Klitschko injuries hurt legacy

BY Deon Potgieter ON November 06, 2005
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It should be three strikes and you’re out, and if memory serves this is the fourth one for Klitschko. With news of yet another postponement after yet another injury you can’t blame fight fans if they are getting disillusioned with the Klitschko world title reign. How can we muster any excitement when a fight is announced featuring Vitali Klitschko when odds are he won’t even make it to the ring?

I realize that I’ll probably get some hate mail for this, but somebody’s got to say it.

Boxing is entertainment and while spectators can wait a year or two to see the next sequel of their favorite movie franchise, it gets boring if you’ve got a champion who never fights. Of course it’s not his fault if he gets injured and it probably is wiser not entering the ring with a problem, but, hey, this is boxing, and we pride ourselves on being one of the toughest sports in the world.

History, however, does somewhat justify Klitschko’s decision. Corrie Sanders had a knee injury which prevented him from doing any roadwork prior to his exciting clash with Hasim Rahman. The result was that Sanders ran out of steam and the fight was stopped in the 8th round. Gerrie Coetzee carried a fractured right hand into the ring when he took on Greg Page in defense of his WBA heavyweight world title. The result he was stopped at 3:50 of the 8th round. Yes, 3:50. The timekeeper for some inane and unjustified reason forgot to ring the bell. He said afterwards he was carried away by all the excitement … but at the 3 minute mark nothing was happening.

These are two cases where the decision to go ahead regardless backfired on those boxers. We have, however, all heard stories of guys fighting with broken hands and still going on to victory. While fighters have arguably been coaxed by others or circumstance to do so, Vitali Klitschko is his own man and he won’t be made to do anything he doesn’t want to. Full credit to him, and perhaps it says something about the respect he must have for Rahman to not want to enter the ring anything less than 100%.

But the fact is we all would like to think of the heavyweight champion of the world as the toughest man on the planet and backing out of a fight one week before, even though medical opinion reportedly indicates he could continue, does not endear a feeling of invincibility; nor does it invoke feelings of toughness. We all know Vitali gave up his WBO heavyweight world title as a result of a shoulder injury, even though he just had to tough it out 3 more minutes against a powder-puff puncher in Chris Byrd.

Clearly Vitali Klitschko is a new breed of champion, one unheard of in the heavyweight division. Perhaps it’s a good thing. Perhaps we are moving to a more civil era. He’s a white-collar hero. After all, it’s a business decision not to continue for fear of losing his crown. After so many disappointments, and it doesn’t matter how you cut the cake, it’s disappointing when a world title fight doesn’t happen and an air of inferiority starts attaching itself to the brand. If you can’t stand the heat in the kitchen, perhaps its time to get out of the way and let the guys who can carry the torch take it further.

I remember in the ‘80s critics lambasted the heavyweight division for its lack of talent, but compared to now there were some pretty talented guys around. At least we saw action and guys came to fight. In all honesty, the Klitschko-Rahman bout was probably not going to be all that in any event, but there was a good chance that it would have ended in a knockout either way. The important thing is there may have been some movement in the heavyweight ranks and hopefully we could have moved on to the next fight and in so doing moved closer to something, anything.

If Vitali Klitschko wants to build a legacy, and he has alluded to that on occasion, he needs to fight and fight often. People are forgetting that there is a heavyweight division; never mind a champion. Tyson carved his name in history by knocking out what was seen as a whole decade of useless opposition, so even if you’ve got one good fighter you can still make things happen. Our problem is we don’t even know if we’ve got one and Klitschko is taking too long to help us decide. If he is all that he should be able to defeat Rahman even with an injury, so why not go ahead?

I think the majority of those so called “useless opposition” fighters of the ‘80s would have done so and, yes, I think any number of them could have defeated Rahman as well. What level of respect would Klitschko have garnered if he had fought? And if he’d lost he would have had a good excuse for a rematch. In any event there would have been some excitement and fans would have felt that they were considered in the equation.

The term “at his best” belongs to boxing because more often than not boxers are not at their best when in a fight. This is wrong, but it has always added color to the game. I do respect Vitali Klitschko for being a professional sportsman through and through, but sport is entertainment and the show needs to go on.

Spare a thought for Rahman as well. How does one keep enthusiastic about eating a cake if every time your about to take a bite somebody pulls it away from you? After a while the cake also gets stale and nobody wants to eat it.

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