Lennox Lewis got away with one this past weekend in Los Angeles. There he was, breathing heavy from the second round on, slumped on his stool with his trainer Emanuel Steward exhorting him to step up the pace against the game Vitaly Klitschko. After six rounds he was down on all three scorecards by a score of 58-56.
He had gotten hit with more clean shots in the first half of this bout than in any other fight of his distinguished career. The second half of this scheduled 12 rounder would be exactly the type of gut check that his detractors has said that he would fold under.
And just when we were about to see one of the most intriguing heavyweight fights in years, the bout would be inexplicably called off because of the horrid gash above Klitschko's left eye. Lewis had connected on a ripping right in the third round that opened up a huge cut above his eyelid. But as grotesque as that cut was, veteran cutman Joe Souza had done an admirable job of stemming the flow of blood and even more importantly Klitschko had proven that he could fight on effectively despite this ailment.
The irony in all this is that Klitschko had come into the bout with a reputation for being a front-runner that couldn't deal with adversity. There was the constant reminder of him quitting on his stool against Chris Byrd- a fight in which he was well ahead on points- and then somehow, his brother Wladimir's knockout loss to Corrie Sanders in March was somehow seen as a black mark against him. But on this night, he fought valiantly and courageously with an eyelid that looked ready to become detached from the rest of his head.
And while Klitschko protested vehemently against the stoppage, Lewis and his camp looked relieved at the stoppage. The upcoming rounds were not something they were looking forward to or had prepared for. The fact that he came in at a robust 256 pounds was an indication that he had either been less-than-diligent in preparing for his original opponent Kirk Johnson or that he had basked in his victory over Mike Tyson 54 weeks earlier just a bit too much. Or it could be a combination of the two. The bottom line is that Lewis did not expect this type of fight from Klitschko and he was fortunate that this fight was halted when it was.
Not to say that he was going to get knocked out or even lose. While he may have been behind on all three judges scorecards, he had a good sixth round and with a series of uppercuts and right hands, he had Klitschko hanging onto him very wearily for the last 20 seconds of round six. Perhaps he had turned the tide or maybe that could have been Lewis' last stand. We'll never know now will we? And Lewis is happy for that.
Yeah, you could say that Klitschko can at least cash in on a rematch( if he gets one) but he will never get a chance to face the Lewis that showed up this past weekend to the Staples Center. One that took him lightly, one that was a bit heavy, and one that was coming off more than a year layoff. The circumstances were in line for an upset. Klitschko would get a rousing ovation from the audience after the fight as he would make his way to hoist himself on the corner ring posts. He definitely won the crowd over but he still left without a championship that could have been his.
The bottom line is this, with what's on the line, with what's at stake, and with the manner that Klitschko was fighting on, you simply don't stop that fight at that time. If he's getting shutout and blanked, fine. If he's a ham-and-egger going nowhere in an eight round stand-by bout, fine. If later in the fight his vision is so effected that he gets hit continually with flush right hand, fine. But to stop at the time they did was inexcusable. This is boxing, the men( and I do mean men) who get into this and prepare themselves for battle know what they are getting into and they are willing to pay the price. Boxing is for tough guys, Klitschko was denied that chance to be one on Saturday night.
Lewis should be very thankful that he didn't have to go on. He had prepared himself for an easy five round blowout of either Johnson or Klitschko, what he got was a six round shootout that left him dazed and exhausted. So now the popular thinking is that in a rematch Lewis will be much better prepared and thrash Klitschko the second time around like he did with Hasim Rahman. Which in theory is true, but at age 38 he is older than Muhammad Ali when he fought Trevor Berbick and older than Joe Louis when he got knocked out by Rocky Marciano.
My point? Simple, he's getting up there( or has already gotten there) and nothing can change that. Against Klitschko not only did he look technically sloppy, his reflexes looked dulled but most importantly, his legs looked shot. And the old saying is that the legs are the first things to go on a fighter. And once the legs go, everything else follows quickly.
How tough was this fight and how weary were his legs? Well, I was on press row with Jon Saraceno of the USA Today talking about the controversial stoppage when Lewis would exit the ring back into his dressing room by walking directly past us. As he crossed paths with us his legs would almost give out twice before he was able to steady himself. Me and Saraceno would look at each other immediately as to confirm what we had just witnessed. ” Hey, did you see that?!?!,” I asked him. ” Yeah,” responded Saraceno.” He almost fell down twice right in front of us”
It was at least 15 minutes after the fight and he still didn't have his legs underneath him. But lucky for him, he didn't have to use them anymore after the sixth round. GREAT NIGHT BUT GREAT FIGHT?
Yes, the 15,939 folks at the Staples Center got their monies worth. Everyone went in with low expectations and they were exceeded greatly by what took place between Klitschko and Lewis.
But I would hesitate to call Lewis-Klitschko a 'great fight'. Entertaining, yes. Exciting, yes. Dramatic, yes. But great? No, not in terms of skill at least. Both men fought hard but neither was a picture of fundamental acumen. They both lacked sharpness in their punches, they often missed punches badly and fell into clinches and neither exhibited great balance or consistent technique. Let's put it this way, if two welterweights fought like this you wouldn't be that impressed. But we expect so little out of todays heavyweights, we'll take this anytime.
But for a fight- at any weight class to be considered great- their not only has to be great action and drama, it has to have the skill level to match it. At times this bout resembled more of a toughman competition than a fight for the heavyweight championship of the world.
Seriously, if Lewis-Klitschko was a great fight, what does that make Riddick Bowe-Evander Holyfield I?