By Scoop Malinowski: There’s Livingstone Bramble. The former WBA world Lightweight champion, 1980 Olympian. He’s sitting in the lobby of the Affinia Hotel across the street from Madison Square Garden, about 6:30. Bramble took the title from Ray Mancini by TKO 14 in Buffalo in 1984. He said that night was one of his two finest ring performances. “The best performance I had by far was the fight I had with Kenny Bang Bang Bogner and the first Mancini fight. Those are the best fights of my whole career.” I ask why. “Because Kenny Bogner was 12-0, I was 6-0. And he came at me, he came to fight. He wanted to beat me, he didn’t like me. He disliked me. And I think it made a lot come out of me. It made me bring out a lot of stuff that probably wouldn’t have ever come out at that point in my career. So that has to be a telling point in my career, knowing what I did was positive and good (Bramble won by TKO 7 in 1981). Mancini – I trained hard for that fight. Ray fought his ears off the first fight but I was much more prepared to beat him then he was. I think I ate more spaghetti then he would ever eat. So I was the real Italian that day. They should change my name from Bramble to Brambelini that night. Brambelini!”
Bramble is in superb shape, still an avid runner, and already in training for the 5k run at Canastota Hall of Fame weekend in June. Bramble good-naturedly scoffs when we mention some of his competitors in the race, like Hagler, Carbajal, Ward.
Bramble respects Wladimir Klitschko and doesn’t foresee much danger against Sultan Ibragimov. “Klitschko is a good one right now. Europe always presents themselves as a good heavyweight from way back. I think these kids are really good kids, how strong they are. I personally think if I was still working with Samuel Peter he would stop him early. I worked with Samuel Peter for a while. The way I would fight Klitschko is I would get in there and make a street fight out of it. Because you’re not going to beat him technically, at a technical game. You gotta rough him up. Rough him up on the inside, and take some of that early energy from him where he can’t stabilize his boxing and I think you’ll beat him.
It’s a lot easier said than done. They all seem to think Wladimir is somewhat fragile but he is just dominating everyone for the last two years. Brock and Byrd were annihilated in mismatches. As were Brewster and Austin. It’s a total domination of heavyweight boxing, like only a select few have been able to do – Louis, Holmes, Ali, Johnson.
Team Ibragimov is confident. Sultan smiled a knowing smile at Klitschko at the press conference and weigh-in. A cornerman for Ibragimov happily told me about how Sultan took a step at Klitschko at the weigh-in and the IBF champ did not hold his ground and backed up.
There was a lot of excitement in Madison Square Garden by fight time as celebrity row was packed with Bruce Willis, Brooke Shields, Osi Umenyiora, Michael Strahan, Kelly Pavlik, Will Ferrell, Miguel Cotto, Ruslan Chagaev, Plaxico Burress, Junior Jones, Carlos Ortiz, Thomas Hearns, Antonio Pierce, Arturo Gatti, Emile Griffith and Luan Krasniqi.
Klitschko did not throw a right hand in round one. This is standard operating procedure for Dr. Steelhammer. He likes to establish his left hand and range in the first three or four rounds before throwing his first right. It’s an interesting style. Klitschko is extremely cautious but also constantly right smack in front of Ibragimov, looking for an error or opening to attack. Klitschko never even threw one right in the second round slaughter of Ray “I’m going to put his chin in a box” Austin. Ray Austin has not been seen or heard from since.
By the end of round two Ibragimov, who had threatened to test the Klitschko chin early, is already showing physical signs of frustration. Round three Klitschko begins to land his jab. Ibragimov can’t land any scoring blows. He can’t solve this perplexing puzzle presented by the gigantic Ukrainian.
In round four Klitschko throws his first right. The guy sitting next to me in the mezzanine a few rows behind Arturo Gatti remarks, “He’s like a giraffe.”
Round six both heavyweight champions are waiting for the other to go. I don’t think Klitschko has even been hit yet. They could box for 12 hours like this. Maybe this kind of boxing is why fights used to last 75 rounds in the old days. I look over to the black guy sitting three seats to my left. He is sound asleep, head leaning against the railing.
Klitschko throws more rights in round 8. Ibragimov senses the urgency in Klitschko to eliminate him and also begins to fight with a sense of crisis. Still, nothing much happens.
The military uniformed guy sitting to my right shouts, “Come on, hit him with the right! Thank you.” Just as one finally lands. “Come on, he’s open for the combinations.”
In round 11 there are a few missed punches by both heavyweights and the crowd reacts. “Everybody’s cheering for the misses.” Missed punches are better than no punches.
Midway through the final round, two young ladies get up from their seats and begin to exit, “Good night,” they say. “Thank God I didn’t pay for my ticket,” proudly states the military man.
After the decision is announced, I hear another black man speaking loudly into his phone, “This wasn’t a fight. How do you score a NON-FIGHT?”
Librado Andrade, the top 5 super middleweight boxer asks me, “How could they earn $6,000,000 to do that? You just saw Walid Smichet fight his heart out for $10,000.” Smichet vs. John Duddy was the only real fight of the night, Smichet landed everything including the kitchen sink on Duddy but Duddy, said some reporters, did enough to outpoint him. A draw might have been a more just decision than the majority nod the judges awarded him. Duddy vs. Pavlik might be the worst mismatch in middleweight history.
Overall it was a disappointing heavyweight unification that did not live up to expectations. I thought it was similar to Lewis vs. Holyfield here nine years ago. Emanuel Steward compared it to the defense-oriented Muhammad Ali-Jimmy Young 15-round yawner. Sometimes these big fights are like that. Klitschko and Ibragimov are both smart, technical boxers who will let the bombs drop when they feel comfortable. Big and tall vs. short and stocky, lefty-righty, maybe we should have seen it coming. It resembled Williams vs. Quintana except Klitschko is much more experienced than Paul Williams. Ibragimov was totally neutralized. Maybe if Sultan was more creative and aggressive like Carlos Quintana he might have gotten knocked out cold.
“I have to be sure I’m going to land it,” explained Klitschko about not throwing as many right hands as the audience wanted to see. “He’s a very good counterpuncher.”
After successive brutal stoppage wins over Byrd, Brock, Brewster and Austin, maybe Klitschko was due for a distance fight. But another uneventful performance like this will not be beneficial for professional boxing.
Valuev, Thompson, Chagaev or Povetkin will have to give Klitschko a tougher test. If they can’t deliver, there’s one boxer who could. Miguel Cotto.
Scoop Malinowski’s book “Tyson vs. Lewis Heavyweight Armageddon!” will be released in June. Check out the Klitschko Biofile at www.thebiofile.com