Vitali-Lewis II
will be tough

Dec 16, 2003 6:58 AM

There are no clean and easy fight deals any more.

Lennox Lewis, I understand, still hasn’t paid trainer Emanuel Steward for the Vitali Klitschko fight in June, so it should not be surprising that Kirk Johnson will have to struggle to get paid for his nonperformance against Klitschko this month.

Lewis was still not sure about the receipts of his truncated victory over Klitschko in Los Angeles, but Steward needs the bread which is why the trainer should be delighted that there is now a good chance of another payday, delayed or not, with the heavyweight champion.

While boxing waits til next year to get started again, it affords an opportunity to look back to last weekend in a New York blizzard. Klitschko’s two-round demolition of Johnson did more than embarrass the Canadian once again. We’ll get to that in a moment.

Its first effect should be seen this coming Saturday in Kiel, in case you happen to be in the neighborhood of where the U-Boats were based. Klitschko’s younger brother, Wladimir, who had the confidence knocked out of him in March by Corrie Sanders of South Africa last March, should be buoyed by Big Brother’s performance big time for his second baby step back.

Wladimir, who is used to playing Little Brother but was not so good at being the lead Klitschko, should now virtually walk through tired old Danell (Doc) Nicholson in the scheduled 10-rounder that could set him up for a chance at his old WBO title. That matchup would be against against Lamont Brewster, Don King’s mandatory No. 1 challenger for the belt Sanders vacated, or a Brewster-Second King’s Man, say Fres Oquendo.

Whatever.

The most important result of Dr. Vitali’s house call at Madison Square Garden is that boxing may now have a really big heavyweight fight without dredging up the remains of Mike Tyson. Before Johnson failed to show ”” or showed too much blubber ”” it was believed that Lewis, having escaped Dr. Vitali in June and, in his own mind, believing he was about to knock him out when the bout was stopped, would probably opt for retirement.

Steward was among those who said so. But now HBO is prepared to throw a lot of money at Lennox to set up a major heavyweight bout that, if Klitschko can do it, could give an orderly succession to the inevitable retirement of the British champion from Canada. This could be a "real passing of the torch," said Kerri Davis, the HBO veep in charge of wishful thinking.

Yes, Vitali was ahead on all cards, four rounds to two, when the doctors ruled his cuts were too severe to allow him to continue. And against Johnson, he showed a much-improved attitude, probably the result of six weeks of having Freddie Roach join the brothers’ camp. The sure thing as trainer of the year for 2003 (James Toney, Manny Pacquiao, Juan Lazcano, and even getting a victory out of Tyson), Roach wanted Dr. Vitali to become more aggressive, like his kid brother. Dr. Vitali moved forward, behind that long left jab, and attacked Johnson.

Johnson, who is having trouble collecting his money (one writer, Ron Borges of Boston, said "he shouldn’t get paid, he’d only buy more food"), was out of shape. His fault, but there is an explanation, not an excuse, Johnson tore his left pectoral muscle a couple of weeks before he was to meet Lewis in June and, while not being allowed to train, ballooned to an unmanageable weight (290? More?).

The Canadian fighter never could take it off, coming in officially at 260. Johnson felt he could not use his usual box and move skills, so he did the absolutely wrong thing. He tried to slug with the slugger and the result was inevitable as soon as Klitschko got him within range. Johnson, if he wants to come back, must now get down to 225 or so to show the boxing world he is now serious - no matter what that might do to his strength and stamina.

There is no other way, but enough about Captain Kirk.

My gut feeling is that Lewis could be persuaded to return for one more $20 million payday. It would be the second biggest of his career, second only to the approximately $30 million he made against Tyson, but more than either fight with Evander Holyfield.

It wouldn’t be only the money. Lewis is a very proud man. He might well be finished as a top fighter, but it’s going to be difficult now for him to walk away from a man who was beating him - on the cards, at least - who has since solidified his status as the No. 1 challenger.

Lewis, I believe, won’t allow any unfair judgments that he is running away from a fight. Kerri Davis said a victory over Dr. Vitali would "absolutely cement Lennox’s legacy." I agree. For money, but more for pride, I think he decides to give Big Brother another chance.

But Davis, and his co-workers at HBO, may not like the result. The fear is if Lennox does not fight Vitali, the flagship division would stall and stagger into a Don King tournament among lesser lights. That could still happen if Lewis comes back and ices the good doctor. But HBO, and the rest of us, should at least hope for Lewis-Klitschko II to hold us over to whenever there really is a heavyweight champion we can embrace.