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Klitschko-Sanders Winner Should Be Universally Recognized Champion

Feb 10, 2004 
As Lennox Lewis rode off into the sunset, the heavyweight division was left with a heavyweight void. We are now entering the Twilight Zone, that black hole in time which exists between the uncrowning of one champion who retires or moves up in weight, and the crowning of another. An order by the WBC, the alphabet body which actually had the good sense to recognize Lewis as its champion, should be forthcoming to arrange a fight between its number one and two contenders, Vitali Klitschko and Corrie Sanders, respectively. What is important about this fight is that it will give boxing something it sorely needs, and that is a universally recognized Heavyweight Champion of the World.

Why will it do so, you ask? That’s easy. Although no official decision has yet been made, Ring Magazine’s Editor in Chief Nigel Collins says that if such a bout were ordered between Klitschko and Sanders, then The Ring’s recognition as champion would "likely" be granted to the victor. This is so because Klitschko is ranked at number one by The Ring, while Sanders checks in at number three, and in certain situations a fight between number one and three contenders will be classified as a championship fight. You can forget any claims that John Ruiz, Roy Jones, JR. or Chris Byrd may have such a title as well. None of those men have a legitimate claim to the linear heavyweight title or to take part in a match to decide one.

Klitschko is deservedly in this position based on his showing against Lewis, his subsequent battering of Kirk Johnson, not to mention the fact that he has never been behind in a fight at the time that it concluded. In light of what he went through in the fight with Lewis, we must take him at his word that his loss to Byrd was a result of a serious injury which rendered him unable to fight, period. He has earned his right to compete for the championship again.

Sanders is the wildcard that makes this fight a natural. Wladimir Klitschko, Vitali’s younger brother, was the consensus number one contender to Lennox Lewis’ title one year ago, until Sanders became the man to knock him off. Thus, one would have to consider that Sanders should take, not necessarily the younger Klitschko’s place, but somewhere close to it. Throw in the fact that this will be a grudge match of the highest order for Vitali, and all the elements are in place to make this a legitimate contest for the Heavyweight Championship of the World. Incidentally, this would mark the first time in almost fifty years that there would be a white heavyweight champion (Ingemar Johannson was the last; Gerrie Coetzee and Frans Botha don’t count), and you can bet that this fact will not be lost on the promoters of the bout.

There has always been one guy that the boxing world could point to and say "that’s the guy," even at times when the title has been splintered into as many pieces as Don King has hairs standing up. This is the meaning of the term "Linear Champion." When the lost generation of heavyweights were battling it out in the 1980’s, we had Larry Holmes, and after him, Michael Spinks, and then of course, Mike Tyson. When Bruce Seldon, Oliver McCall, Frank Bruno and others held belts in the mid 1990’s, we could still say George Foreman was the champ, no matter if he wasn’t fighting the best. Lewis took that linear torch when he defeated Shannon Briggs, who had a very dubious win over Foreman. Even when a champion has retired, a new linear champion has been crowned, either by the former champion coming back and being beaten by a worthy adversary, or by a box-off between two contenders who were accepted by most, if not all, as the top two challengers.

If the fight happens, it would be easy to dismiss Sanders’ chances and say that he is a three round fighter who has been largely inactive in the past few years. Indeed, he has not one fight since his win over Wladimir. However, these are the same knocks against Sanders that we heard before that fight. His quick left could cause problems for Vitali the same way it did against Wladimir. Vitali has two things on his side. He will not be taken by surprise, as Wladimir was when he was looking past Sanders. He also seems to take a better punch than his brother, and if he can reach Sanders at all it could be an early night.

Regardless of whether you agree that the winner of a Klitschko-Sanders fight should be recognized as the world champion, you have to concede the point that this is something that is necessary for the well being of boxing. For without a king, there is no kingdom. That is something that boxing has never faced, and should never have to. The bottom line is this: On the night that Vitali Klitschko meets Corrie Sanders, barring an unlikely draw, a new Heavyweight Champion of the World will be crowned.

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