Farewell Vitali Klitschko, Boxing will miss you

09.11.05 - By Michael Youssef: Vitali Klitschko was the undisputed champion of class. Though he was not the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, and left most fans in this sport bickering over whether or not he was even the best heavyweight with an alphabet belt, Vitali was without question, the most gentlemanly and well composed man above 200 pounds who carried any belt regardless of the letters on the strap itself.

People can argue that Vitali held up the division, through his unfortunate injuries, over which he could not control, as none of us can or could. People could argue that he quit against Chris Byrd, and thus showed his true colors. People can say that he was set up with the WBC belt by Lennox Lewis’ retirement, and the powerful backing of HBO.

However, just as easily, boxing fans could argue that Vitali helped bring interest to the division. Detractors can’t debate the fact that they argued about Vitali Klitschko more than any of the other three belt holders, which when all is said and done, says something. It says that if nothing else, Vitali Klitschko generated debate, attention, conversation, and for HBO, higher ratings than any of the other three belt holders. People could also say he revealed his warrior heart in his fight against Lennox Lewis, by doing something that no other fighter ever did against the unmotivated future Hall of Famer; go toe to toe for six rounds and get the better of him.

Would boxing love to have an undisputed heavyweight champion? Of course, and I would like to see one as much as the next fellow. However, boxing can use all the help it can get in it’s attempt to reemerge itself into the public conscious; Vitali Klitschko at least helped bring about discussion, something John Ruiz and his hug fests have not done in all the years he’s lost and been given his belt back. Chris Byrd has never generated excitement or debate among hardcore boxing fans either, not on the level that Vitali Klitschko did. Lamon Brewster may have a chance to dominate this division, and has earned every accolade he’s received, the old fashioned way, of which nothing can be taken from him. And even in spite of this, not even Brewster generated as much attention in the heavyweight division as Vitali Klitschko. Whether you liked Vitali Klitschko or not, nobody can argue that he generated conversation among fans, and gained the attention of an audience when he fought. And in this heavyweight division filled with confusion, even that is something positive that fans should be thankful for.

Not only that, but I’d like to say right now that I’m thankful for the way he carried himself in this sport. Don King, of all people, who has been sued by nearly half of his former stable of fighters, including Mike Tyson, was the perfect verbal adversary of Klitschko. Don King who has had 75% of the heavyweight division in his pocket for years now, and has failed to produce one single unifying fight, Don King who even gets sued by fighters not in his stable, Don King who so graciously brought us Davarryl Williamson versus Chris Byrd, thanks to his work with the IBF (International Boxing Felons), was the type of character who made Vitali Klitschko appear all the more attractive to fans.

When King told us that the best heavyweights are John Ruiz and Chris Byrd, and that Vitali was afraid of Hasim Rahman, most in the sport knew better. Rahman, who King has recycled more times than Andrew Golota was supposed to be the one who struck terror in the hearts of his fellow heavyweights as King has proclaimed. Last time I saw Rahman, he was being struck by Monte Barrett until his legs were giving out and he was piggy backing on Barrett and waiting for the final bell to sound. For some reason, I don’t know, I just didn’t by that Rahman was about to shake up the world the way King would like many of us to believe.

But back to the now retired Klitschko who, in spite of ‘below the belt’ verbal shots by jealous promoters and opponents envious of his economic and social standing in the division, composed himself with class. Vitali didn’t make excuses, he didn’t duck anybody, and though he certainly didn’t fight anybody we’d like to have seen him fight, most knowledgeable fans know that when he was injured, he was really injured.

Unlike fighters who go into bouts that we pay to watch, perform horribly, and then have the nerve to roll out their ready-made excuses as to why they couldn’t do what their pre-fight boasts had promised, Klitschko was never one of ‘those guys’. Hasim Rahman, Monte Barrett, Davarryl Williamson, all King fighters, certainly were, and maybe that’s why a lot of people really wanted to see Klitschko win his fight against Rahman.

Vitali Klitschko was not the savior of the division, and will never go down as an all time great, but boy, he sure does look like the ideal composition of a person when you stand him up against the likes of the majority of the heavyweight division, especially Don King and company.

Food for thought: Who truly believes that King will hold a heavyweight tournament to determine the ‘real’ champion? For those of you that do, it should be noted that half of his title holders, Lamon Brewster and Chris Byrd, must make a defense against Wladimir Klitschko or be stripped, and not even Don King can politic his way out of this. In fact, they must make a defense within the year. Also note, Chris Byrd is suing Don King for breach of contract, and has now claimed that King did indeed bribe the IBF (International Boxing Felons) to have Davarryl Williamson placed ahead of Wladimir Klitschko in the rankings. Doesn’t that complicate matters, when the ‘world’s best promoter’ is getting sued, yet again, by one of his own?

Finally, HBO, the only cable network that could afford to host a heavyweight tournament would certainly not push for one without the inclusion of their boy, Wladimir Klitschko, who is a threat to any of King’s stable of belt holders. In closing, as Vitali Klitschko retires, and Don King can be heard snickering in the near background, I have a funny feeling that in 2006, things will be anything but smooth sailing for the Don. For heavyweight boxing, let’s hope so (I’d like to dedicate this article to my brother, Simon).

Article posted on 09.11.2005

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