Dr. Vitali Klitschko and Hasim “The Rock” Rahman are set to battle for heavyweight supremacy on November 12th at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. After handling a shaky Danny Williams with ease 11 months ago, Klitschko is set to return to the ring for the first time in hopes of cementing his claim as the king of the alphabet soup heavyweight champions. His opponent, Hasim Rahman, shocked the boxing world in April of 2001 when he captured the heavyweight crown with a resounding knockout of Lennox Lewis. Since that victory though, Rahman’s career has been filled with disappointment and underachievement. His last fight with Monte Barrett was an embarrassingly sluggish performance, and he won only because his opponent put up an even more pathetic effort than he did. Based on his victory over Barrett, Rahman has now earned (if you can call it that) a title shot with older brother Klitschko, the man billed as Lennox Lewis’ successor to the throne and the carrier of the heavyweight torch.

This is Vitali’s moment to shine, to prove to his critics that he’s not just another average fighter in a below average division. After watching his brother, Wladimir, put on a good performance in beating Samuel Peter a couple of months ago, Vitali is eager to show the world that he’s a deserving champion. He’s well aware that this is a make-or-break fight for him at this point in his career.

“Legacy’s very, very important for everyone – you build your name for a long time and you can break your name in one second. I give my best to have a good name and this fight is very important for my future.”

A behemoth of a man with considerable knockout power, Klitschko has shown his worthiness against lesser opposition and his toughness in a game performance against Lennox Lewis, but he still needs to prove his legitimacy as a heavyweight champion. And now he’s got his chance against a talented, former champion whose biggest hurdle seems to be inside his own head. The problem in calling this fight is that we really don’t know which Hasim Rahman is going to show up on November 12th. Will it be that hungry contender who flattened Lennox Lewis or the listless, unmotivated challenger who reminds us of how far the heavyweight division has fallen?

Which ever Rahman shows up, Klitschko says he will be ready to knock him out. “We have option A, B, C, depending on how Rahman is. The strategy is ready for almost every situation.”

Klitschko saying he’s ready for “almost every situation” signifies the fact that the only scenario he’s not ready for is a crushing right hand from Rahman that sends him to the canvas a la Lewis. Now whether or not Rahman can find that right hand in his suspect arsenal is the million-dollar question? He’s a betting man’s nightmare because he’s a fighter capable of being both a heavyweight champion and a lackluster fringe contender on the same night.

I’m going to take a wild guess at what Klitschko’s A, B, C’s or all about. Strategy “A” will defend against an Aggressive Rahman who comes out in his rare motivated form looking for a knockout. Strategy “B” is prepared to fight the Boring Rahman who’s content to plod around the ring, holding and hugging, occasionally gathering the energy to throw a combination or two. Finally, strategy “C” is saved for the Clueless Rahman who doesn’t know what he’s even doing in the ring (See Rahman-Lewis II).

As his conference call for his upcoming fight with Hasim Rahman came to an end last week, the always-polite Klitschko apologized to all the press who didn’t get their questions answered, but reassured us that soon all questions would be answered.

“This fight is for the world heavyweight championship. I’ll give you the right answer for all your questions on November 12th inside the ring.”

Let’s not forget, Klitschko’s most notable fight was a loss to a lethargic Lennox Lewis in which he fought gallantly only to be stopped on cuts. His latest wins over Corrie Sanders and Danny Williams have proven nothing except that he can beat an old journeyman who knocked out his brother and a fortunate winner of the Mike Tyson sweepstakes.

In the new era of alphabet soup titles, Klitschko seems to have the most talent, but that really doesn’t mean very much when he’s judged against the likes of John Ruiz and Chris Byrd. We will find out though how badly Vitali Klitschko wants to bolster his claim as today’s true king of the heavyweights. A lackluster performance will only reinforce his critics’ claims that he’s just a default champion in a division headed for extinction.

The heavyweight division is in such shambles these days that we’ve really had no other choice but to use the faces of the Klitschko brothers as the poster boys for the future of the division. They physically look the part as they’re built like giant Greek gods, and they have the solid demeanor to match. Gentlemanly and intelligent, the Klitschko brothers are both positive representatives of the sport of boxing. How many other heavyweight champions have been doctors in their spare time? There are none, as Vitali made boxing history by becoming the first to hold a PH.D (sports science and philosophy). He’s clearly taken a different path than most fighters, and that includes Mike Tyson. He would probably score higher on his SAT’s than Iron Mike, but let’s face it, Klitschko doesn’t carry the heavyweight mystique as Tyson once did that goes along with being the most feared fighter in the land.  He hasn’t even proven that he’s earned being titled the king of the heavyweights. A compelling victory over Hasim Rahman will give him that claim and send him on his way toward heavyweight stardom.

