20.12.04 – By Frank Lotierzo – GlovedFist@Juno.com – This really shouldn’t be a shock or a surprise to anyone, but I won’t be surprised if it is. But it’s impossible not to see that Lennox Lewis does not think Vitali Klitschko is the fighter that some of the press and fans are projecting him as being. Just watch Lewis and read between the lines of what he says. He believes Klitschko’s reputation was formulated based on the fight between them and nobody would be praising Vitali for stopping Johnson, Sanders, and Williams had he not fought well against him. And more importantly Lewis believes Klitschko only looked good against him because he totally looked past and underestimated him when they fought..
If a rematch between Lennox Lewis and Vitali Klitschko never happens, I’ll be more surprised than anyone. I haven’t a doubt Lewis is fighting with himself every day trying to make up his mind whether or not to come back and fight Vitali again. Lewis wanted to be different in retirement than the others who made ill-fated comebacks, but I sense he is starting to accept the idea in his mind more and it’s just a matter of time.
On December 8th of 2003 I wrote “Lewis-Klitschko II: Why It Will Happen.” When Lewis retired this past February some friends and a few readers didn’t waste anytime e-mailing me to inform me that I was wrong. This past June 17th I wrote what I thought were the three biggest fights that could be made from an interest point of view, although many misinterpreted it as meaning the best fights that could be made. In that article I had Lewis-Klitschko II at the top of the list as the fight that would stimulate the most interest and coverage. And that was based on my belief that Vitali would beat Corrie Sanders in his upcoming fight to become WBC champ, thus triggering the wheels for Lewis to start thinking about coming back.
In the last eight months Klitschko has won the WBC title and successfully defended it once. On top of that he is currently perceived as being the best heavyweight in boxing. And that is killing Lewis inside, regardless of what he may say. Not many things bother a former great champion more in retirement than a fighter similar to him getting all the attention and praise he used to. If Chris Byrd or John Ruiz were being talked about the way Klitschko is, it wouldn’t faze Lewis a bit.
It bothered George Foreman 10 years after his retirement watching Mike Tyson coming up and going through the division like he did a little more than a decade earlier. Foreman says he came back to fund his Community Youth Center in Houston. What he won’t say publicly is how he couldn’t believe the fuss being made over Mike Tyson. I know this will upset many Tyson fans, but they’ve never been able to accept the facts regarding Tyson the fighter. The truth is Foreman was appalled and didn’t believe Tyson was unbeatable for a second. Although Mr. Politically correct would never admit to it on the record or in front of the camera. Foreman viewed Tyson as nothing more than a big fish in a small pond. And had no doubt that he could take Tyson’s heart and knock him out.
The same sort of thing is somewhat happening to Lewis when hearing Klitschko talked about as the worlds top heavyweight fighter in the world. Vitali being a physically big heavyweight like Lewis in stature and constantly being compared to him as a fighter is taking a toll on Lennox. Adding fuel to the raging fire is Lewis not getting full credit in some circles for beating Vitali when they fought.
Lewis knows he legitimately won the fight and cannot understand why not everyone sees it that way. He knows if he was up two points in the fight and was cut by a punch landed by Klitschko, which ultimately lead to the fight being stopped, nobody would be saying Klitschko didn’t beat him or wasn’t the champion.
What makes the fight a lightning rod most is neither fighter proved they were better than the other, which goes against Lewis much more than it does Klitschko since he was the champ. And hearing some say Klitschko would’ve or was on his way to defeating him is a lot for a proud champion like Lewis to digest.
Any writer or fan who says or believes Lennox Lewis fears Vitali Klitschko, either has an agenda and can’t see through their own bias, or they know nothing about the inner belief and character that separates the greats from the almost greats. Nothing could be further from the truth and it’s the opposite that may actually come back to bite Lewis. There is a good chance he’s still selling Klitschko a little short.
