29.10.03 – By Carlito Reuben aka “WidowTaker40”: As the year 2003 comes to an end boxing fans are receiving a real treat in the form of a heavyweight fight between top five contenders. Both Vitali Klitschko and Kirk Johnson are coming off impressive performances as Klitschko showed his championship caliber in a fight he lost controversially against Lennox Lewis and Kirk Johnson rebounded nicely from a diqualification loss to John Ruiz by spectacularly knocking out former contender Lou Savarese. This is a fight that has TRUE fans salivating and is guaranteed to end dynamically given the respective fighters pedigree and their need to prove themselves worthy of being challengers to Lennox Lewis.
Kirk Johnson’s career has had more ups and downs than an amusement park rollercoaster. As a silver medalist in the Olympics he established himself as an amateur star and once he became a professional he was expected to be as dominant as he was in the amateurs. Unfortunately for Kirk an elbow injury limited his punching ability and resulted in lackluster showings against journeymen fighters like Al Cole and Terry McGroom. Ultimately Johson was fed to Oleg Maskaev, than an up and coming fighter, to pad Oleg’s record. Those glimpses of greatness Kirk demonstrated as a Olympian manifested themselves on this night. With Maskaev imposing himself on Johnson, almost dropping him in the first round, it looked as if Johnson was on his way to being stopped. With Oleg’s early success he became overaggressive and it was at this moment the fight and Johnston’s career turned around as Kirk’s amateur experience, boxing ability and natural talent exploded on Oleg.
Halfway through the fight Oleg had control and was throwing monster punches hoping to take Kirk out with one shot, it was during one of these moments that Kirk countered Oleg with a THOR like left hook which effectively ended the fight. Oleg would get up from that punch only to be put down by a scintillating three punch combo that included a hook, straight and an uppercut, TRULY AWESOME. At that point the fight was over. Since that performance Kirk Johnson has beaten legitimate contenders like Larry Donald and Lou Savarese and was given the opportunity to fight Lewis, which he couldn’t take due to an injury. Johnson star’s, which faded the first years of his professional career, has been on the rise since that spectacular night he beat Oleg Maskaev.
Many of you may wonder why is an entire paragraph being dedicated to Kirk Johnson’s performance against Maskaev? Believe it or not Kirk Johnson’s reputation is based primarily on that win against Maskaev. You take that win off Kirk’s record and his career, to this point, is very ORDINARY. I believe Kirk is the amateur who hasn’t proved himself rather than the rising star most of the boxing media believes he is.
Power: Vitali Klitschko has demonstrated his power by knocking out Larry Donald, Kirk Johnson, on the other hand, not only struggled with Larry Donald but was unable to even back him off with punches. Vitali in his last fight against Lewis demonstrated that he hits like an authentic Heavyweight. The only fights where Kirk has demonstrated power is against Journeymen contenders like Lou Savarese and Oleg Maskaev. While his knockout against Maskaev seemed impressive at the time, Maskaev has since been stopped by Mount Whitaker and Corrie Sanders. Whether Johnson’s knockout of Maskaev led to Maskaev’s chinny condition or whether Maskaev was chinny all along is debatable but it is interesting Johnson’s power had never been apparent before nor appeared since. No, a KNOCKOUT of Lou Savarese, a worn-out former contender, while impressive doesn’t constitute stopping a prime contender. So in this category Vitali holds an HUGE advantage.
Speed – At 6’7 Vitali is nowhere near as agile, of foot or hand, as the smaller more nimble Johnson. I use the word nimble loosely as Johnson’s weight has been known to fluctuate and he sometimes comes into a fight weighing as much as Vitali, around 250 pounds, despite being only 6’3. In shape Johnson is much faster than Vitali so we will assume Johnson, in a career defining fight, will be in shape and thus be more agile than Vitali. The hand speed Johnson showed in his fight against Lou Savarese and in the closing moments of his fight against Maskaev was almost Roy Jones like. Clearly Vitali, even his most ardent supporters will accept, does not possess the type of hand speed Johnson does. However anytime I think of how important hand speed is I look at the tape of Forrest-Mosley I, where the rangier more technical fighter, Forest, was able to keep his faster opponent, Mosley, at bay by throwing and landing hard, straight punches from afar. Thus even though I think speed is easier to nullify than power, Kirk Johnson does have the advantage in this category and it may help him in this fight.
