Can Klitschko Have It His Own Way?

BY Patrick Kehoe ON July 13, 2005
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Can it be that WBC champion Vitali Klitschko, you know the guy who calls himself Dr. Ironfist, has been having second, third and fourth thoughts about defending his title as per his agreements? Remember when the good doctor signed to fight former world heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman for an April 30th tiff? The injury bug descended and the fight was rescheduled for June 18, until he informed the WBC he was injured, yet again. Be it a shoulder or a back problem that caused his temporary retirement from the ring or just jogging, Klitschko finds a way to fight or not fight on his terms, at his own leisurely pace. Call it a champion’s prerogative, if you must. We won’t dwell on the champ’s penchant for timely medical deferrals, typically lasting just long enough to disjoint and confound his contracted boxing timetable. More on that later.

Anyway, 2005 was going to be about defending against Hasim Rahman in April or June. Team Rahman took the second injury report on good faith, not requesting official medical confirmation, accepting, as a matter of course, an interim (read: glorified elimination contender’s role) title tilt instead of a title challenge, agreeing to a box-off with ex-stable mate, the talented Monte Barrett. The winner was to fight Klitschko after the medical suspension period, making a fall showdown inevitable. Well, that was how Team Rahman and Team Barrett and the media were fed the particulars. Now with Rahman and Barrett set and ready to fight, Klitschko’s health has returned; we won’t say miraculously.

Now in need of a tune-up – let’s call it that – the champ’s been rumored to be fighting, among others, Oleg Maskaev and Calvin Brock. Yes, “The Big O” Maskaev, whose best win in the last five years came against David Defiagbon. Of course, Maskaev was a red herring; thank god. Clearly, Calvin Brock seems the most likely September match up for Klitschko, the situation being admittedly fluid; you see the WBC’s Board of Governors will be voting on Friday to allow Klitschko another optional defense. More on that too, later.

Simply put, the WBC champion is not happy with being compelled to fight the winner of Rahman vs. Barrett as his next bout or living up to the framework agreement at the time of his medical suspension. Or should we say the spirit of the agreement, if not the letter of the law?  Clearly, HBO was looking forward to the Klitschko-Rahman fight, with all of its built-in narrative subplots and biographical quirks. You can just hear Larry Merchant detonating the charges within the minefield of ironies. Then again a Klitschko-Barrett fight must rank near the top of list for competitive heavyweight fights in 2005. Either way you have a good title contest for the good doctor.

Back to the letter of the law: If on Friday the WBC stands by a May decision to allow Klitschko another voluntary defense – namely allowing Brock to follow Danny Williams – as Brock’s promotional house at Main Events have asserted was sanctioned by the WBC in May – does the issue of the champ’s integrity become the real victim in all this political maneuvering? Yes, it seems the WBC has had two positions since May, one private and one public … or they didn’t bother to clarify their position(s) sufficiently and will do so on Friday. Take your pick.

Dare we mention that Klitschko has, it seems, considered dropping the WBC belt. If that’s disinformation for the purposes of ongoing negotiating strategy, it’s disingenuous to the process of his current boxing business. One remains compelled to ask the question: just how many voluntary defenses in a row does Klitschko get? No question Calvin Brock is talented, but he’s not exactly dented the top ranks of the division. Still, even without a favorable ruling from the WBC, the champ can “choose” to fight Brock and not the Rahman-Barrett winner for his next outing, the belt be damned. But if it’s about the money, Klitschko’s thinking still evades many in boxing. He wants to stay sharp? Sure, fine, whatever. No real need to think out(side) the consequences of your agreements though, is there Vitali?

One almost forgets this is 2005 and we are talking about boxing’s contracts, boxing ethics.

We would be cheapening our rambling cause herein not to mention or remember that Klitschko’s not exactly been active as champion, popular, or a ratings standard-bearer for the sport as an industry. For that matter, and to indulge in an Americanism, has the champ really banked that much political capital? Is that beside the point, for only the legally binding wording counts in the business of boxing?

We know, in boxing “it” only counts after the bell’s rung. Tyson reminded us often enough of that over the last decade. How soon we choose to forget. And yes the WBC does have the “right” to rule as they please in the matter, if there are contentious views as to what constitutes binding agreements or optional prerogatives. The Board of Governors of the WBC can rule to override any directives or rules within its constitution, and it may do so if its action is deemed in the best interests of boxing. Or that’s what the WBC rules say. I know; our logic is a circle trapped in a circle.

That’s a fuzzy and high and relativistic standard all at once. And there are some outside of Main Events who are pumped to see Calvin “The Boxing Banker” Brock bring his 26-0 (21 KOs) record into the ring against Dr. Klitschko; his best wins coming over an almost robotic Jameel McCline and a faded Clifford Etienne. Still, Brock’s for real. But all the ballyhoo has nothing to do with Brock. This has to do with keeping to the agreements one makes, boxing or no boxing. Sometimes we have to make the larger points, and call penalties on our own sport.

And just to give the plot some more twists, the WBC has named the proposed and expected Sam Peter vs. Sinan Samil Sam fight a contest to determine the #1 contender for its heavyweight title. As if Rahman and Barrett were fighting for a real title and Klitschko didn’t really have at least a set of mandatory contenders to pretend to deal with.

And so the world of boxing turns.

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