The fact is undeniable that Lewis was in terrible condition mentally and physically for Vitali when they fought. It doesn’t matter that he was training for a fight with Kirk Johnson. He was fat and on top of the boxing world winding down his career and going through the motions. Lewis didn’t perceive Kirk Johnson as a threat what so ever, a mistake he’s made before other so-called easy title defenses. And his lack of mental focus was a big factor regarding his approach for the upcoming fight before Klitschko replaced Johnson. For a fighter to prepare his best he must have some sense of urgency feeling he has something to prove or the danger of losing. At that time Klitschko was at the top of his game and had a sense of urgency in how he was training, knowing he was close to the title and could lose everything if he wasn’t at his best.
I’m convinced Lewis doesn’t think all that much of Klitschko as a fighter, nor does he think he is anything close to being a great fighter. That’s why he agreed to their fight knowing he wasn’t close to being in the shape he would be for a Holyfield or Tyson. He thought beating a fighter like Vitali on short notice at the end of his career would add to his legacy. While inside really thinking this guy is a huge target and a sitting duck that I’ll knockout.
Anyone who thinks Lewis respected or considered Klitschko a serious threat, go back and watch the fight. In Klitschko, Lewis was fighting the biggest and possibly the strongest opponent of his career. Over the years Lewis was often admonished for fighting too cautious and careful, something that isn’t news to anyone. It was also said by many that being stopped by Oliver McCall caused him to lose confidence resulting in him not fighting as aggressively as some thought he should.
He was derided for not going after the 5′ 10″ David Tua and Mike Tyson more aggressively, and he caught a lot of heat for not going after Evander Holyfield more in their rematch. Against Klitschko, Lewis never fought so reckless and careless. Even after Klitschko hurt him in the second round with a big right hand, Lewis went after him more aggressively and without caution. Klitschko bounced more right hands off of Lewis’ chin than any fighter I remember, yet Lewis never went down or once looked concerned or worried, just tired.
Some believe Lewis fought more aggressively against Klitschko because he was out of shape and feared him. I’m not sure Lewis would take a chance going out like that knowing he’d really be dead in the water if he didn’t get the early knockout. He was out of shape against Rahman the first time and didn’t fight like that. I think he fought so reckless because he didn’t think Klitschko was all that he was built up to be and viewed him as a white version of Michael Grant. But whatever his reasons it was obvious he had no fear or didn’t think he could lose to Vitali.
In fact Lewis was beyond fearless against Klitschko, he was stupid. He fought like he believed Klitschko couldn’t knock him out if he stood in front of him with his hands down and said hit me with all you have. When has Lewis ever fought like that? Lewis didn’t think beating Klitschko required him to be at his best prior to their fight. If that doesn’t show his lack of respect for Klitschko, I don’t know what does.
Throughout the last three or four years of his career Lewis constantly talked about his legacy and how he’d be remembered. He knew getting out on top and never coming back would enhance his standing as a fighter over the years. And he wanted to be above other past greats who either couldn’t stay away or needed money and had no other choice.
What’s tormenting Lewis is he sees a rematch with Klitschko as a fight he can’t lose, even at this point of his career. And he probably thinks beating him now would elevate his standing as a fighter. Remember, it’s because of how Vitali fought against him that has raised his standing more than anything else. Lewis had nothing to prove when they fought, and Vitali’s career was on the line. What Lennox didn’t plan on was Vitali being his equal the night they fought.
I have a feeling Lewis may be overrating himself, something he’s good at, and underrating Klitschko. There is a very good chance Lewis is attributing Klitschko’s good showing on himself being out of shape, more so than Klitschko being a good fighter, and that could turn out to be a big mistake. If Lewis could turn back the hands of time and be at his best for a rematch with Vitali, I think he wins. From what I’ve seen the best Lewis was clearly a better fighter than the best Klitschko, but maybe the best Klitschko is yet to come, only time will provide the definite answer. Although I seriously doubt Vitali will get much better if at all at 33. However, as a fighter Lewis did just about everything a little better than Klitschko. Including throwing every punch in the book harder and faster, especially hooks and uppercuts. Klitschko has shown a better chin, but he is more prone to cuts and injury.
