‘Chicken Kiev’ looking tasty
to Johnson

Nov 18, 2003 5:20 AM

Tom Kenville, the longtime secretary and treasurer of the Boxing Writers Association of America, now happily retired somewhere near Binghamton, N.Y., used to say "Vacation is the most beautiful word in the English language ”” next to ”˜Official.’"

In any case, it’ll be just like cashing a ticket when I take off a couple of weeks. My brain is weary from all the thinking I’ve had to do in recent weeks. My heart is sore after Antonio Tarver did not follow up on his fine start and thus my wallet shall not be an encumbrance on my travels.

Tarver was, as we said, a "live underdog." You can’t take that to a bank; but in the month of December, just in time for Christmas shopping, there may be a couple of other worthy investments. I shall be back in time to give full concentration to Don King’s Atlantic City Marathon Dec. 13. Already, I am feeling vibes for William Joppy against Bernard Hopkins and even Cory Spinks against Ricardo Mayorga. I do not even know the odds, but I feel the dogs pulling me.

I am hoping the Pilsner in Prague cures me of such feelings.

But because of time constraints, now is the time to come to grips with the Dec. 6 show at Madison Square Garden. Forget the semifinal of Joe Mesi vs. Monte Barrett. At one point, Barrett was a clever enough boxer to give us a better line on Mesi than afforded us by such as David Izon and Davarryl Williamson. Now, I’m not so sure so we shall skip this one and go straight to the main event, Vitali Klitschko vs. Kirk Johnson.

Here, we shall have some real value. Most "experts" will remember Klitschko when, ironically as a late substitute for the injured Johnson, he gave Lennox Lewis hell in March before being stopped on cuts while ahead after six rounds.

Most "experts" will remember Johnson for his poor showings, especially his disqualification against John Ruiz for repeated low blows. They might remember also his losing points for similar fouls against Al (Ice) Cole and for a desultory performance against Larry Donald, though he got the decision.

Good. Let’s not remind the "experts" that Klitschko was dubbed Chicken Kiev (okay, I confess, it was by me) when he became Quitschko against Chris Byrd with a bum shoulder. Let’s not remind the "experts" that Klitschko was, erroneously, thought to be inferior to his kid brother, Wladimir (I was one of the guilty parties), that he is a robotic, static giant. And certainly, let’s not remind the "experts" that the Lewis he looked so good against was a far, far cry from the heavyweight champion we have learned to be bored by.

That out-of-shape Lewis might have been knocked out in four rounds by the Kirk Johnson the "experts" didn’t see against Lou Savarese. Granted, Savarese cannot be considered upper echelon, especially the 2003 version. But the way Johnson, with his terrific hand speed, set up by quick-footed slides to left and right, was able to attack Savarese before finishing him with some delicious uppercuts, that Johnson woulda and coulda beaten Lewis and shoulda beat Klitschko. At a nice price, too.

Klaus-Peter Kohl of Universum Boxing in Germany was awarded manager of the year honors for 2002 by the Boxing Writers. What a difference a year makes. In 2003, Kohl has lost with both Klitschko brothers and with Dariusz Michalczewski. He may have made a terrible mistake by choosing Johnson for Vitali’s comeback.

The engaging doctor from Kiev, supported by HBO, would be a terrific champion ”” if he could fight like one. I’m not sure. Plus, I believe Johnson is being vastly underrated by the Germans. There is an erroneous belief that Johnson lacks "heart," "guts" or whatever body part you want assigned. The "experts" forget that he was having trouble with Al Cole in their rematch, but dug down and dominated the final rounds. He was staggered by the hard-hitting Oleg Maskaev, then ranked No. 3 in the world, but came back to flatten him.

He was over-trained for Ruiz, working a ridiculous 14 weeks in camp, or as Larry Holmes told him afterwards, about double the time necessary. He left it in the gym. Then he got a bad break from Referee Joe Cortez, who bought into Ruiz’s constant complaints of low blows. Still, Johnson was in the fight and even after being hurt by a right hand in the ninth round, was on the way to resuming control when he strayed again. Most of the so-called "low" blows were at most borderline. He has had little trouble with low blows against taller opponents, like Savarese ”” or Klitschko.

Klitschko has to be disappointed that he could not get his deserved rematch with the soon-to-retire Lewis. He was "up" for the championship bout, where he got a chance to show that the Chicken Kiev nickname was wrong. He can’t possibly be on the same emotional plane for Johnson. There is a big chance for a "bounce" here.

This is not to say Klitschko can’t win. The only "locks" from Nova Scotia are made from salmon. It’ll only take one shot. The odds, though, are that Johnson can see it coming and get out of the way. I expect him to pay for the Paris part of my trip.