EDITOR’S NOTE: Vitali Klitschko injured his knee in training, forcing postponement of this Saturday’s scheduled heavyweight title bout against Hasim Rahman at Thomas & Mack. GT columnist Michael Katz previewed the fight prior to the injury, so file this analysis if these two ever meet in the ring.
Don’t believe the hype. It’s about heavyweights and we should all know by now that the bigger they are, the harder they are to watch.
They are, for the most part, clumsy and awkward. Defensive tackles attempting ballet and the mythic properties of being able to lick any man in the house by brawn or brain have long been exposed. There are no overpowering John L. Sullivans, Jack Dempseys or Mike Tysons. No clever Jack Johnsons, Muhammad Alis or Larry Holmeses.
So don’t believe the hype, mostly from Bob Arum (the man who brought us Evel Knievel’s Snake River Canyon leap and the mixed martial arts match between Ali and Inouke) that this weekend’s heavyweight match is the biggest dramatic event since Hamlet first stuttered onto a stage.
It is what it is, which for the current crop of heavyweights, is an okay matchup. Believe me, we were more excited about George Foreman and Ken Norton, or Floyd Patterson and Archie Moore, or Muhammad Ali and Earnie Shavers.
Vitali Klitschko vs. Hasim Rahman is not as intriguing as maybe a dozen or so matchups that could be made anywhere from 126 to 135 pounds. Klitschko, generally regarded as the best of this mediocre band, is a -400 favorite last time I went to see a film at the Palms, whose theaters are nearby the sports book.
Rahman was +325. I expect the numbers, as it gets closer to fight time, to perhaps narrow a bit. When bettors have little fervor, the underdogs are usually more attractive. These guys would have been fighting for the WBCrock belt and the Ring magazine recognition as the so-called "real" champion.
Ring, which is less than a handful of so-called editors who couldn’t get a job on a real newspaper or magazine, has about as much right to choose a boxing champion as does Good Housekeeping or Cosmopolitan. The WBCrap has no right.
There have been conventions in Las Vegas that have attracted fewer clients than this Saturday’s convocation of heavyweight champions at the Thomas & Mack. Three other heavyweight "champions" — Chris Byrd, who has IBFelonious recognition, the WBAsinine’s John Ruiz and WBOgus Lamon Brewster — would have been there. So would James Toney, who is the IBOllocks champion.
Klitschko may well be the best around, which makes him a 6-foot-7 midget. He uses his height well, especially defensively. His jab is decent and the punches have power. Vitali is about as smooth as the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. His kid brother, Wladimir, is smoother and seemingly more athletic, which is why so many American observers — led by me, mea culpa, mea culpa — thought he was the better of the Ukrainian doctors.
When the brothers were in the amateurs, the Soviet coaches always thought that Vitali was superior. When they turned pro, with brother Wladimir holding the Olympic gold, their German promoters also favored Vitali. They knew. Vitali is tougher to hit, a better chin and can punch harder, at least according to Byrd, who beat him while losing to Wladimir.
Rahman is not, despite the Arum’s claims, second best heavyweight in the world. He is dangerous. Rahman can punch, especially with the right hand that separated an ill-trained and complacent Lennox Lewis from the title in 2001. Vitali faced an ill-trained and complacent Lewis in 2003 and while landing many big shots, could not drop him, the way Rahman did.
Rahman’s weaknesses — and chin — were exposed by Lewis in less than four rounds of the rematch and it seems unlikely for me that Rahman will be able to do much damage to Klitschko before suffering what figures to be many consequences.
Rahman, a personable and engaging fellow, has predicted he will stop Klitschko before the tenth round. There won’t be a tenth round and Rahman will be the one who gets stopped. Yes, his right hand will have us on the edge of our seats as long as he is still swinging. Hasim will be taking too much punishment for a guy who got knocked out by Lewis and Oleg Maskaev. He couldn’t even beat John Ruiz.
I expect Rahman will be a lot better than in his last fight, a lackluster decision over Monte Barrett. It still won’t be good enough. The real intrigue is which fighter Vitali goes after next — Byrd, Brewster or Toney. My guess is the unheralded Brewster.
Prediction: Take the UNDER in rounds, if they ever fight.