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Klitschko defeat hits boxing below the belt loss

Mar 18, 2003 2:51 AM

It wasn’t a "lucky punch," the way Wladimir Klitschko would claim afterwards without really specifying which Corrie Sanders left hand he was talking about.

For boxing, it was perhaps an unlucky punch, a denouement of a charismatic fighter who might have brought the tired old game some new vim and vigor, a heavyweight champion with a doctorate, one who speaks modestly and without trash, a self-effacing likeable giant.

What was unlucky, though, it appears Dr. Wladimir Klitschko has no chin, which will make it rather difficult for him to rule a division where occasionally he might meet someone who can punch a bit.

Like Corrie Sanders, who was in semiretirement, having fought only three rounds in the 35 months since tiring badly and succumbing to a seventh-round knockout by Hasim (Pre-Lennox Lewis) Rahman. But Sanders had Rahman down and in big trouble early in that fight. He’s big, he can punch and he has a certain athleticism, even at 37.

Sanders looked like another "safe" opponent that had been fed the Klitschkos by their German promoter (and de facto manager), Klaus-Peter Kohl. Except at 6-foot-4, Sanders was able to reach the untested chin of the 6-6 Wladimir.

So we’re back to Square One, still waiting for the heavyweight messiah to deliver boxing from its minor league status. It certainly is not going to be Roy Jones Jr., who seems to be taking the road of least resistance and going after Evander Holyfield instead of Holyfield’s most recent conqueror, Chris Byrd. Art Manteris, the veteran linemaker, would make Jones 7-2 over Holyfield, only 8-5 over Byrd.

There are many who believe Jones and Byrd would be a heavyweight fight for sleepwalkers. Bull. Both are naturally defensive stylists, both can bore. But put them together, where neither man would believe he could be hurt by the soft-punching guy opposite him, and their skill levels would produce artistry and excitement.

"We would get down low," said Byrd, who with Jones being tempted by Madison Square Garden for a Holyfield fight, might have to fight a guy he rejected last June - Sanders.

Small world. While Byrd was the mandatory challenger for Lennox Lewis’s IBF belt, and before Lewis sold it to Don King for $1 million, he was in effect offered a "step-aside" bout in Memphis on the Lewis-Mike Tyson undercard. Because Sanders is in effect co-promoted by Lewis agent Adrian Ogun, the tall left-hander was mentioned as the opponent. Byrd passed on $200,000, and it now looks like a very wise move.

The other day, Ogun called Byrd attorney John Hornewer to see if there was interest in that fight, a "unification" of two belts. Very much, so.

It would mean probably 10 times as much now to Byrd as it did last June and he should be a large favorite. After a couple of rounds, in which Sanders would be unable to hit Byrd, the South African would probably fade fast. He was always talented, but he also somehow managed to lose to Nate Tubbs, a Tyson sparring partner and Tony’s kid brother.

Meanwhile, the semiretired Lewis - who probably blew a dangerous, but winnable fight against the older Klitschko, Vitali - is awaiting one more big payday with a rematch against Tyson. Lewis would be only 6-1 over Tyson, according to Manteris, which seems low given that the real champ had so little trouble in Memphis. But Lewis has been partying and idling, not wise at age 37.

Jones would be a 7-5 favorite over Tyson - there isn’t enough gold in Fort Knox to satisfy both guys, so don’t line up to buy tickets yet - but he would be a dog against the so-called "super" heavyweights. The delineation is certainly not by talent level, nor even by weight. It is more height.

The 6-foot-2 Byrd, who fought both Klitschkos, making the 6-8 Vitali quit, said he was three-four inches taller than Jones and he couldn’t make house calls on the good doctors.

"Where’s he gonna hit’em at, their knees?" said Byrd.

The big guys - Lewis and the Klitschko doctors - all have questionable chins. It would take a real lucky punch to fell them with a shot to the patella.