Neutral, but Wlad is ‘bad’

Nov 7, 2006 6:06 AM

Once upon a time, a heavyweight title fight used to mean something.

It was an event, something you could talk about for days before and after. It was something.

Now they’re bummers.

Think of it, the best one in the current go-round, comes up next weekend at Madison Square Garden, and it’s almost a desecration of Mecca. Wladimir Klitschko is a -450 favorite against underdog Calvin Brock (+300). If you go by what’s in a nickname, it’s not even that close.

Klitschko, the most articulate IBFelons title-holder, is our "Dr. Steelhammer." The undefeated and articulate Brock is "The Boxing Banker." Maybe it would be a great debate, Klitschko with his PhD. Brock with, I believe, a Master’s degree. It might even be a suspenseful matchup.

Certainly, at least Brock has more bona fides than the usual round of title challengers. Think about it: There was Shannon Briggs, coming out of the twilight zone with 11 straight victories over riff and raff. Yet he had only one win against a fighter in the Top 50 — 48-year-old George Foreman. It was a matchup only a couple of judges thought Briggs won.

Before that, we had big Nikolai Valuev against Monte Barrett, who qualified by not fighting in over a year after a pitiful losing effort against Hasim Rahman. On Dec. 10 (thankfully in Moscow), Oleg Maskaev defends his slice of the pie against Peter Okhello. Yes, that Peter Okhello.

So with Brock at 29-0, let’s overlook the fact that his best victory was getting up from the canvas to outpoint Jameel McCline (which is more than Briggs could have said). On the other hand, Baby Brother Klitschko pulverized McCline before the New Yorker’s corner stopped it in Round 10.

Brock has also beaten Clifford Etienne and in his last start, one of the great snoozefests this side of John Ruiz, he outpointed Timor Ibragimov (the lesser of the two cousins). Brock can’t be blamed for that boredom since his opponent insisted upon running and holding.

Calvin can hit. His one-punch destruction of Zuri Lawrence once again demonstrated the power of his left hook. He has smarts, can box somewhat and shows courage.

It’s just that he doesn’t seem to be that good.

In 29 wins, 22 by knockout, he’s shown disturbing fragility. It wasn’t only the hellacious knockdown he suffered against McCline.

He just doesn’t seem that strong, which could be a problem when you’re 6-foot-2 and going up against the 6-foot-6 Little Brother to Vitaly.

Klitschko’s stamina and chin have always been in question. Maybe others think he’s the best of the four heavyweight champions. My vote is for none of the above.

In his victory over the dangerous Samuel Peter, Klitschko often seemed ready to turn and run every time the Nigerian Nightmare raised his right hand in a threatening gesture. One of the most delightful guys in the game, I don’t think Wladimir lacks courage.

Just confidence in his chin.

The way to beat him is to attack, a la Corrie Sanders. You should hear Don King do his impression, "We had to go out and get someone off a golf course, and he still knocked him out."

But Klitschko has surprisingly good hand speed for a man that big. He can punch, especially with the right hand. While not anywhere as good as his retired brother Vitali defensively, he’s still a difficult task.

Even though he’s a year younger than Brock, the former Olympic champion has a major edge in experience and quality of opposition — if I may use quality in describing heavyweights. Besides stopping McCline, he beat Chris Byrd twice, edged Peter, hammered Monte Barrett and survived some rough moments to take care of DaVarryl Williamson.

I would never lay my hard-earned money on a guy who doesn’t trust his chin. Yes, I give Brock a chance. But I’m not sure I would bet my money, even at generous odds, on someone who appears to me to always be one punch away from being hurt badly. I think Wladimir, now trained by Emanuel Steward, can keep Brock at arm’s length until he lands the first meaningful punch of the match.

That should also help me to keep my hands in my pockets.

It does not spoil my love of country that boxing’s glamour division is not headed by Americans. Brock seems like a real swell guy, but so is Wladimir. Unless I scrounge up a bet on the underdog, and mostly for having a rooting interest, I might just watch this HBO bout in neutral.

Besides, after the Breeders’ Cup, I’m not expecting to have much extra cash lying around the house.