Vitali Klitschko emerged from his heavyweight title tilt with Lennox Lewis with his arms raised skyward. The crowd at the LA Staples Centre cheered wildly in support of the towering Ukrainian. It was like a scene out of Rocky. Imagine the reaction had Klitschko won the fight.
In case you missed it, the ring doctor, Paul Wallace, stopped the fight due to severe lacerations around Klitschko’s right eye before the start of the 7th round. Still, those who did not see the fight could be forgiven for thinking a new heavyweight champ had been crowned, public opinion having swelled so in favor of the challenger immediately after the bout.
Over the last week Klitschko himself has only deviated from claiming he was on his way to winning the fight to say that he won the fight. After seeing Klitschko’s face, the proverbial man in the street must surely have been wondering what the loser’s face looked like. The truth is that it required 60 stitches to piece the loser’s face back together.
Immediately after the fight Klitschko suggested that the most serious cut, the one above his right eye, the one that led to the ring doctor stopping the fight, was caused by a head butt. Clearly this was not the case. Lewis landed a scraping right hand that opened the cut during the third round. In truth, it was only the beginning of a long night for the challenger’s face.
Prior to controversy emerging, it was Klitschko who edged the largely even first round, leading to the much ballyhooed 58-56 lead to Klitschko on all 3 judges’ scorecards when the fight was stopped.
Following the bell for the second sounding Klitschko came out firing straight right hands which started to find their way through Lewis’ surprisingly ineffective guard. Lewis was hurt, visibly fighting for breath and on the verge of tasting the canvas, but he somehow managed to hang on and see out the second.
With Lewis on the stool after the second, Emmanuel Steward remonstrated with the fatigued champ to turn up the heat and put the pressure on the Ukrainian challenger. As the bell sounded to signal the start of the third round, Lewis emerged with bad intentions ready to heed Steward’s advice.
Lewis opened up the round with his best combination of the fight to that point, backing the challenger up. Lewis later landed the right hand which changed the course of the fight and ultimately thwarted the game challenger’s attempts to rewrite history
The fourth and fifth rounds saw Lewis wavering between going on the defensive due to the combined effect of suffocating fatigue and Klitschko right hands with short bursts where the champion attempted to brawl.
Klitschko continued to impress through the fourth, consistently out punching Lewis, but by the fifth the effects of Lewis’ crude but bruising offense saw Klitschko’s technique beginning to wane. Of course, the effects of the cuts on Klitschko’s face also began to take effect.
The sixth round, along with second, was the most interesting of the fight. Lewis landed a booming right hand prior to the midpoint of the round, but was unable to follow up due to his lack of energy. But it was the last 30 seconds of the round that were most pivotal, though largely misinterpreted in the moments and days following the fight.
With 20 seconds to go in the sixth round Klitschko leaned in on Lewis and was caught by a short overhand right on the forehead. Klitschko appeared out on his feet, only the ropes then Lewis himself holding Klitschko up.
As the spent fighters peddled the length of the ring, Klitschko apparently unable to stay up through his own steam and Lewis through fatigue unable to resist the weight of his opponent, the usually unflappable Jim Lampley exclaimed that Lewis’s legs appeared to be close to betraying him.
But repeated viewings of the fight confirmed that Lampley was leading his viewers, at least part way, down the garden path. Make no mistake, Lewis was on very tired legs and it was unclear how many rounds he could have lasted.
But just prior to the end of the round Lewis landed a second telling uppercut, snapping Klitschko’s head back and glazing his battered eyes. As the bell sounded an exhausted Lewis slumped to his stool, as highlighted exhaustively by many boxing commentators.
However, as Lewis sat fighting for air on his stool, the suddenly tired looking Klitschko looked as if he needed a roadmap and a compass to find his corner. He shuffled back to the corner with a gait that made Frankenstein look fleet of foot. At that moment, Klitschko was hurt, his technique had largely forsaken him and he was ready to be taken. Don’t believe me, watch the fight again.
So what to make of all this … though he lost the fight, Klitschko has deserved all the applause he received for a valiant effort. He surprised the critics and the champion alike with his skill and his bravery, proving that he is force to be reckoned with in the heavyweight division. His attempts to crown himself the winner, however, were disingenuous.
By the end of the sixth, the outcome was very much in doubt, but mainly because of Lewis’ woeful conditioning. Klitschko was soaking up some heavy blows by the end of the sixth round and the effects were in evidence.
In the cold light of day, there was nothing controversial about the stoppage. From Klitschko’s point of view it was disappointing, but it was not controversial by any reasonable standard. As is always the case, it will take a rematch to put the final exclamation point on what has turned out to be a surprisingly compelling tale.
As for a rematch, unless Father Time steals in on Lewis during the still of the night, look for Lewis to emerge from any rematch with his championship intact. As for Klitschko, I wouldn’t be surprised if the man who is listed as having been born in Belovodsk, Kyrgyzstan was to emerge from a rematch with a new nickname. The Belovodsk Bleeder.