Sharkie’s Machine: Klitschko vs Johnson: "The Storm From The East"

06.12.03 - By Frank Gonzalez Jr.: Watching Vitali Klitschko, standing across from his opponent Kirk Johnson with that serious menacing glare, answers the question of the Heavyweight issue. There IS a dominating fighter in the Heavyweight division.

As fight fans, some of us like boxer-types, with their flashy moves and counter punching, finesse, the slipping and sliding and landing that big shot out of nowhere. Me, I like FIGHTERS, who come to rip you to pieces—guys like Ricardo Mayorga, Manny Pacquaio and Vitali Klitschko. They ain’t pretty. Neither have particularly graceful styles to marvel at. But they can punch!

Then incite fear in their opponents and dictate where others negotiate.

Johnson’s long walk to the ring looked like slow motion. He seemed on the border of being relaxed and scared shitless at the same moment. But he’s never been a colorful personality anyway.

Vitali entered to roaring cheers from many sections of Madison Square Garden, waving the Ukrainian flag and singing in unison. Something big was going to happen—you could feel it.

The Fight

Round 1

Kirk Johnson comes on fast and furious, throwing punches from all angles and moving around a lot. I was surprised by Johnson’s approach, I thought he would look to box from the outside and look to counter but he decided to bring the fight to Vitali. It was interesting while it lasted. Johnson did score a few decent shots—until half way through the round when Vitali moved in on him, single minded in his approach. Moving ever closer to Johnson, catching him against the corner ropes with some good shots. The referee warned Vitali about hitting behind the head. Johnson seemed a bit out of control and looked very heavy, even for him. Klitschko pressed and scored better. Johnson’s left eye was already swelling in red.

Round 2

Vitali seemed possessed as he closed in on Johnson, always throwing sharp straight punches that look to hurt even the guard of Kirk, who got caught with a combination as he’s bending trying to slip Vitali’s shots and goes down on a knee.

Johnson takes his count and gets up but he stays in the corner and Vitali goes right after him with punishing shots to the head and the body. Against the ropes, Vitali scores several punches to the head and one to the body and Johnson goes down. Referee Arthur Mercante Jr. stops it. Vitali wins by TKO 2. And that was the end of that.

* * *

During the post fight interview with HBO’s Larry Merchant, Vitali Klitschko assured us that he wants to fight Lennox Lewis before he retires. He said he has been prepared to win the title and looks like he’s a formality away from getting his chance. Maybe not against Lewis, who seems bent on retirement, with no word and no scheduled fights on his calendar.

For Vitali, there is Chris Byrd, who holds the IBF title and whoever wins claim to the WBA title that Roy Jones Jr. will not defend. That could be Rahman. I doubt Ruiz can squeeze anymore out of Boxing then he already has. And there is Corrie Sanders, who held the WBO title after taking it from Vitali’s younger brother Wladimir last March. Vitali vs. Sanders would be a hell of an attraction considering all the related drama. Sanders’ is a big puncher with quick hands and I wouldn’t count him out against anyone in the top ten. Sanders took offense to the manner of Vitali in the ring after Corrie dismantled his brother, vowing to take the WBO title back to his family. Those guys won’t be exchanging Christmas cards this year.

* * *

Recently, the HW division has not been very exciting. All the politics of who won’t fight who, Champions acting like retirees (Lewis) or draft dodgers running to lower weight classes for safety (Jones) or winning decisions in fights they lost because they have the right promoter (Byrd), is what we’ve endured lately.

Still, everyone wants to see the big guys fight each other. There are the fringe candidates like Rahman, Tua, Oquendo, Johnson, Juan Carlos Gomez and even James Toney is in the mix. Wladimir Klitschko may even recover from his brutal loss to Sanders and reemerge as a force. But Vitali Klitschko looks like the exception. He can make the HW division exciting again. Especially if he plans to continue fighting more than just once a year. Of course they could all make it exciting if they’d just fight each other but it all seems as hard as pulling teeth.

I’ve heard rumors that Toney wants to fight Vitali. I wonder if he still feels that way after what went down Saturday night against Kirk Johnson. Toney might not look as good as he did against the aged Holyfield in a fight with someone the stature and nature of Vitali.

A few of the contenders out there will probably never be more than just that, like McCline, who’s basically a no factor. You hear about Oliver McCall—but never see him. Tua can only win by knockout—and that’s only if you stand there in front of him. Fres Oquendo is too inconsistent to take too seriously for now. Gomez has good speed but might lack the power to deal with the big men. Kirk Johnson needs to choose between French Fries and Milkshakes or being a prizefighter who’s ready to go on the Atkins Diet and reinvent himself. John Ruiz is uninspiring. Dominic Guinn is good but might not be ready for another year. Joe Mesi is exciting but showed that he needs to refine his defensive skills a bit before leaping too high. Even Monte Barrett showed some potential with his perseverance under fire. He might be able to make some noise if he learns to be more aggressive as the new era ushers itself in.

2003 has opened the door for some of the older fighters to make their exodus from the sport. Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson should retire. If Roy Jones Jr. will only consider fighting Mike Tyson and won’t defend his WBA title against a deserving contender, he should be stripped. Unless Lewis is willing to work hard and end his career on a positive note, he should stop holding up the line and move on with his life. They were great members of an elite class of fighters who won’t be forgotten but their time has come to let the new wave hit the shores. There is a changing of the guard and its long overdue.

I congratulate Vitali Klitschko for an impressive performance and look forward to seeing him fight again in another six months. Of all the Heavyweights out there that matter, he’s the most convincing as a dominate champion. Bring on the Belt holders.

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Article posted on 07.12.2003

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