Unfortunately because of money, ego, and the fact that Lewis doesn’t think Klitschko is that good and is living off giving him a good fight when he wasn’t close to being himself mentally and physically, I can’t help but think Lewis will succumb and fight Klitschko again. Just once I would like to see a fighter who has accomplished what Lewis has get out of boxing with their health, money, and respect while being on top. But I’m afraid Lewis is no different than those who came before him and were sucked up by the addiction of being the heavyweight champion of the world.
In a proposed rematch Klitschko has everything in his favor, only Lewis doesn’t see it that way. Instead of fighting Klitschko again, Lewis should hope Vitali goes onto make 10 or 11 title defenses and retires being thought of as a great heavyweight champion. In the coming years if Lewis never fights again it will only be remembered that he won when they fought and that’s all that matters. And then he can say at the end of his career and past his peak he beat Klitschko in or close to his prime. That’s a lot better than risking the memory of him being counted out in his last fight.
In a rematch we know what Klitschko brings and what he is right now, Lewis is the question mark. If they fight it will have been over two years since he last fought and over three since he’s been in top shape. For Lewis to comeback and fight Klitschko at 40 years old after being mentally retired since beating Tyson is to great a risk. I’ll always favor the fighter who has been active versus the older fighter who has been out of the ring. And history overwhelmingly favors Klitschko and weighs heavily in favor of Klitschko.
Lewis-Klitschko II only represents bragging rights to loyal fans of both fighters. Any boxing purist knows that Lewis-Klitschko II only settles the issue of who’s the better fighter if Lewis wins. Klitschko beating a 40 year old Lewis doesn’t anoint him the better fighter. Heavyweight history is littered with scenarios like Lewis-Klitschko if it happens. The younger fighter in his prime seldom gets credit for beating the ex-champ making a comeback.
And does anyone really believe that those who currently think Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes rank above Lewis, and believe they would’ve defeated him had they fought when both were at their best, change their mind if he comes back and beats Klitschko at age 40? I can’t see how it would, or how it changes anything.
To see it different Lewis would have to be better against Klitschko than he’s ever been in his career. Which has never been the case for any 40 year old fighter, and it won’t be this time. No way Lewis comes back in 2005 and is a better fighter than he was in 1997 or 1999. If Lewis of 2005 at age 40 coming off the longest inactive period of his career beats Klitschko, it just proves he didn’t have to be at his best to beat him, and if he was at his best he would’ve beat him easier. It certainly doesn’t make me think of him as a better fighter than I already do and it shouldn’t anyone else. How can it? I already saw the best Lennox Lewis and that’s not the fighter who will fight Klitschko if he comes back.
In Klitschko’s case, does stopping Lewis at 40 mean he was the better fighter? It never has any other time in history under the same scenario. The only thing that makes this a huge fight is the fact that Klitschko is viewed as the best active heavyweight in the world, and Lewis is the only fighter around that a case can be made on his behalf to beat him. The first fight left some unanswered questions, but a rematch can’t answer them. The fact is the best Lennox Lewis can never fight the best Vitali Klitschko. If Lewis loses a rematch with Klitschko he’ll say I should’ve stayed retired and realized my body wasn’t responding, and he won’t give Vitali credit for winning. And if Klitschko loses, he’ll have an excuse and he won’t give Lewis credit for beating him.
We’ve had the Lewis era, maybe this will be the Klitschko era. But if he loses to Lewis at age 40, he’ll be seen as a caretaker to the title Lewis relinquished when he retired. Lewis worked very hard to overcome getting stretched twice by one punch and his legacy will only get better as time passes just as Larry Holmes’ did. If he were to be stopped by Klitschko in a rematch, I’m not sure his reputation recovers this time. I would like to be wrong and see Lewis be different and instead of being controlled by boxing like a drug, I’d like to see him kick the habit and never fight again.