Vitali Klitschko vs Hasim Rahman, the Little Things

02.11.05 - By Geoff Mckay: You read it right, the little things, that's the title of this article. How many times have you watched a fight end in an upset, or turn in an unexpected result, only to have analysts in droves point out “the little things” afterward? Small factors, that when seen in hindsight came together and should have painted an obvious picture of what was about to happen. This time, we are going to try and look at the little things before the fight, and see what conclusion they lead us to.

First of all, there is no way that Rahman should stand a chance in this fight. He gives up height, and brute strength. The shot that Vitali soaked up in the first round of the Sanders fight would have sent Rahman into dreamland, (as Sanders nearly did when he fought Rahman) so you can bet Vitali is more durable. Rahman is the younger man, in fact, when he fights Vitali, he will be 5 days past his 33rd birthday, compared to Vitali’s 34. However, in a strange paradox, Rahman is also the older man. He has fewer years under his belt, but he is battle worn, and obviously past his prime, while Vitali seems at the height of his prowess, at least he was before the layoff.

There it is. I’ve convinced you right? No? I didn’t think so because I haven’t convinced myself either. There is just something about Rahman. He is impossible to write off.. No matter how many poor performances he turns in, no matter how many trips he takes to the canvas, or the HBO announcers table, no matter how many times he leaves the ring in defeat, you just can’t look at the guy and say “he has no chance”, therefore, we must look deeper. We must examine, “the little things”.

If you read a few of the analyses that have been written about this fight, most of the credit given to Rahman have been vague - stuff like “good boxer”, “strong puncher”, or “experienced”. I believe these comments are unsuccessful efforts to describe what makes Rahman special. I believe what makes Rahman special is his mentality, in short, his unshakable confidence.

Confidence, that’s the word that the analysts should be using. He stands a chance simply because he is confident, that is the elusive factor that everyone sees, but can’t put their finger on. When he stands on the podium and tells Vitali Klitschko, along with the rest of the world that he is going to hand Klitschko his first ever knockdown, he sounds believable, because he himself believes it - and that believability catches people’s attention.

Hasim Rahman possesses a self confidence that is almost unshakable, and that is rare. Many are the stories of fighters whose careers were destroyed or damaged by a single, brutal knockout. Oleg Maskaev was on track for a title shot when the Kirk Johnson KO forever reduced him as a fighter. Wladimir Klitschko was considered the most promising heavyweight on the planet when a second round KO robbed him of all his confidence, a tribulation he is only now recovering from. Willie Dewitt, the promising Canadian heavyweight, never returned to prominence after being scorched by Bert Cooper. Michael Grant, Michael Moorer, the list goes on, and let’s not forget the most glaring example of all, Roy Jones Jr.

Roy Jones Jr. has demonstrated the power of fear better than any other fighter I know. It was all I could do to sit down and watch the third Jones-Tarver fight. Several times I got up and shut the TV off, only to force myself back again. I couldn’t stand seeing Roy Jones do that too himself, especially since it was obvious that the old Roy was still there, in flashes, waiting to come out, but caged by fear.

Tarver was hesitant, and he himself was scared of being tagged. On the two or three occasions Jones actually got aggressive, Tarver’s eyes went wide with bewilderment and horror, as he hung on for dear life. You could almost hear him thinking, “you’re not supposed to be doing that Roy!!!” Roy must have heard it too, because he immediately obliged and stopped fighting. In the middle of the fight Roy tagged Tarver with a beautiful counter shot, and the sweat exploded off of Tarvers' head. Although Tarver didn’t seem affected by the punch, the truth revealed itself a few seconds later when Jones feinted and Tarver lurched backward across the ring, desperate to avoid being hit again. Jones didn’t throw another meaningful punch that round. It is my belief that even now, if Roy Jones Jr. were capable of completely releasing himself from his fear, (get ready for the outcry), he would clean Tarver up within 7, and dominate the whole time.

