Boxing blessing to have 'Chicken Kiev' served on ESPN

Mar 17, 2009 4:09 PM
Pulling No Punches by Michael Katz |

We want our warriors to be immortal, so it is always a shock when a fighter quits in the ring.

From Roberto Duran to bloodied Robert Guerrero, we feel somehow cheated, or at least disappointed, when someone opts for discretion over valor. We should, of course, be more forgiving.

We’re not the ones in pain, taking a knee to escape more blows, like Miguel Cotto, already battered into defeat, did against Antonio Margarito. We’re not the ones suffering humiliation, like Duran from a taunting Sugar Ray Leonard, and fearing the ultimate insult, a knockdown or knockout. We’re not the ones with blood in our eyes like Guerrero against Daud Yordan the other night.

It disturbs our sense of dignity when someone takes the money and sits, refusing to get off the stool and take more pain and humiliation. Frankly, we don’t deserve an Arturo Gatti, a Matthew Saad Muhammad, a Carmen Basilio.

And don’t believe the adage, "Once a quitter, always a quitter."

There is a stark reminder of that this coming week involving Vitali Klitschko, whom I once dubbed Chicken Kiev and others called Quitschko for remaining on his stool nine years ago against Chris Byrd though ahead on the scorecards. The slick American heavyweight was beginning to embarrass Dr. Ironfist and there was this pain in his shoulder.

Okay, it was a rotator cuff tear, but he could have muddled through three more rounds against the light-hitting Byrd.

It took me a while to understand Klitschko’s mindset that night. He had grown up believing that boxing was a "sport," a "game," and not some mystical rite of passage. Okay, you lose one, you come back later. He was shocked, and disturbed, by the reaction to his choice of remaining on his stool.

It never happened again. Suffering a monumental cut against Lennox Lewis, he valiantly fought on with blood streaming down his face before the doctors overruled his courage and stopped the bout. He proved he was no "quitter."

Klitschko, now 37 and on his third tour of duty as a heavyweight titlist, defends next Saturday against another slick southpaw who can move, former Olympic gold medallist and ex-cruiserweight champion Juan Carlos Gomez. The bout will be telecast live from Stuttgart by, bless ’em, the folks at ESPN.

Klitschko, whose baby brother Wladimir holds two heavyweight titles, is despite my colleagues’ better judgment the best heavyweight in the world. Still, he can lose Saturday to Gomez.

Vitali is a 6-1 favorite (M Resort odds) with Gomez +475 on the buyback. Gomez is a larger version of Byrd, a slick southpaw who actually has a longer reach than the 6-foot-7½-inch doctor. At 35, Gomez still has enough foot speed to make things difficult early.

Remember, Klitschko may be made of iron, but he has been known to rust. His body had broken down so often he had to retire for four years. This will be only his second fight since 2004. He returned last Oct. 11 to apply a methodical battering of Samuel Peter, proving the Nigerian more Dream than reality.

But he didn’t have to chase Peter. Gomez will not make things so easy.

Gomez, at 6-3½, has filled out nicely from his days as a cruiserweight, not that his game plan will be to get into a battle of strength. He’ll keep his distance.

Klitschko had trouble with the left-handed Byrd. Surprise, one of his sparring partners has been Byrd, who is now thinking of coming back as a cruiserweight after a disastrous journey to light-heavyweight.

Klitschko should catch Gomez at some point, but the Cuban (who’s also based in Germany) has shown a decent chin, save for his one pro loss – a shocking one-round knockout by Yanqui Diaz in 2004.

At least, the ESPN show will be interesting. I must advise passing on the other big TV offering because it has a $29.95 pay-per-view tag. If it were on regular, or even subscription TV like HBO or Showtime, it would still be difficult to watch – like seeing Joe Frazier stumbling around with Jumbo Cummings or Muhammad Ali being outboxed by Trevor Berbick.

I’d prefer to remember Roy Jones Jr. against John Ruiz or James Toney, not as a bewildered 40-year-old ghost grasping at his past with the assistance of 32-year-old Omar Sheika, himself a part-time fighter these last few years.

In this economy, there are a lot better buys than Jones-Sheika.