Chin- Johnson was dropped by Ruiz, wobbled by Maskaev while Vitali took Lennox Lewis’, a monster hitter, best punches with no obvious effects. Obviously Vitali possesses a better chin.
Technique- Kirk Johnson’s hands down, jump in and out technique may serve him well when taking on the likes of Lou Savarese and Larry Donald but against Vitali Klitschko it will lead to an early demise or a prolonged beating. Vitali, though sloppy in his last fight, uses an elegant if somewhat rigid style. His size, power and boxing skill is best utilized when he moves around using his range and straight punching ability to dictate the terms of combat. Against Chris Byrd he pressed when he wanted to and was an effective counter-puncher when Byrd pressured him. Despite an unimpressive technical showing in his last fight with Lennox Lewis in spots during that encounter Vitali showed brilliant technique as he countered and punched effectively. Due to both fighters being tall neither fighter could take advantage of a height advantage hence the fight deteriorated to a sloppy slugfest. Vitali’s last performance is not indicative of his technical style or ability.
Advantage in this category has to go to Vitali, who is more polished and technical relative to the free swinging, technically flawed fighter that Kirk Johnson is.
Defense- Kirk’s face was swollen at the end of his fight against Larry Donald while Vitali only showed defense susceptibility against Lennox Lewis. Over their respective career Vitali has shown a propensity to stay out of harm’s way by jabbing his opponent off him and using his height and limited movement to get out of the way of punches. Kirk on the other hand shows a propensity to get hit by punches as he was caught by Larry Donald’s Jab, Ruiz’s right hand and Al Cole’s hook in those respective fights. Vitali has a good jab, hook and right hand so it seems unlikely that Johnson will become Pernell Whitaker overnight and elude Vitali’s big weapons. Vitali, on the other hand, will be able to lean out of the way to avoid the shorter Johnson’s offensive attempts.
Endurance- Questions exist as to how dedicated in training Johnson is given his weight fluctuates from fight to fight. On the other hand Klitschko comes prepared and in-shape to every fight so he is effective late in the fight as he is in the early rounds. Clear Advantage to Klitschko.
Quality of Opposition- Klitschko has taken on the likes of Chris Byrd, Larry Donald, Tino Hoffman, an underrated and skilled European fighter, and of course Lennox Lewis. Johnson, on the other hand, has a record littered with journeyman though recently he has stepped up his competition taking on the likes of John Ruiz, Larry Donald and the than highly respected Oleg Maskaev. Vitali Klitschko has a clear advantage in this category given he not only fought better opposition but he performed relatively better than Johnson did against his inferior competition.
Prediction: Vitali gets caught early in the fight by getting too close to Kirk, rebounds quickly and begins finding his range, catching Kirk at the end of long jabs and rights and perhaps even a few hooks. Over a number of rounds Kirk’s inability to get inside and Klitschko’s accuracy from outside will result in Kirk Johnson being worn down to the point he is taking more punches than he is slipping. Eventually, probably when Kirk is worn down, around the seventh or eighth round Vitali catches Johnson with crushing right hands and left hooks rendering Johnson helpless and giving Vitali a spectacular knock out victory. If Johnson was susceptible to Ruiz’s right, to Maskaev’s right and to Larry Donald’s Jab there is no indication as to why he will be able to elude Klitschko’s offensive output. Klitschko even in a losing performance against Chris Byrd showed himself to be a technical, defensive fighter who puts his punches together well and is powerful and fast for a man his size. Only a reckless, careless Vitali Klitschko will give Johnson, the smaller, faster fighter an opportunity to get inside and land his hooks or uppercuts, unfortunately for Johnson Klitschko’s best attribute other than his size and skill is his ring intelligence. A Johnson victory over Klitschko would be a MAJOR upset as Klitschko is not only bigger but he is better as well.