Chris Byrd, John Ruiz, Lamon Brewster, and Vitali Klitschko all hold a fraction of the undisputed heavyweight crown, but which of these pugilists can claim legitimately that he is the one true champion?
Klitschko brought himself closer to the top of the heavyweight mountain Saturday night when he gave Danny Williams the thrashing of the year, far surpassing what Felix Trinidad did to Ricardo Mayorga in October. It was arguably Klitschko's best performance of his career and a very nice way to kick off a title reign.
But it wasn't Saturday night's victory that made Vitali Klitschko the sudden frontrunner in the heavyweight division; it wasn't even a victory at all that launched him into the bright boxing spotlight.
Flashback to June of 2003. Lennox Lewis was set to defend his title against Canadian contender Kirk Johnson in Los Angeles in a bout that would be far more relaxed for Lewis than the victory he had had a year before against Mike Tyson. Lewis knew this, and he prepared for it in exactly that fashion, relaxed.
A funny thing happened though, on the way to Staples Center. Johnson pulled out of the fight a month before it was set to take place and left the champ scrambling for a replacement for him to cruise to victory against.
His challenger would be a 32-year-old Ukrainian who was considered the less talented of a sibling duo. You see it was at that time that Wladimir Klitschko was to be the heir apparent to Lewis, but instead on this night his older brother, the aforementioned Vitali, who would get his shot at exposure and glory, and a chance to dispel the myth that he had a soft heart after quitting while ahead against current IBF champion Chris Byrd.
Call it luck, call it opportunity or call it a little bit of both. But what we would see next was nothing short of shocking. The challenger came out landing huge explosive straight rights and lefts on the champion, staggering him and throwing off the champion's timing with his awkward yet effective style. Would we see Lewis' third upset by knockout?
Well it so happens that the champ recovered and starting landing bombs of his own and before you knew it these two behemoths were trading shots in the middle of the ring and one of them, Klitschko, had developed a pretty nasty cut around his eye as a result of the punishment he was taking.
Ahead on the cards the champion was visited in his corner in the sixth round by the ring doctor who said that the cut was so deep that Klitschko risked having eye complications if any more damage was to be done. So while behind on the judges' scorecards Lewis retained his title by TKO and could ride off into boxing's sunset a true warrior, and a true champion. The other would still be obsessed with luring the ex-champion out of retirement for a rematch a year and a half later.
Okay, now you might be wondering what that trip down memory lane has to do with the current heavyweight picture. Well it has everything to do with today's heavyweight standings because it was that cut that made Klitschko a people's champion of sorts and a popular name in boxing due to his brave effort against a great champion.
If Vitali would not had not cut his eye who knows what would have happened in this fight. Would Lewis, who was starting to come on later in the fight, have regained control and knocked out or outpointed his challenger rendering him just another victim? If that is the case, which many believe it is, then Klitschko should thank his lucky stars that Lennox Lewis pounded his face into ground beef that night. Johnson, Sanders, the WBC strap and now Williams are only the result of the brutal laceration he suffered at the hands of one of the greatest heavyweights to don a pair of boxing trunks, and it is because he knows that that Vitali keeps trying to lure Lennox away from paradise, he is haunted.
He knows that Lennox was his ticket to fringe stardom and he knows that finishing the job will make him a household name. The worst thing that could happen to Vitali is he gets beaten by a comebacking Lewis, which is odd because the only reason he had a shot at that vacant belt was the fact that he was beaten by Lewis in the first place.
So the next time you're on a message board arguing about who's the man and who is number one amongst the current crop of big men, remember that your best argument may not come from the best jab, the best defense, the best foot speed, or even the best talent, but which one of these men was given his exposure at the right place, the right time, and against the right man.
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