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Klitschko Accumulates another Victory
Dec 11, 2003 Article and Photo By Alex Pierpaoli
On Saturday night Ukrainian heavyweight, Vitali Klitschko stormed into the World’s Most Famous Arena and crushed a ranked contender to reinforce his position at the top of the division and to remind Champion Lennox Lewis that their June encounter was a less than conclusive defense of the reluctant champion’s belt. In the middle of the Northeast’s first blizzard of the season, Vitali Klitschko, knocked out Canadian Kirk Johnson at 2 minutes and fifty-four seconds of round two in the main event of an HBO Double-header from Madison Square Garden. Klitschko and his Team were hoping a spectacular victory would lure Lennox, the Champion, from his self-imposed R & R, with visions of huge guaranteed purses and chunks of the rematch Pay-Per-View sales dancing in his head, and in the collective heads of HBO’s boxing machine.
On June 21st Lennox Lewis faced late substitute Vitali Klitschko in LA’s Staples Center and was almost upset by the Ukrainian PHD and half of the Brothers Klitschko combination; Wladimir and Vitali. Vitali, who was filling in for Kirk Johnson after an injury forced him out of the bout, shook up boxing and won the southern California crowd in a gritty display of courage when he fought 6 hard rounds against Lennox with a virtual hole in his eyelid, a hole which required 60 stitches to repair. Team Klitschko cried long and hard for a rematch but Lewis, his fortune made and his legacy secure has thus far opted to remain silent about his future as a professional, saying only he would not fight again in 2003. With nothing left to prove in the ring Lewis is undoubtedly craving the drama and excitement created when the public needs to see two men fight each other, and needs to put down fifty dollars for the pay-per-view feed. Whether or not Klitschko was able to churn up that drama factor with his win over Johnson in Lennox Lewis’ eyes is still unknown, but there was no doubt the Ukrainian satisfied the ten thousand plus fans who braved ice, snow and wind to see the six foot seven inch two-hundred fifty pound Klitschko fight.
Perhaps the weather had left Texas’ transplanted Canadian, Kirk Johnson in a surly mood. He seemed disgusted with the proceedings from the moment he entered the Garden, plodding forward to Michael Jackson’s “Don’t stop till you get enough,” an odd choice in music considering current events. Johnson looked out of shape and boos and mocking laughter could be heard as soon as he removed his robe and stalked the ring during the introductions. Weighing two hundred sixty pounds, a career highest for Johnson, there was no hiding a jelly ring of fat just above his trunks. Perhaps the torn pectoral muscle and the postponement of the June 21st date with Lennox Lewis had left Johnson in a funk that only food could soften. Whatever the reason, when his name was read by ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr., Kirk struck a wide double biceps pose and forced a grin, looking smug and more like Smirk Johnson.
Johnson’s belligerent approach to the night saw him force the fight early. Charging out to meet Klitschko in the center of the ring, Johnson missed with two wide hooks. Opting to bang with Klitschko and perhaps get his respect if he was able to stun him, Johnson’s strategy didn’t take long to prove foolhardy against the monstrous Ukrainian. Klitschko, cool and aggressive, fired a left-right down the middle at the shorter Johnson and broke up his forward rush. Johnson was cracked with a big right toward round’s end and he absorbed it well, but on the big screen high above the ring Johnson’s barrel chest was heaving up and down while he labored for air on his stool after round one.
In the second Klitschko pressured Johnson, the Ukrainian’s gloves held low in front of his shorter opponent, his long jab finding the range and softening the target for his canon-blast right hand. With a minute to go in the second, the fighters roughhoused their way free of a clinch. Johnson, off-balance, stumbled into Klitschko’s corner. Johnson was swinging back and missing the way a child does, swinging wildly at a long-armed uncle who holds them away with one hand. The Ukrainian moved in and was right on top of Johnson. Pinning him in place with the jab and spearing at him with the right, Klitschko opened up with a barrage. Blowing hard for air while under attack, Johnson looked as though he was suffocating in the mass of his own torso. A left hook to the ribs hurt Johnson and a rapid flurry of power punches crumpled him along the ropes.
After rising from the knockdown Referee Arthur Mercante Jr. allowed Johnson to continue and Klitschko surged forward to finish him off. Another combination that ended with a thunderbolt of a right hand fired straight from the shoulder put Johnson on his back where Mercante waved off the bout.
With the look of a video game finishing move, the Klitschko straight-right asserted itself as one of boxing’s most damaging punches, right up there with the DeLaHoya left-hook or the Mayorga overhand right. Klitschko’s height and reach, coupled with his underrated power, give the Ukrainian the look of a heavyweight force that needs to exert itself on the sleepy division of aging former champs and underachieving prospects and pretenders.
In the preliminary co-feature, Buffalo’s Baby Joe Mesi remained undefeated with a majority decision victory over rugged but unheralded, Monte Barrett. Mesi was less than spectacular in going the full ten rounds for the first time in his career. Although Mesi did score a knockdown in the fifth, and landed hard punches that momentarily stunned or staggered Barrett on several occasions in the bout, the Queens native, Barrett, rallied in the seventh and put Mesi down for the first time in his career.
By the end of the fight it was Mesi who looked the worse, his right eye swollen grotesquely and his pride visibly battered. The Garden must have seemed a long way from Buffalo when Jimmy Lennon announced the bout was called a majority decision on the scorecards. A loss would not have looked so great after the numerous comparisons to Rocky Marciano and the praise heaped on Mesi last week by some of the members of the unbeaten former champion’s family.
Monte Barrett was able to extend the much-celebrated Mesi with movement and chopping left hooks and uppercuts landed while Mesi lunged forward. In the fifth when he rose from the knockdown Barrett changed quickly to a southpaw stance which befuddled Mesi for the rest of the round. Against tougher opposition, which should be all that lies ahead, Mesi will need to work on staying focused and trying not to flinch or brace himself so visibly when he knows an opponent’s punches are coming at him.
Mesi, whose best trait at this point may be humility, admitted the bout might have been just what he needed in his post fight interview with Larry Merchant. Still very green as a fighter it looks to be at least a year before title-shots should be considered by anyone on Team Mesi.
If 2003 fades into yesterday and we have still heard nothing from Lennox Lewis, HBO should hold a box-off or tournament to coronate a single undisputed successor to the championship Lewis vacates. As the network did in the late eighties with Mike Tyson and Don King, today the promoter-fighter combination that will control the heavyweight division of tomorrow is still undetermined. What cannot be disputed however is that Vitali Klitschko has the size and ferocity to bring drama into the ring whenever he fights and back to the division as a whole.
And drama is exactly what sells fights to the public and to reluctant champions.
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Alex Pierpaoli has followed the Sweet Science for the past 17 years and is an avid boxing fan/writer. He has a degree in English from the University of Maine. Send comments or questions to: email@example.com