Battling American Prejudice


17.10.05 – By Peter Cameron: Jack Johnson would have beamed his giant grin as Wladimir Klitschko overpowered Samuel Peter the other week. He may have frowned at Klitschko’s three trips to the canvas – Johnson would never have been so sloppy -but he would have relished the anguish felt by Klitschko’s detractors after the fight. Come November 12th, Johnson would no doubt be rooting for Wlad’s brother Vitali, defending his WBC title against Hasim Rahman. Johnson fought all his life against the cruel and unjust prejudices of his fellow Americans. Almost 100 years on and whilst the race being targeted may have changed, those same old, inbuilt American prejudices still remain.

In boxing, if not in everything else, it seems as if Americans hate Europeans, in my opinion. The Klitschko brothers are ridiculed and abused, the giant Russian Nikolay Valuev is written off as a mere freak show, and even Lennox Lewis still struggles to be granted his rightful place among the all-time greats. No matter how strong a set of boxing skills you possess, if your passport originates from the EU then America will never accept you.

With hindsight the outcome of the Klitschko-Peter fight was more obvious than first thought. Wlad has far superior boxing skills to the plodding Peter and as long as he could avoid the Nigerian’s undeniable power, he would easily be able to outbox and overcome Peter. Yet such was America’s desire to see the end of Klitschko’s career that even normally accurate American writers were predicting a Peter win, swayed by their anti-European bias. Boxing forums and chatrooms alike were inundated with comments by American fight fans gleefully looking forward to witnessing Klitschko’s demise, his career ended.

In the end, the biggest surprise of the night was Peter’s durability. He displayed a chin made from granite as he absorbed some punishing shots from the giant Ukrainian.

After the fight, Klitschko was respectful and dignified, not bragging about his victory or proclaiming his greatness. Both Klitschkos rarely become embroiled in the trash talking which usually fills pre- and post-fight press conferences. Indeed America’s attitude towards the Klitschkos is even more dumb-founding when both men are such articulate, intelligent, likeable characters.

It is not simply a case of over-zealous American patriotism at play. Indeed Samuel Peter is no more American than Wladimir Klitschko. It is worth noting that Peter is a devoted Christian, which is a great points-scorer with Americans. Certainly American prejudice seems intertwined with not only a nationalistic but also a religious favouritism. If you can’t actually be American, then being a practising Christian is the next best thing.

Yet the over-riding contributor to American opinion seems to be an inbuilt hatred of Europeans. Whether this is borne out of a jealousy of Europe’s sophisticated cultures and deep intellectual wealth, or simply the knowledge that Europe can rival America economically and militarily, is not entirely clear. What is beyond dispute is that European boxers face an almighty struggle to gain recognition from the American public. Wladimir Klitschko may have had a rough ride from Americans leading into the Peter fight, but it is nothing in comparison to the bile and abuse which has been levelled at brother Vitali in recent times. Whilst even loyal Vitali fans admit to being disappointed by their man’s lack of momentum since his barnstorming performance against Lennox Lewis, they understand that a mixture of Don King-tainted politics and a succession of serious injuries have hampered the elder brother’s progress. Yet Americans choose to overlook these factors and instead claim that Vitali is cowardly avoiding his number one ranked challenger, Hasim Rahman.

This very suggestion is risible given The Rock’s pathetic recent outing against Monte Barrett. In fact Rahman’s whole reputation has been built around perhaps the luckiest punch in heavyweight history, the one he landed to defeat an ill-prepared, out-of-shape Lennox Lewis. Lewis duly won the rematch with ease and Rahman’s limitations were further exposed in his next three fights; losses to John Ruiz and an ageing Holyfield along with a draw with David Tua.

At this point, had he been European, Rahman’s career would have been well and truly finished. Yet Rahman has been resurrected and repackaged as a credible contender through a series of early knockout victories against journeymen opposition. To propose that Klitschko is afraid of Rahman is absurd. If everything goes to form on November 12th, Klitschko will win easily, probably by stoppage, a result which would greatly benefit the heavyweight division. A Klitschko win would help to establish
him as the number one heavyweight in the world, a figure the division so desperately needs right now.

Despite all the statistics pointing overwhelmingly in Klitschko’s favour, many American fight fans are still predicting a Rahman win, their anti-European mindsets clouding their opinions. They are determined to see Klitschko fail so that their superiority complex can be preserved. This sentiment is even more irritating given that Vitali and younger brother Wladimir are probably the most exciting fighters in the division at present. Their styles are certainly more entertaining than the likes of Rahman, WBA champ John Ruiz and IBF belt holder Chris Byrd.

Many Americans do accept that Vitali is a better boxer than Rahman but cite what they perceive as a lack of heart with the European as the reason behind their forecasting a Rahman victory. This is a strikingly similar and sinister argument to the one Jack Johnson’s detractors used to put forward. It was suggested in Johnson’s day that his race lacked important personality traits, such as courage and heart, which would prevent him from ever becoming world champion. Johnson proved them wrong at the start of the last century and now, 100 years on, Klitschko finds himself battling similar prejudices. Hopefully Klitschko will prevail on November 12th and America will be forced to change its way of thinking. One thing is certain; were Johnson still alive today, he would definitely be cheering for the European.

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