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Sometimes subs can be dangerous U-boats

Jun 10, 2003 9:44 PM

The best laid plans of Katz and men etc. This was going to be why I put a couple of bills on Kirk Johnson, at 6½-1, just in case his challenge of Lennox Lewis actually happened June 21.

I was half-expecting Lewis, who does not need this fight, to find some excuse to pull out and somehow wait for Mike Tyson to gain the nerve to meet him again.

Then one day Lewis said forget about Tyson, that’s part of his past, and the next day it’s Kirk Johnson who withdraws. And there’s nothing fishy about it. Johnson, while sparring, partially tore the left pectoral muscle in his chest, and will be sidelined four to six weeks.

Vitali Klitschko, in line for a shot at Lewis later this year, will replace Johnson for the bout at Staples Center. For now.

"We had a heavyweight championship before," said Steve Brener, the public relations manager for the fight. "This is just a tougher opponent for Lennox."

I say to Lennox, beware the sub. Things happen when fights are hastily made. Take the night Jose Torres’s opponent did not show up at and matchmaker Teddy Brenner spotted Charlie (Devil) Green in the crowd, eating a hot dog. Brenner approached the Devil and offered him a nice purse to fight the future Hall of Famer. Green said, okay, as long as Brenner threw in the price of his ticket and the cost of the hot dog.

Then, in the first round, the Devil almost knocked Torres out. He had to hold him up, in fact because the Devil, who is now in prison for something else, like machine-gunning some fellow passengers on a bus, knew which way was up. Torres got out of the opening round and stopped the Devil in the second.

Evander Holyfield was looking forward to his first heavyweight title defense against Mike Tyson when the so-called "baddest man on the planet" was accused of rape. The fight was still made, but Tyson woke won morning to find out he twisted a rib muscle (Don King really didn’t want the bout to happen) and so Francesco Damiani, an Italian non-stallion, was brought aboard. Damiani opted out ”” his wife berated him for his lack of pasta ”” and Bert Cooper was finally named to challenge Evander.

And came close to knocking him out.

It works both ways. For some reason, 2000 Olympic champion Mohammed Abdullaev, a Vegas resident trained by the esteemed Kenny Adams, accepted an ESPN bout last week on four days’ notice. He hadn’t fought since December, had been past five rounds once, and was put in a 10-rounder with a tough character named Emmanuel Clottey, who had gone all scheduled eight rounds with another young stud, Jeffrey Resto.

Result: Abdullaev dominated the bout, but in the tenth round, still going for a knockout, he got tagged and knocked down. He immediately got up, was told by the corner to rest on one knee, and because he doesn’t speak enough English to count to 10, was still there when the fight ended with his first loss.

Prospects, and stars, shouldn’t have to take fights on short notice. That is usually the domain for the tough journeyman ”” like Emmanuel Clottey ”” who knows enough to always be in the gym and always be in shape.

In fact, Abdullaev was the TV replacement for the man he beat for the Olympic gold in Sydney, Ricardo Williams, who was coming off his first defeat as a pro ”” against a last-minute substitute, Juan Valenzuela.

The tendency is for fighters to underestimate the sub. Naturally. You train hard for a specific opponent, and suddenly you’re facing someone else. There have been examples of corners accepting subs who fought southpaw ”” Pat O’Grady losing the title of his son, Sean (still called the Champ, by the way), by putting him in with a hard-punching Hawaiian, Andy Ganigan, who knocked out the kid in the second round.

It’s not a scam, a bait and switch. Things happen when athletes train. But Lennox Lewis should be careful if he decided that he does not want to waste a training camp in the Poconos. He might be better off staying there and having a honeymoon than taking the wrong sub.

Chris Byrd, of course, volunteered to be ready by June 21, though he said he hadn’t "seriously" trained in six months. But Lewis has made clear he doesn’t want to partake of the slick southpaw, while Vitali Klitschko, who was slated to fight 33-year-old Cedric Boswell on the Staples Center card, was already going to be his opponent next bout (provided, of course, Lewis beat Johnson).

Klitschko, however, is looked upon as a pay-per-view opponent, and would be better kept in reserve. There are of course dozens of possibilities and, a few years ago, Lewis probably wouldn’t have had to worry too much. He was at his peak then.

Of course, there isn’t anyone out there that he could be called a sure thing against. The man lost to Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman, remember. Somewhere, there’s a sub out there who’s probably like a U-boat ”” very, very dangerous.