18.12.04 – By Steve Mckenna: A BLOODIED Vitali Klitschko scrambles around the canvas in the Mandalay Bay Casino. The Las Vegas crowd are on their feet. Vitali desperately tries to claw back the gumshield that’s been knocked from his mouth. The 6ft 7in giant is on one knee. The count is at seven. He somehow pulls himself to his feet…..and he stumbles back on to the ropes. Referee Joe Cortez waves his arms. The fight is over. In the other corner, Lennox Lewis jumps up and down, his fist banging against his chest. He’s back.
It’s a bed-time story you could imagine Lewis telling to his little boy. Boxing fans, too, could dream up a scenario where the ‘Pugilist Specialist’ shows us some of ‘sweet science’ once more, ridding us of the mechanical colossus who seems destined to dominate the heavyweight division for the foreseeable future. But could this possibly happen? After watching Klitschko demolish Lewis’ compatriot Danny Williams, Lennox admitted he felt like jumping into the ring. “Watching it stirred something inside me,” said the Brit, who believes it would take nine months to become fighting-fit once more.
It sounds perfect doesn’t it? Lewis could add some glamour to a desperately poor heavyweight division and boxing could be rid of the clumsy Ukrainian. But Lewis should beware. Even though many pundits believe he is just ‘playing’ with the media and has no real intention of coming back, surely there is a nagging feeling inside him that he can still beat Klitschko. At his peak, few would doubt that he would have dealt with the reigning WBC champion. When they squared off in their six-round war in Los Angeles 18 months ago, Lewis was past his best. But he got lucky and won by the skin of his teeth. Both fighters said they were on the ascendancy when Klitschko’s horrific facial injuries brought an end to the fight.
Lennox was particularly insistent, but no-one could say with any certainty which way the pendulum was swinging. Lewis has also argued that he was unprepared for that match-up, arranged at short-notice, and didn’t take Klitschko seriously enough. A rematch would be different, or so he thinks. But, at 39, would he really be able to deal with a man who has grown in stature since their last fight? Whereas Lewis has concentrated on fatherhood and commentating, ‘Dr Ironfist’ is on a roll. Stoppage-wins over Kirk Johnson, Corrie Sanders and Williams have boosted his confidence and Lewis would be facing an even tougher adversary. OK, so he’s still very robotic, but some of Klitschko’s boxing against Williams was punch-perfect.
Vitali was tremendously accurate and displayed a wide range of shots, albeit in his own awkward style and against a man who was, for most of the fight, a sitting target. But you’d have to ask whether Lewis could seriously come out of retirement and beat this man. Not only would he have lost a lot of sharpness during his lay-off, but he would also have problems with the scales. He is a huge man, a man with arguably an even bigger frame than Klitschko. Judging by recent pictures, he’s probably over 280lbs these days – and that would take an awful lot of time to work off, especially for someone whose weight has steadily increased over the years. From the sleek 227lbs he was when he destroyed Razor Ruddock in 1992, Lewis weighed in at a record 256lbs for his Staples Center meeting with Klitschko in July 2003. That’s three pounds heavier than he was for his disastrous knockout defeat by Hasim Rahman in South Africa two years earlier. If he came back, he’d probably tip the scales at around 265lbs – and that wouldn’t be ideal.
A heavy Lewis is just too ponderous and would play into the hands of the equally strong Klitschko. So Lennox has a few things to think about over his Christmas meal. The sensible view is that for a man who gradually earned the respect of even his harshest critics, a comeback would be a risk too far. Sure, we’d all love to watch Lewis v Klitschko II, and a Lennox win would see his stock grow even more, no doubt boosting him further up the all-time great heavyweights list. But is it worth the risk?