shot, then I believe he has a chance to win this fight.
Against Lennox Lewis, Vitali Klitschko showed that he fears no one in boxing today. He fights in a style that, to most, appears awkward, but to him is quite natural. Additionally, he has prepared for this fight with Freddie Roach as well as Fritz Sdunek. Throughout this year with both James Toney and Manny Pacquiao, Freddie has shown an ability to take a fighters style, tinker with it slightly and improve it, give him a little more confidence, and turn him into a champion. I think that Freddieís lightning might strike a 3rd time with Klitschko. Vitali has the natural advantage in power, hit well with both hands, and throws crisp, straight punches. Vitali is known as a combination puncher and I seriously doubt he will have transformed into one in the last six months. He fires one punch at a time, but almost all of his punches have a purpose. Against a good opponent like Johnson, I canít see a quick knockout here. I think it will be more of a plodding fight and a question of who tires first. I believe Johnsonís conditioning will be good, but Vitaliís will be great. I donít want to go to far here, or Iíll give up my prediction. I think, like the jab for Kirk Johnson, the straight right is the key for Vitali Klitschko in this fight.
Listening in on the Klitschko brothers conference call earlier this week, I was struck by the caliber of Vitaliís English. Although perhaps not quite as strong as his brothersí, it has improved tremendously, even over the past six months while training for a fight. This shows me that Vitali wants not only to be a great boxer, but also a public figure that is embraced by American fight fans. This is also obvious in he and Wladimirís performance on the Jimmy Kimmel Show recently. They both realize that, although Americanís are not always the best fighters, the biggest and best fights almost always happen in America. Vitaliís ability to improve his spoken English shows not only his desire to become a star and a public figure, but also his confidence that it is his time to do so. He must truly believe that it is his destiny to become a star in boxing, or else he would not have supplemented his already rigorous boxing schedule with taking time to improve his English. Now, contrary to what you might be thinking, I didnít choose this example to say why I think Vitali will be victorious; I chose it because I think it illustrates the confidence in himself and his abilities that he has consistently shown since his clash with Lennox Lewis. I think Vitaliís confidence will be further buoyed by the supporting cast in his corner between rounds of Roach, Sdunek, Souza, and his brother, Wladimir. I doubt Vitali will need to be urged to victory like Michael Moorer was years ago, but I think that those four men will certainly aid Vitaliís cause tremendously. In other words, I think factors in addition to his skill and strength will help Vitali a great deal in this fight.
The Fight Itself
I doubt Vitali sparred with anyone who could pepper him with a stiff jab the way that Kirk will in Round One. I think Bubba wins the first two rounds and most at ringside will be saying how Vitali is standing up too straight and does not have good lateral movement. I think the 3rd round will be a close one, but Vitali will start finding Kirk more than he did earlier. By Round Four, I see Kirk losing confidence in himself, which has been known to happen. I think Kirk will lose a step in the 5th and 6th rounds and he will have good exchanges with Vitali, although the taller European will consistently get the better of them. I think Kirk will go down once during round four through six, but will get up and keep fighting. Vitali will dominate the 7th round before stopping Kirk Johnson in the 8th when Kirk can no longer defend himself against the straight right hand. So, in other words, Vitali Klitschko KO 8 over Kirk Johnson.
I see the keys to this fight as Kirk Johnsonís jab and Vitaliís ability to land the straight right. I think Vitali would be well served to move his head more than in the past, and I hope this is something on which Freddie Roach has counseled him. I would also advise Klitschko to go to his opponentís body early and often in attempt to neutralize his best weaponóhis speed. I think Vitali should do this even at the expense of going to his head early in the fight. Without speed, Johnson will be lost against the stronger Ukranian. In all, I think Vitali will win by KO while heís ahead either five rounds to two or four rounds to three on the scorecards, but before that happens I think both fighters are going to treat the fans to a great show.
My disclaimer is that fight fans should never view gambling as a way to make money, but- letís be honest- gambling is a part of boxing like drinking is a part of golf or cursing out your sister-in-law is part of Christmas. In this fight, I would recommend against any high-stakes wagers. Neither guy has ever been KOíed nor have they faced top opposition, so, as smart as you or I think we are, we really donít know what weíre getting ourselves into. With the way fights have been scored recently, you donít your benjamins riding on the moron who scored Byrd-Oquendo 117-111 for Byrd. Honestly. The odds here have gone a pretty weird way. It looked like early on a lot of people were taking Johnson at moderate odds. Those were countered by people taking Vitali in droves. The odds are pretty stacked in his favor right now (early Thursday morning). I am almost certain that Vitali will win this fight, but given the odds situation I would not bet on it at this time. Here are my plays for this Saturday: Johnson to win by decision on a low-to-moderate amount. I am also going to counter that with betting on the draw because it was ridiculous the last time I looked (circa 5 minutes ago); something like 2500 or better. In other news, Iím picking Joe Mesi by knockout in the late rounds after a dominant performance, and you can take that one to the bank. Look how carefully his careerís been guided, and then tell me youíll bet against him with Monte Barrett as your horse. I didnít think so.
Enough gambling talk, letís get back to what itís all aboutóthe fights themselves. I canít wait until Saturdayís fight start answering the many questions we all have about the heavyweight division while creating new and exciting ones So, anyway, my predictions are here and immortalized for posterity. But, in case you missed them:
VITALI KLITSCHKO KO 8 over KIRK JOHNSON
JOE MESI KO 9 over MONTE BARRETT
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