The fear and self doubt that has so devastated these men, and many others, is completely nonexistent in Rahman, even though he has been knocked out as brutally and suddenly as any of those before him. His KO loss to Maskaev was as devastating as they come. Rahman was winning the fight, he looked sharp, he was controlling Maskaev, and suddenly Jim Lamply was asking him if he knew where, and who he was. How did Rahman respond? Four fights later he was the heavyweight champion of the world. Although he was losing when he knocked out Lewis, he was still confident, and aggressive enough to pursue the opening when he saw it. He won because he believed he could, just like he does now. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and one that speaks volumes is Vitali and Rahmans' face off at the press conference. Vitali is obviously pissed off again, and is glowering down at Hasim. Rahman, while gazing up 5 inches into Vitali’s eyes, is emotionless, no fear when nature says it should be there. It kind of reminded me of an animal on the railroad tracks, curiously gazing at that bright light coming swiftly toward it.

Another “little thing” is Vitali’s inactivity. We have no way of knowing how this has affected him until we see him fight, but we may have inadvertently been given a couple of clues. First of all, Vitali went through back surgery, so we can be sure he hasn’t been as active as he would like to be. While Hasim has stayed fairly active in the last year, it is doubtful Vitali was even able to jog for an extended period of his convalescence.

Also, there have been whispers that Vitali was cut during sparring. This could mean nothing; there are many ways a cut can happen. However, it could mean a lot. First of all, if it is in the same place as before, it means Vitali’s bleeding problem may be more permanent than thought. More importantly, it might mean that he isn’t as sharp after the long layoff, and that one of his sparring partners tagged him. Remember how we all dismissed the knockdown Tyson suffered in sparring, right before he fought Douglas, and then pointed to it afterward?

Very little is said about Vitali’s hands, but the truth is after his last two fights, Sanders, and Williams, he complained on air that he had hurt them. In fact, after about the third round of the Williams fight, he stopped punching with full power, which was a big part of the reason Williams was able to last so long. If Vitali’s hands act up again, he may have trouble finishing Rahman off, giving Hasim more chances to catch him.

I have saved the final “little thing” for last, because I think therein lies the key to predicting this fight. Just as Hasim’s main strength lies within his psyche, so is the case with Vitali. Vitali has an inner fire, a rage if you will. Any careful observer will see how his temper always lurks just under his skin. Even when sitting relaxed at a press conference, or photo op, he looks pissed off. This is rare in a big man, and when this fire is released it spells disaster for his opponents.

Hasim Rahman has been plagued by terrible advice throughout his career. I remember watching his corner man during the second Lewis fight. The corner man assured Rahman that Lewis could not touch him if he simply held his arms straight out from his body, palms extended. The very next round, cameras in Lewis’ corner caught Manny Steward telling Lewis, in detail, just how to nail Rahman if he did that again. Rahman got drilled and KO’d in the following round, just as Steward had said he would.

Once again, someone has given Rahman terrible advice, and chances are it’s going to cost him what could be his last shot at the title. Why anger a man larger and stronger than you? His camp should have paid attention to the other men that intentionally angered Vitali - Herbie Hide and Corrie Sanders. They should have watched the brutal, one sided beatings those men received at the hands of a motivated Vitali, and took heed. Vitali is at his most dangerous when he’s riled, the man that irks him on purpose before sharing the ring with him is foolhardy indeed.

Rahman’s biggest victory came against an unmotivated, unsuspecting Lewis. He should have pursued the same fight plan against Vitali. Instead of mocking him, presenting him with chicken and the like, he should have quietly come into press conferences, been polite, and then disappeared. He should have gone into seclusion, and let Vitali forget about him, just like Lennox Lewis did. Then, he could have looked to surprise a rusty Vitali early, and jump on him to force the stoppage. Now someone in his camp has decided to make it personal. In their brilliance, they have decided to “throw Vitali off his game” by making him mad, and in doing so have probably wasted the great chance they had for an upset.

Even if Klitschko is covered in ring rust, even if he hurts his hands or gets cut, he’s motivated now. He badly wants to beat up on Hasim Rahman, and he will. He will because he’s bigger, stronger, and meaner. He will get hit, but in the words of Teddy Atlas, “Klitschko won’t evaporate”. Rahman’s comments indicate he expects Klitschko to fold mentally when tested. Don’t count on it Hasim, especially now, since you’ve successfully painted a target on your forehead.

Prediction: Vitali Klitschko TKO 9 Hasim Rahman

Comment, questions, or snide remarks are always appreciated.

Article posted on 02.11.2005

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