Lewis – Klitschko: My Two Cents

07.09.05 - By Kevin Purcell: I have to admit that writing this article makes me a bit of a hypocrite. I’ve said before that because of the wretched state of the heavyweight division, people should just turn their attention to other weight classes with far more quality instead of bemoaning the ‘heavies’. So for that I apologise, but I feel it’s important to try and clear the fog that still lingers in the aftermath of Lewis-Klitschko.

The Fight

Despite the fight doctor deeming Klitschko unable to continue due to a hideous gash over his left eye, he was judged to have won 4 of the 6 rounds. Because of this, many people - including Klitschko himself – use this to argue that he would’ve gone on to win the fight. But due to the exhaustive nature of the fight (both were constantly trying to push each other round and considering they both weighed about 250lbs, that’d make anyone tire), Lewis’ poor conditioning and Klitschko’s alleged stamina problem, and mainly because of the punishment being dished out to each other, there’s no way the fight would’ve gone to the scorecards.

The scorecards tell us that Klitschko was doing well early on but was he the more likely to knock Lewis out before getting knocked out himself?

‘Dr. Ironfist’ connected with several big right hands throughout and Lewis’ legs appeared unsteady on more than one occasion. But the champion fought back in round 6 and delivered a pulverizing uppercut that Klitschko admirably stood up to. Another uppercut had Klitschko in trouble but the bell sounded before Lewis could capitalise. So Lewis finished the round – and subsequently, the fight - looking like he was getting back on top. In addition to this, the swelling underneath Klitschko’s eye was getting worse and within a couple of rounds it’s likely that his vision would’ve been completely obscured, leaving him open to his opponents main weapon, the overhand right.

But as Lewis went to sit down he almost ended up on the floor as he slumped onto his stool. He looked completely spent so maybe he would’ve been the one to get knocked out if the fight progressed. Maybe he knew he wouldn’t last much longer and his performance in round 6 was one last desperate attempt at a KO to retain his crown rather than just warming to the task at hand. Different people obviously have different ideas about who would’ve finished the fight as champion but based on what I’ve just said, if the fight had continued I think it’s too difficult to pinpoint which fighter was the more likely to emerge from the contest victorious. It really could have gone either way.


So what did that night in June 2003 at the Staples Center tell us about the fighters? Some people may find this surprising but both fighters went up in my estimation. Klitschko’s biggest fight to date had been Chris Byrd. Until about ten days before the bout, he was preparing for a tune-up against the unheralded Cedric Boswell. So to be suddenly tackling the formidable Lewis must’ve been daunting, even though it meant getting a shot at the title. Vitali displayed little sign of fear as he battled with Lewis. He began to take more punches as the fight wore on – including some cracking uppercuts in round 6 – but his chin stood up to the test. Even though Lewis was clearly below par, it was a brave performance from the big Ukranian and he deserves a lot of respect for it.

On the other hand, this fight signalled the end of Lennox Lewis. Whatever about weighing in at a career-high 256lbs, the sight of him lumbering around the ring, seemingly not knowing what to do when hit, and his reflexes unable to allow him to dodge punches that were hardly Mayweather-like, proved that this was a fight too far. I’m not just making excuses for him here, watch him just 19 months earlier against Hasim Rahman, fleet-footed in comparison, and you’ll know what I’m talking about. And I don’t think it was a case of him not training properly either. Granted, he probably would’ve gotten past Kirk Johnson at 356lbs, but he’d already been beaten twice in supposedly easy defences so I don’t think complacency was an issue. Father Time had caught up with him and it was just impossible for him to get into proper shape.

However, I thought he showed a lot of guts. His heart had been called into question before but, much like Klitschko and his chin, he put those allegations to rest. He fought back gallantly in the face of adversity, and if he was going to lose then he would do so having given it his best shot. As it turned out, he ground out a somewhat fortuitous victory. But it was also perfectly legitimate. Klitschko was unlucky to receive such a hideous gash, but it was caused by a punch – not a headbutt – so as far as I’m concerned, there’s no argument there. These things happen in sport and you just accept it.


But despite the legitimacy of the win, a question mark was left hanging over Lewis. That’s why people were so disappointed when he retired before giving Klitschko a rematch. I don’t see any mystery to his decision though. Lennox realised the game was up. His abilities would only have deteriorated further in the time it took for a rematch to take place. What was the point in taking an undignified hammering at the end of an excellent career? He shouldn’t have waited so long to come to a decision but I imagine he was in a big dilemma. He probably wanted nothing more than to go back out and finish Klitschko off, silencing his critics once more. But in the end he decided that his body just wasn’t up to the task anymore. It was the right decision. He knew he’d be accused of cowardice and his legacy questioned but he’d also watched Joe Louis and his hero Muhammad Ali suffer terrible beatings after fighting on too long and though “No thanks”.

People claiming Lewis was scared and other rubbish should think for a moment. This guy had twice jumped straight back into the ring with fighters who had knocked him clean out and had no hesitation facing other big-hitters like ‘Razor’ Ruddock, Tyson, Briggs and Bruno. No, Lewis had already taken a risk against Klitschko, emerged unscathed, and can now enjoy life with his young family with his health perfectly intact. Unfortunately this decision was harsh on Klitschko. He deserved a rematch and seems especially aggrieved because Lewis agreed to grant him another bite at the cherry just after the fight was stopped. But in the emotional aftermath of a big fight, you can’t hold people to these things.

Lewis was exhausted physically and mentally, so when Klitschko is up in his face screaming for a rematch, it’s fair to say that he was hardly in the right frame of mind to decide whether he would continue fighting or retire. Klitschko was perfectly entitled to push for a rematch because if he had gone on to defeat Lewis (an almost certainty), then it would’ve been a good payday and more importantly, an impressive name on his record. He knew there weren’t any other names out there like Lewis for him to challenge. But this is where he has faltered. He should’ve decided, “Ok, I won’t get the chance to beat the best heavyweight out there which would automatically make me the best, but I’ll go out anyway and clean out the division, leaving people in no doubt as to who the best is.”

Vitali demolished Kirk Johnson while waiting for Lewis to make a decision, then the WBC decided that he had to beat Corrie Sanders to win their belt. No problems there. But then he should’ve made his move. Blow out WBA ‘champion’ John Ruiz and rid us all of his tedium. Get revenge on WBO king Lamon Brewster. Or most of all, dig up heaven and earth to get a rematch with IBF supremo Chris Byrd. Instead, all he has done in the 17 months since claiming the WBC belt is beat a completely overmatched Danny Williams. Obviously I don’t expect him to have managed to secure bouts with all three of the other belt-holders, but he should’ve gotten one of them in the ring by now.

I realise that they are Don King promoted fighters and complications will arise in negotiations, but if he had kicked and screamed long enough, then he would’ve gotten something. Injuries have played a part in this too but I still feel he could’ve done more. On paper, Klitschko has the tools to become the best heavyweight. He seems to take this for granted already, maybe that partly explains why he doesn’t appear pushed to unify the titles. But in my opinion, until he actually goes out and accomplishes this, then the division will continue to drift through an air of confusion and uncertainty. Hasim Rahman is a step in the right direction. Let’s hope these steps quickly turn into strides befitting of his physical stature.

Thoughts or comments?

Article posted on 07.09.2005

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