Klitschko v Rahman: Why Vitali Has to Win

03.11.05 - By Peter Cameron: It's not exactly The Thrilla in Manilla but Vitali Klitschko's November 12 date with Hasim Rahman does represent the biggest heavyweight fight of 2005. Those from the generation who watched Smokin' Joe bob and weave as The Greatest floated and danced, look away now. For these great men have long since gone, replaced by boxers who probably wouldn't have made the top ten in Ali's era. Klitschko resembles a robotic monster with an awkward style which is uneasy on the eye. He hasn't been seen in a ring all year, his last outing being against the hopelessly out-of-his-depth Danny Williams in December 2004. Rahman unfortunately did appear this year in August and was booed repeatedly as he ground out the dullest of points victories against Monte Barrett. After numerous setbacks and delays, on November 12th the long-awaited "Whack at the Thomas and Mack," for want of a better name, will finally see Dr Ironfist taking on the challenge of The Rock. Crikes, even their nicknames can't compare anymore!

Nevertheless the result of this heavyweight collision will have a massive impact on the short term future of the division. The best possible outcome on the night would be a decisive Klitschko victory, preferably by early knockout. This will help to establish him as the outright, recognisable leader of the heavyweights, a figurehead the division so desperately needs right now. As the Tyson-Holyfield-Lewis era disappears into memory, nobody has risen from the mediocrity that now strangles the division. Boxing no longer pulls in the punters and part of the problem is the lack of a clear heavyweight number one, a focal point for the average sports fan. November 12th is Klitschko's opportunity to become that man.

This is not to say that Rahman doesn't have a chance. He has good punching power and is entering the fight on the back of six straight wins, four by early stoppage. Indeed this is the man who knocked out big Lennox with a right hand of near supernatural power. Yet if we are brutally honest, none of us really believe that Rahman is any good. In fact many of us thought we had seen the last of him back in 2003 when, after the Lewis victory, he went on to lose three of his next four outings (the other result being a draw). In fact Rahman's whole reputation is based on that momentous victory in South Africa in 2001, yet I am not even convinced that was Lennox Lewis in the ring with him! It may have looked a bit like Lewis but it certainly didn't display the skills and conditioning normally seen from the giant Briton. The real Lennox Lewis turned up seven months later to put the record straight.

The problem for Rahman is that he simply doesn't have the credibility to be considered the world's best heavyweight. You cannot lose to Oleg Maskaev and John Ruiz and ever hold that title. Baddest Man on the Planet? No chance, not after those defeats. In fact so dull was The Rock's points victory over Monte Barrett in August that many fans would rather be watching his wrestling namesake take on Klitschko on November 12.

Not that anyone would begrudge Rahman victory, given his current financial turmoil and tragic story. This is a man who, in the euphoria directly after the first Lewis fight, reportedly turned down $17 million for a rematch in favour of $250,000 in a Don King suitcase and the promise of some easy defences. Lewis's lawyers then got to work and ensured the rematch was honoured immediately. Poor Rahman went on to lose not only the WBC belt but also an incredibly large amount of money. It is always painful to see a boxer having to file for bankruptcy as a result of bad management and boxing politics, and winning back the title would be the best remedy for the man from Baltimore. Yet despite this sentiment, a Rahman win would merely confuse already-muddled matters even further.

Step forward Vitali Klitschko.

The huge Ukrainian himself is hardly an inspiration. His finest hour is getting his face shredded to pieces by another ill-prepared version of Lennox Lewis, and since acquiring the WBC belt he has defended it against three unexceptional fighters in the shape of Kirk Johnson, Corrie Sanders and Danny Williams. Yet it is still just possible to argue, following fairly sound logic, that Klitschko is in fact unbeaten. His two losses, to Byrd and Lewis, have come from being unable to continue through injury. He was ahead on the judges' scorecards in both fights at the point of his withdrawal. He was desperate to continue against Lewis, and the Byrd fight injury was a freak occurrence not caused by anything his opponent did to him.

Klitschko has an impressive knockout ratio, with 34 KOs in 35 wins compared to Rahman's 33 in 41. Klitschko has never been knocked down and possesses the granite chin required to be a good boxer. In short, he has the credentials that Rahman lacks to become the world's best heavyweight.

On November 12th I expect to see the Doctor clinically chipping away at The Rock before executing a late knockout in an otherwise dull and overcautious fight. Afterwards we will appreciatively applaud as the division at last welcomes a newly established leader and some sense of order finally returns. Yet deep down we will be hoping that another Smokin' Joe or the next Greatest is just around the corner.

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Article posted on 03.11.2005

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