The following piece first appeared on DoghouseBoxing.com on June 22, 2003 in a slightly shorter form.
Heavyweight Hubris and a Hollywood Ending
By Alex Pierpaoli
Heavyweight Champion Lennox Lewis retained his undisputed title with a 6th round technical knockout over Ukrainian Vitali Klitschko on Saturday night, when Klitschko was unable to answer the bell to start round seven due to a ghastly cut over his left eye. Lewis, who scaled two hundred fifty-six and a half pounds for the bout—his heaviest ever—was able to escape L.A.’s Staples Center with a victory despite trailing on the official cards by a score of 58-56 from all three judges. Camp Klitschko complained the cut was caused by a head butt and the scorecards should have been consulted at the time of the stoppage. But replays showed that Lewis opened the gash in Klitschko’s brow with the side of his right glove at the start of round three when Lewis connected with a left-right combination to the head of the challenger.
The bout was an exciting and competitive one while it lasted, with an out of shape and under prepared Lewis making things more difficult for himself than was expected by most boxing experts. The champion, who had not fought since his knockout victory over Mike Tyson on June 8, 2002, was winded and breathing hard through his mouth from the start of round two. In the sixth and final round he and the challenger staggered backwards in a clinch and sagged into the ropes out of pure exhaustion just before the bell sounded to end the round. At the press conference, covered on ESPNews after the bout, trainer Emanuel Steward claimed his charge would have knocked out the game Ukrainian “without any doubt in the next couple rounds,” but it was Lennox Lewis who dropped onto his stool, panting for breath, after the sixth.
Boxing fans had seen this cocky Lewis underestimate an opponent before. In April of 2001, an overconfident and out of shape Lewis traveled all the way to South Africa only to have his title wrested from him by an inspired Hasim Rahman. In round two at the Staple’s Center it looked as though we might see a similar upset when Vitali Klitschko crashed an overhand right against the Champion’s head that buckled his knees. Lewis often clutched and grabbed to squelch Klitschko’s offense and the bout was often sloppy when the two giants hurled bombs at each other only to get tangled up in clinches.
The action was heated throughout and going into the seventh round it seemed as though there would be a shift in the momentum. During round six Lewis snapped Klitschko’s head back with a hard right uppercut and he landed another one with about 30 seconds to go in the round. But the effort seemed to be taking its toll on the Champion as he was clearly spent when the bell sounded.
Would Emanuel Steward have been proved right? Could Lennox have lowered the boom on Klitschko in round seven? Or would Klitschko’s aggressive style and grim determination overcome this 37 year old version of Lennox Lewis?
Unfortunately for the assembled fans, ringside physician, Dr. Paul Wallace made the determination that Klitschko’s eye was too badly damaged to continue and he recommended Referee Lou Moret should stop the bout. Moret agreed and waved off the fight and gave Lewis another successful defense of the Heavyweight Title. But when Lewis rose from his stool with his arms raised he was met with boos and it was Vitali Klitschko, visibly upset by the stoppage, who had won the crowd’s adoration.
Klitschko answered all of the questions posed by critics leading up to the bout. His heart was doubted because he had retired on his stool with a torn rotator cuff against Chris Byrd, but against King Lennox, Klitschko’s heart beat with courage and vigor. At one point in round five, Lewis hammered away at the side of Vitali with 12 straight rights while in a partial clinch and Klitschko never whimpered or turned to Jell-o. Klitschko’s lack of hand speed and clumsy version of the European style was denigrated this past week but he was far quicker than anyone expected, especially Lewis, and often beat him to the punch with either hand. Even when blood had to be clouding his vision, Vitali Klitschko was able to give Lewis a difficult angle that rendered the Champion’s overhand right, largely ineffective.
The bout turned what could have been a more tactical and less thrilling fight against Kirk Johnson into an exciting prologue to what now becomes the latest heavyweight rivalry in Lewis’ long career. HBO had hoped to showcase both Lennox Lewis and Vitali Klitschko in separate bouts on Saturday night with the hopes of building interest in a potential Pay-Per-View in November featuring the two of them against each other. But when Kirk Johnson, Lewis’ original dance partner, tore a pectoral muscle on June 6th, HBO scrambled to salvage the LA heavyweight card and subbed Klitschko for the wounded Johnson.
Ironically, this fight generated far more interest in a follow-up Klitschko-Lewis fight than seeing each man fight in back-to-back bouts would have. Although Lewis seems to have his heart set on a huge payday to be made in turning back the challenge of Roy Jones Jr, it is more likely that not even Jones’ and Lewis’ egos could actually agree on a purse and a catch weight in order for them to meet in real life combat. And it’s likely the one hundred ninety odd pound Jones would be painfully outgunned even by a tiring, old version of Lennox Lewis anyway. With Lewis-Klitschko One fight fans may have seen the debut of a new fistic franchise, a rematch, at least, and something that can only benefit the heavyweight division.
On Saturday Lewis and Klitschko went down in history as members of the largest heavyweight title fight ever. Combined, the two men represented 500 pounds and almost 13 feet of pugilistic bulk. On the weekend Universal Pictures debuted The HULK at the box offices and L.A. hosted two real heavyweight monsters that ended up in an entertaining scrap. Like any box office smash that’s worth doing once, Lewis-Klitschko certainly begs to be done all over again in a sequel sometime soon. If the Ukrainian’s eye heals quickly these two giants could probably even meet again this Christmas at an arena near you.
Send comments or questions to Alex Pierpaoli at: KOFantasyBoxing@gmail.com