“Bring it on, Bring it on
Don’t wait until tomorrow
Bring it on
Bring it on
Bring it on” – Seal

Last weekend, Kevin Iole (a writer I respect) wrote in the Las Vegas Review Journal, that criticisms of Vitali Klitschko were unfair. He took particular exception at his contemporaries who, “like clapping seals … fell obligingly into line” with the Don King public relations campaign, which labeled Klitschko a chicken. Iole goes on to say that Klitschko defied convention for various reasons.

The King public relations team did a terrific job in spinning every development to make it appear that Vitali Klitschko was ducking Hasim Rahman. Fights are canceled all of the time due to injuries – some legitimate and some not so much. I had no reason to doubt that Klitschko’s maladies were for real. That is until he was miraculously cured and well enough to take a fight with Oleg Maskaev, which HBO thankfully rejected. 

I’ve been around boxers for a long time. I can count on one hand the number of fighters that I’ve met who I thought were actually afraid of an opponent, present or future. Most of these guys (and girls) believe they could take on King Kong even if they had a bum shoulder and a nasty case of bird flu. I’ve interviewed countless “opponents” – boxers who were given a week’s notice before taking on some young undefeated prospect. Despite the awareness that the odds were stacked against them, every opponent that I’ve spoken with thought that they would teach the kid a lesson that night. Usually, they didn’t. But the point is boxers, for the most part, aren’t afraid of the person standing in the other corner.

I don’t think Vitali Klitschko was afraid of Hasim Rahman. Why would he be? Rahman has good power and a nice jab. But was it better than Lennox Lewis’? Absolutely not. Granted, Klitschko didn’t face Lewis on the champ’s best night, but Lewis still possessed one of the best right hands in history. Klitschko took everything Lewis had for six rounds. I can’t imagine that Rahman posed more of a threat to his health.

Klitschko’s management may be another story. If you’re looking for the scaredycat, I believe you have to look at Team Klitschko. They probably realized that an in shape and focused Rahman had a real shot and taking Klitschko’s crown – and his earning power. That’s why they most likely tried to obtain an easy payday against the likes of Maskaev before facing Rahman. Perhaps another delay would make Rahman simply go away. Making a person wait and wait and wait to get what they want from you is an excellent way of discouraging them to the point of giving in – just ask my home builder.

I like Vitali personally and I like the idea of Vitali Klitschko. He is intelligent, a sportsman (as Iole pointed out) and well rounded. However, Vitali Klitschko was a horrendous champion. To say anything else is ignoring the facts. As has been well documented, Klitschko’s biggest fight was a loss to Lennox Lewis. The boxing media sang his praises for fighting with a nasty gash. Isn’t that what boxers are supposed to do?  Isn’t that what any pro athlete is supposed to do? Klitschko’s other most memorable fight was when he quit against Chris Byrd due to a shoulder injury.

Iole quoted Tom Loeffler, managing director of K-2 promotions, which is owned by the Klitschko brothers, as stating, “The problem was the American media never really got the whole story of the seriousness of that injury.” I’m sure the injury was serious and that he needed medical treatment. But if it was so terrible, why did he stand in the ring for a long time after the fight, apologizing to fans? Danny Williams, a subsequent Klitschko KO victim, once separated his shoulder and fought the remainder of the fight with one arm (the other dangling limply from its socket), eventually knocking out his opponent.

Klitschko won the title by beating Corrie Sanders, who had to be dragged off of the golf course to put in maybe two week’s time in the gym. After that, rather than fighting a legitimate contender, Klitschko made his voluntary against Williams. Since that December fight, he postponed his bout with Rahman three times and tried to fight Maskaev instead. Not exactly the stuff hall of fame speeches are made of.

Iole goes on to insinuate that Klitschko is such a sportsman that he gave up the heavyweight title for the good of the sport. I’m not convinced he even believes that. Look, Klitschko is a good guy. No debate there. But keep in mind, to get to a point where you’re even contending for a world title, there has to be a healthy dose of ego involved.  You’re telling me that a man who wins the greatest prize in sports is going to walk away from everything he has worked for, especially when greatness was not achieved? No freakin’ way. If I got a job replacing Jim Lampley on HBO and gave a few sub par performances (which of course would never happen), you’d still have to pry the microphone out of my cold dead hands before I’d willingly give that up. I ain’t leaving for the good of HBO. But I’m selfish that way.

Klitschko gave up his title for one or both of the following reasons: He was going to be stripped (you can’t fire me, I quit) or, more likely, a comeback will be more lucrative after someone else emerges as champion. If Klitschko dispatched of Rahman as originally planned this weekend, there would be no one left for him to fight that could fuel some enthusiasm for the division. But if Rahman or anyone else emerges from a heavyweight tournament as the new world champ, a Klitschko return would have the boxing world focused on the big boys once again.

Let’s assume for a moment that one year from now, Rahman once again becomes the baddest man on the planet. The Rock makes a voluntary defense, while Klitschko comes back against an easy mark. Now, the war of the words starts. Six months later, after intense hype, the two finally meet in the ring for $15-$20 million each – at least double what Klitschko would have received for fighting Rahman now.

I’m not a guarantee kind of guy, but here’s one you can take to the bank. Vitali Klitschko will announce his comeback before the end of 2006. At which point I’m sure that most other boxing writers (and I) will again be clapping like seals at the Don King orchestrated events.

Jabs

* What the hell got into Lance Whitaker and Sultan Ibragimov at their press conference? Outside the ring, Whitaker is a gentle giant. Ibragimov is not known as a bad-customer either. I’m extremely wary of staged brawls at press conferences. But when a guy gets knocked cold, it certainly seems for real. An interesting fight just became more intriguing.

* It’s unbelievable to me that Zab Judah can’t get big fights. He’s fast, powerful and exciting. Anyone between 140–154 pounds should be waiting in line to fight him.

* Only a few more weeks until Hopkins–Taylor. Now what happens if Hopkins wins?

Until next time, obey my commands and protect yourself at all times.