18.10.05 – By Kevin Kincade: On November 12th, 2005 it will have been two years, four months, and twenty-two days since Vitali Klitschko climbed into the ring with the last true Heavyweight Champion of the World. He wasn’t supposed to be fighting for the title that night; but sometimes Fate has a way of intervening with the affairs of mortal men. Only those who would dare to be Great answer Destiny’s call. Most of us let the moment pass us by, only to lament over our choice in our Winter Years. People can say what they will about Vitali; but when his moment came, he stepped up, stared Destiny straight in the eye, and took his shot.
Of course everybody knows what happened that night in June of ’03, Vitali erased the memories of quitting on his stool against Chris Byrd with a heroic display of courage and determination against the best fighter the Ring has seen in many years, pushing the Lion of Britain to his limits and beyond, only to have the Golden Fleece snatched away due to a severe facial laceration.
However, though he lost the fight, he had made his mark, and convinced Lennox Lewis that the time had come to hang up the gloves and call it a career. That near-miss haunted Vitali, even as he rolled over the man who was originally slated to face Lewis that evening, Kirk Johnson in two, and avenged his brother, Wladimir’s, loss to Corrie Sanders by pounding the pudgy South African into submission inside 8. Though he now held the recognition of Ring Magazine and the WBC as heavyweight champion, something was missing from his dossier.
In the other corner, we’ve got Hasim “The Rock” Rahman. Rahman started off his career conquering his first 29 opponents without a loss, all but five inside the distance. The Rock was considered one of the more promising heavyweight prospects in 1998 when he climbed into the ring with fellow heavyweight hopeful, David Tua. The Tua-man was coming off of a close loss to a fighter many considered the best of the younger generation, Ike Ibeabuchi, and was heading towards another loss to Rahman when thunder landed in round 9, actually, technically, after round 9. Early in the 10th round, the referee decided Rahman had had enough and called a halt to things, some would say prematurely, and Rahman’s undefeated streak came to an end. Still, given the controversy of the stoppage and the account he gave of himself through the fateful 9th, Rock was still in the heavyweight hunt.
No one really expected Oleg Maskaev to defeat young Rahman when they clashed the day before The Rock’s 27th birthday; but clash they did and Oleg smashed a right hand into Hasim, who sub sequentially crashed through the ropes and into Jim Lampley’s lap in round 8. But Rahman’s title hopes weren’t dashed. (sorry…couldn’t resist) Still, Rock is nothing if not persistent and after a war with Corrie Sanders, was back in the title hunt. Nearly a year later, he got his shot at immortality in South Africa. Like Vitali, he made the most of it. Unlike Vitali, he won; stopping Lewis with a sledgehammer right in round 5. Unfortunately for Hasim, it was not meant to last. He rematched with Lennox a little over seven months later, and this time it was Lewis’s sledgehammer that got through, separating Rahman from his senses and his title in Round 4.
After the loss to Lennox, Rahman struggled to keep his head above water and nearly faded into obscurity, losing to Evander Holyfield by a technical decision in Round 8, putting Philadelphia and the viewing audience to sleep while drawing with Tua in a rematch, and losing yet again, to, of all people, John Ruiz. While Rahman was disappearing from the heavyweight scene, Klitschko was making his presence known kayoing Vaughn Bean and Larry Donald, giving Lewis hell, and stopping Johnson, Sanders, and the man who had just upset the aging Mike Tyson, Danny Williams. Then, as has been the case throughout Rahman’s career, he started to come back. First, it was a win over former IBF Cruiserweight Champion and Heavyweight journeyman, Alfred “Ice” Cole, then three guys you’ve never heard of, before climbing into the ring with the man who had taken WBO Titlist Lamon Brewster, to the limit. Hasim dominated and stopped Kali Meehan within 4 Rounds. It was official; The Rock was back….and just in time.
After his win over Danny Williams, Klitschko suffered a series of injuries that required attention. First, it was his leg, then his back. It matters not how he came to be injured as much as the effect of said injuries: inactivity. Vitali did not receive his long-sought after rematch with Lennox Lewis, due to Lewis’s desire to remain retired and bask in the glories of his accomplishments. Now, Klitschko has a chance to face off against the last man to beat Lewis in the ring; and a fighter many consider the second best in the world. Vitali hasn’t been in the ring since December of last year, while Rahman has fought just once in the same time-frame…..and looked less than impressive in doing so. So, what’s going to happen come fight night and what does this match-up mean?
In a way, this bout is about Lennox Lewis….once removed, of course. Rahman defeated Lewis where Vitali did not. If Vitali beats Rahman, in a way, he’s beating the ghost of Lewis, especially if he wins in more impressive fashion. Also, he can say he didn’t lose to the man whom Lewis did. If Hasim defeats Klitschko and does so impressively, he’ll be able to say he did what Lennox Lewis could not and thereby further validate his status as a top fighter of the last ten years; and more than just a one punch wonder. Both of these men are looking for respect; they’re dying for it…..Vitali more so than Rahman. Rahman’s been to the mountain top: he beat the man who beat the man who beat the man. Vitali is being judged for not accomplishing the same task, which is unfair, in a way, because there’s no way he can, now; but he can beat the man who once did. Vitali has had his competition questioned, his heart questioned, and has also had to deal with fans who just plain old don’t like him. If he defeats Rahman and does so in an impressive manor, his detractors will have one less arrow in their quills. Rahman, on the other hand, had one moment in the sun and like Icarus plummeted back to earth shortly thereafter. Give him props for determination, though; he fought his way back into title contention. Whoever wins this fight should be recognized as the best heavyweight in the world with no excuses.
The Fight: Vitali should be a little sluggish due to his injury-related layoff and will look to keep Rock at a distance while he gets into the flow of the fight. Rahman should jump right on Vitali and test him early; but probably won’t. If Rock fights like he did against Barrett, expect him to take a sustained beating until the referee calls it a night or his body collapses; but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. I expect both to spar and parry in the early going before finding their rhythm. Despite the long layoff, look for Vitali to begin controlling the bout by round 3 or 4. Rahman, once stung with Vitali’s power, should fight more or less defensively and only in spurts for the remainder of the bout, mostly on the retreat. Rahman will probably have a moment or two where he catches Vitali off guard; but they will be few and far between. Vitali, I feel, is just too strong and too smart for Rahman, who has never shown me he has the ability to adapt in the ring. If Rahman’s game plan doesn’t take off, he’s sunk. Rahman can be dictated and will be in this fight, though he will fight back courageously when he can. Don’t look for a Klitschko knock-out, though. Despite being stopped by Lewis, Maskaev, and Tua, Hasim’s chin is relatively dependable and he won’t be exchanging with the big Ukrainian enough to get into serious trouble. Of course, this is boxing and one punch can put all this speculation to rest; but as of now, I see Vitali winning a fairly comfortable 12 Rd Unanimous Decision.
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