Forget the WBC…Should Vitali Klitschko Be Stripped of The Ring Magazine Championship?
By Sean Newman (November 9, 2005) 
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If fight fans wondered what could be worse than the current state of the heavyweight division, they got their answer over the past weekend when Vitali Klitschko postponed, for a fourth time, his heavyweight title defense against Hasim Rahman. What’s worse than the heavyweight division? Having a champion at the top of the heap who is either unwilling or unable to defend his title. Speculation has run rampant since the announcement of Klitschko’s injury was made, with many questioning both the validity of the injury, as well as Klitschko’s heart. Either way one looks at it, it’s not a good situation.

Vitali has not been stripped of his WBC title, so far at least, despite Don King’s attempts to have Rahman named as the one and only champion of the WBC (Rahman currently holds something called the “interim” title, for whatever that’s worth). The WBC will likely order that the fight be rescheduled within 60 days, this after having initially given Klitschko the benefit of 90 days. Blah, blah, blah, interim champions and yada, yada, yada, aside, really…who cares? What does The Ring Magazine have to say on the issue?

The Ring, having reinstituted its own championship policy in the past few years, has come under increasing fire since naming the fight between Vitali Klitschko and Corrie Sanders a heavyweight championship bout. This now seems like 20/20 hindsight mixed with a little revisionist history, but at the time, it was not unrealistic to imagine Corrie Sanders as a worthy number three ranked heavyweight. He had knocked off the consensus heir apparent, and done it in a most impressive manner. Fans, however, being the fickle lot that they are, have looked at Klitschko’s body of work since and including that fight, and they see…well, not much. Since that fight, in which Klitschko was rocked momentarily, Vitali has fought only once, that an eight round drubbing of Danny Williams.

If Klitschko’s inactivity were not enough to infuriate the fans into questioning his championship credentials, with it have come Mike Tyson’s meek surrender to Kevin McBride of all people, which, again in hindsight, diminishes Klitschko’s domination of Williams, who made his name on his own upset win over Tyson. Chris Byrd has remained active. John Ruiz, God help us, just won’t go away. People are excited about James Toney. Lamon Brewster, too, following his piledriving of Andrew Golota. Rahman remains a staple of the top ten. Even little brother Wladimir seems to have pulled himself together…sort of. All of this, along with Klitschko’s own susceptibility to injury, has conspired to leave Vitali out in the cold, and now even many of the hardcore believers in The Ring’s policy are turning away from Vitali. A recent poll in Doghouse Boxing’s Dog Pound showed a resounding 88% of voting fans who were of the opinion that enough is enough, that Vitali should be stripped of his championship.

We all know by now that The Ring has a very firm position on the issue of stripping fighters, and that is, no fighter will be stripped, as titles should only be won and lost in the ring (or if a champion makes a permanent move to another weight class). But is it fair for a fighter to sustain one injury after another, in effect sitting on the championship and freezing out other would be challengers as Klitschko has done?

“As long as a champion has a legitimate injury, I don't think he's really sitting on the title,” Ring Magazine Editor-in-Chief Nigel Collins responded when asked that question by Doghouse Boxing. “It would be different if he just refused to fight for no good reason. Klitschko's latest injury is unfortunate for all concerned, including the fans, but I don't think it's a scam to avoid fighting Rahman.”

Ahh, yes, Rahman. Almost forgot about him. He is the man many believe has scared Vitali Klitschko into turning down millions of dollars and a chance to enhance his legacy. When you look at it in terms of dollars and sense, i.e. the sense to remember that Klitschko stood in the ring toe to toe with Lennox Lewis for six rounds with half of his face peeling off, it seems almost laughable to think that Klitschko has any real fear of Rahman, who, although a threat, is a much less imposing figure than Lewis. Right or wrong, though, it is now Vitali’s heart, and not his knee, that people are beginning to question once again. Most of us thought those questions had been put to rest after the donnybrook with Lewis, not the least of whom was Klitschko.

“I want to apologize once again to everyone involved in this fight: Hasim Rahman, the promoters, HBO, all the fans,” said Klitschko in a press release. “All of this is very devastating to me. I am not sure anyone can imagine how very sad and depressing this year has been for me because of all of the injuries.”

So while this is just as hard on Klitschko as it is on anyone else involved (after all, he is the one who has to recover from a bum knee), after four postponements, not one, two, or even three, of the same fight, would there ever come a point where enough is enough, even for The Ring Magazine?

“We have to take each case in its individual, but, off hand, I can’t think of a case where an injury would affect The Ring's championship policy, unless it was a career-ending injury,” said Collins, who also acknowledges that support for Vitali as a fighter and a champion will suffer some fallout.

“I think this latest postponement will reinforce anti-Klitschko sentiment among those who already felt that way and probably turn some additional fans against Vitali,” he says. “But world championships are not won and lost in the court of public opinion; they are won and lost inside the ring. The problem is that people want instant gratification, and tend to overreact when they don't get it. The Ring can't afford such an immature attitude. We're in this for the long haul and have to consider the big picture, not start changing our championship policy every time things get uncomfortable.”

The big picture is one that can easily become lost in the immediate aftermath of disappointing news like the latest postponement of the Klitschko vs. Rahman fight. Knee-jerk reactions can get the better of all of us, even when those reactions will cost us big time in the long run. Keep that in mind, the next time you, as a fan, begin to wonder what could be worse than the current heavyweight division with a champion who hasn’t fought in a year. Because if The Ring started arbitrarily stripping fighters of championships, it could become a slippery slope that would land The Ring in a heap of garbage no better than the clowns at the WBC, WBA, IBF, and others, and then you would have your newest answer to the question, what could be worse?
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