Vitali Klitschko has big plans for the future. He doesn’t want to be just another world champion; he wants to be THE world champion. “I want to explore my dreams to fight a unification fight against another world champion just like Lennox Lewis did.” If he gets by Rahman, he’ll have the opportunity make that happen, most likely against either John Ruiz or Chris Byrd, considering that Lamon Brewster, the WBO champion, will soon be facing off against Vitali’s brother, Wladimir.

In hyping the Klitschko-Rahman fight, Bob Arum tried valiantly to explain that this fight matches the two best heavyweights in the world. He defended his claim by saying that when Rahman’s on his game he’s not only good enough to compete with today’s heavyweights, but that he would also give the best of Ali’s generation a tough fight. Does Arum really believe that Rahman even at his mightiest would give all-time greats such as Liston, Frazier, Foreman and Norton a competitive fight? Hasim Rahman can be a good fighter, but he’s showed it only on rare occurrences. To compare him to the legendary fighters of the 60’s and 70’s is an impossible feat, like racing a workhorse and a thoroughbred side by side.

Despite this ridiculous claim by Arum, Vitali Klitschko is well aware that Hasim Rahman is a dangerous opponent, especially when he comes to fight. “The Rock” has the punching power to knock out any heavyweight, just remind Lennox Lewis, so he does possess the ability to seriously test Klitschko’s chin. Still, Klitschko isn’t concerned with his opponent’s heavy hands and is confident that his best will be good enough to topple whichever Rahman decides to show up.

“I have experience with big punchers and I’ve prepared for that. I’ll give my best in this fight.”

Klitschko’s aware that “boxing audiences need very interesting fights” to regenerate their interest and bring the glory back to a once glorious sport. This may not turn out to be the electrifying fight we are looking for, especially when you consider the number of bouts that Rahman’s been involved with that featured the referee as the most exciting man in the ring. This could turn out to be another snore fest, but regardless of the fight’s pace, Klitschko will do whatever it takes to retain his title.

“I’m in condition to go 12 rounds, but I’m prepared to knock him out in every round. When he makes a mistake, I will look to knock him out.” Well for the fan’s sake, let’s hope the champion will take his own advice and actually take risks again Rahman, rather than fight cautiously not to lose. His legacy will depend not on his ability to survive average opponents, but to what degree he can dominate his heavyweight foes. Boxing fans are not looking for a methodical and guarded champion to cheer for. They yearn for a dangerous and explosive fighter who brings fear into his opponent’s eyes and electricity into the arena. If Vitali Klitschko wants to win over boxing fans then he needs to act more like THE heavyweight champion and fight with the passion and fearlessness that all the great kings before him have had.

He doesn’t want to be remembered as another giant heavyweight dud of a champion who eventually gets exposed after years of beating mediocre opponents. The first colossal example that comes to mind of course is Primo Carnera, the Italian circus freak who was unknowingly a puppet of the mob that bought him the heavyweight crown. Everyone knew Carnera’s ineptness except Primo himself because so many fighters took a dive against him or were just so bad themselves that he didn’t actually realize how bad he was.

The truth did finally come out at the hands of both Max Baer and Joe Louis, who humiliated Carnera by knocking the game giant down time and time again until the carnage was ended. I’m not saying that Klitschko’s opponents are taking dives or that he hasn’t earned his title, as he’s fought well at times. But it is worth comparing these two heavyweights for one good reason. My father told me so, and coming from a man who watched Carnera many times from ringside, I can’t help to think of how Carnera, the old giant, would do against Klitschko, the new giant? “I really think Carnera and Klitschko would be a very close fight,” my father told me after a recent discussion about how inferior the heavyweight division has become.

Straight from the lion’s mouth, it’s hard for me to argue that Klitschko would have no problem with Carnera because Vitali hasn’t shown that he’s an unbeatable champion, but rather a vulnerable one with an unknown potential. Despite his champion status, maybe Klitschko surfaced at the opportune time to take over a division mired in mediocrity. Our standards have fallen so far since the magnificent days of heavyweight champions such as Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Sonny Liston and Muhammad Ali, to name a few, that it’s possible that a present day matchup between Klitschko and Carnera would be a fight made in matchmakers’ dreams.