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A Heavy Favorite

Lewis seemed to have it all going for him in the quickly arranged bout against Klitschko. Then came the weigh-in.

June 21, 2003|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

Lennox Lewis beats Vitali Klitschko. Beats him easily. Beats him by knockout.

That has been the assumption by most boxing experts since tonight's World Boxing Council heavyweight title fight at Staples Center was put together 12 days ago.

It is an assumption reflected in the odds, which favor Lewis by nearly 5-1.

It is an assumption based on the following:

* This is the older and stronger, but, in boxing terms, lesser of the two Klitschko brothers.

Wladimir, younger by five years at 26, was supposed to be the next big challenge for Lewis. That fight seemed so inevitable, the producers of the "Ocean's Eleven" movie staged a Lewis-Wladimir Klitschko fight as the backdrop to a casino heist to add a feeling of reality to the script. But Corrie Sanders brought his own script when he fought Wladimir in Germany in March. A journeyman, Sanders proved to be an unexpected obstacle on Wladimir's trip to the top, knocking him down four times en route to a second-round knockout.

So Wladimir is not as good as advertised and Vitali is not as good as Wladimir. Which should mean a good night for Lewis.

* Vitali Klitschko is not Ivan Drago.

For nearly two decades, Russian fighters have been personified in the minds of many by Drago, the fictional character in Rocky IV, who was transformed by Russian technology into a killing machine, more robot than flesh and blood. It took the full force and will of Rocky Balboa to strip that shield of invincibility away.

For Klitschko, all it took was Chris Byrd. It has been a little over three years since Klitschko (32-1, 31 knockouts) quit on his stool at the end of the ninth round while he was beating Byrd on all three scorecards. Having suffered a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder, Klitschko said he was blinded by the pain.

Nevertheless, questions were raised about his heart and determination, questions that resurfaced this week when Lewis himself offered the possibility that Klitschko is a quitter.

* Lewis (40-2-1, 31) is that rarest of fighters, one who grows better with age. He has long had the size, the accurate jab and the dominating power, but Lewis seemed to lack the confidence necessary to complete the package until he beat the dominant boxing figure of his day, Evander Holyfield.

Since then, with the exception of the first Hasim Rahman fight, which Lewis lost because of overconfidence, he has truly become the dominant heavyweight of his era and remains so at 37.

* At 6-7 1/2, Klitschko is two inches taller than Lewis, which has Emanuel Steward, Lewis' trainer, salivating. Yes, Lewis' trainer.

Rather than shrinking back from intimidation at the sight of a large opponent, Lewis tends to move forward with determination.

"When he fights big guys, who he is threatened by, Lennox is a very aggressive predator," Steward said. "He changes completely, like he did against [Henry] Akinwande, [Andrew] Golota and [Michael] Grant."

Besides, the key number is not the difference vertically, but horizontally. Lewis has the edge there with a six-inch reach advantage, ideal for making Klitschko's evening miserable by continually flicking that stinging jab into the taller man's face.

All Klitschko has is a right hand that he might never get in position to throw effectively.

So with all these assumptions made, wagers placed and predictions made, Thursday proved to be quite jarring to those who had already put Klitschko in the "lost" column and were on to speculating about a Lewis-Roy Jones match in the fall.

The surprise was that Lewis weighed in at 256 1/2 pounds, 3 1/2 pounds heavier than he has ever been in the ring.

Has Lewis himself knocked all those assumptions askew? Has he done what Klitschko himself seemed incapable of doing, made the fight competitive?

His own neglect was to blame the only times Lewis has lost. He got careless against Oliver McCall in 1994 and was knocked out. And he got overconfident against Rahman in their first fight in 2001. While Rahman was in South Africa, site of the fight, getting in shape and acclimating himself to the high altitude, Lewis was busy shooting "Ocean's Eleven" in Las Vegas.

The result: Lewis weighed in at 253 pounds and was knocked out in the fifth round.

Steward claims he is unconcerned about Lewis' weight.

"He's right where he should be," Steward said. "I don't worry about weight. I worry about what shape a man is in. Believe me, Lennox is in great shape."

Klitschko refused to be drawn into the debate.

"My only comment on what Lewis weighed will be made in the ring," he said.

Klitschko's trainer, however, was happy to comment.

"I think it shows a lack of respect," Fritz Sdunek said. "Of course, he could have been drinking a lot of water the last few days to try to give us the impression that he is not in shape, but really, I think he looked a little heavy."

There are two other theories by respected boxing figures.

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