24.10.05 – By Gabriel DeCrease: Vitali Klitschko occupies the seat at the head of the heavyweight table, but it is a dubious divisional gridlock that holds his place. After his spirited performance against Lennox Lewis, in the twilight of the Briton’s career, Vitaly moved into the position of heir-apparent to the heavyweight throne, a role once thought reserved for his younger and more stylistically pleasing brother Wladmir. Vitaly quickly nabbed WBC strap and seemed off to a decent start by defending easily against Tyson-conqueror-of-the-week Danny Williams.
Dr. Ironfist was cruising toward a June collision with a rejuvenated Hasim Rahman, and the boxing public was finally ready for a real heavyweight title fight, or something as close to one as can be made with the current field. Then Vitaly fell apart. A torn thigh muscle delayed his date with destiny, and then refused to heal…again the Rahman fight was pushed back. Finally, with the champ’s legs back underneath him, it seemed like a prime time showdown was soon to follow.
Then the infamous back injury threw the fight all the way off the radar. While waiting on his title shot, Rahman haltingly posed and pitter-pattered around in a farce of a win over his much-loved friend Monte Barrett. Now, somehow, the ever-elusive showdown is nearly upon us.
It is difficult to know what to expect in the fight. Vitaly’s long layoff may have dulled the edge he showed in the three knockout wins that followed his tangle with Lewis. And Rahman’s only fight almost as long was barely a fight at all, and certainly not a representation of his full-effort, or of his response to the full-effort of a top-notch opponent. He and Barrett came at one another with such softness that even boxing abolitionists would approve of the fight. Both Klitschko and The Rock are in no position to rack up a loss and go back to the drawing board, at 34 and 32, respectively, the time is now for both men to cement a legacy. This will hopefully motivate both to give a riotous and action-packed show; though it may also set up a slow and intensely cautious snore-fest. Only time will tell.
If Vitaly wants to get over on Rahman he must make constant use of his size advantage and bully the challenger to a standstill and limit his ring-mobolity. Despite giving five-inches to Klitschko in height, Rahman has a two inch reach advantage, and thus Vitaly is going to have to make excellent use of his awkward style of leaning in-and-out when he works his jabs and short right hands to corral Rahman back to the center of the ring. Both the jab and short right are weapons that Vitaly possesses, but has failed to make effective use of to lead and find range in his last few fights.
Vitaly will be sitting pretty if he can maintain a high work rate and land consistently leading up to and following his power punches. A Rahman victory will almost certainly have to be the product of one deadly shot, as it was against Lewis in their first fight. He gives too much overall size away to Klitschko to push him into a corner or against the ropes where he would need him to get off a strong enough flurry to floor the massive Ukrainian. Vitaly’s charge will be to never give Rahman an opening big enough to land a flush right hand. The champion cannot let Rahman find his range. Vitaly must score and then smother The Rock’s retaliation in a clinch, as his brother did against the puncher-destroyer Sam Peter, or alternately score and then retreat behind his jab. Giving Rahman even seconds to punch freely at middle-range could be a fatal mistake. The only time Vitaly can afford to let Rahman swing is once the challenger is frustrated and swinging wildly out of desperation and frustration.
It is then that Vitaly will be able to use his long defensive leans to stay away from these wide shots and counter by raining strong overhand barrages down on the shorter Rahman. No matter if Rahman is comfortable with the idea that his only chance is to reenact his first fight with Lennox Lewis, he must also be careful not to try to outbox Klitschko. Rahman gave his best clinical performance against David Tua a few years back and was lucky to come up with a draw despite working his long jab against a short, stubby, and unusually hesitant Tua. Klitschko throws too much overhand heat and works awkward angles too well to accommodate Rahman in a technical fight. If this happens it will be a blow out, and a boring one at that since
Vitaly’s possible ring rust might make him hesitate to up the tempo—and thus the risk—if he’s cruising to an easy unanimous decision victory. The chance that Klitscko’s hinges might be a bit squeaky in the early going might represent Rahman’s best chance at getting it done the only way he can when outclassed and outconditioned. Perhaps Hasim should make a mad rush at the champion and try to catch him off guard the way that Rahman knockout victim Corrie Sanders did against the unsuspecting, younger Klitschko brother. Of course, Vitaly’s chin is stronger than Wlad’s, but then again, Hasim punches harder and deeper than the often tentative and off-balance Sanders.
There is a vortex of uncertainty looming over this fight that will not dissipate until the final bell rings or someone is counted out. My theories are my own, and may well prove inaccurate in a fight where—we can all agree—almost anything can—and probably will– happen. Pick a side, place your bets, and begrudgingly break your piggy banks boxing fans, this pay-per-view fiasco promises to be the closest thing to an genuine heavyweight title fight that you will see before the new year.
Note: Vitaly was quoted as saying that he had intended to fight highly-touted prospect Calvin Brock in a tune-up before taking on Rahman. However, the sanctioning bodies and Don King teamed up to nix that bout before it ever became a realistic possibility. Brock showed genuine class coming off the canvas to decision Jameel McCline, and wiped out Kenny Craven shortly thereafter to punctuate his legitimacy as a contender. Brock is scheduled to overwhelm underdog journeyman David Bostice on his way to a higher profile fight with David Tua in January. If all my predictions are correct, then Brock could potentially meet Vitaly in the spring for what could be the first excellent heavyweight dual in recent memory.