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Bloody Good for Lewis

Champion trails after six, when fight is stopped because of cut to Klitschko

June 22, 2003|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

Seventeen minutes after the fight had ended, Vitali Klitschko was still standing in the Staples Center ring with his handlers as if the bell might yet ring for the seventh round.

But there would be no seventh round Saturday night for Klitschko, no upset victory over Lennox Lewis, no heavyweight title to be savored.

Lewis, who had long since disappeared into his locker room, had escaped with a sixth-round technical knockout. He had defended his World Boxing Council title, despite the fact he was behind on all three judges' scorecards, only because ringside physician Paul Wallace ordered the fight stopped because of a deep cut on the inside of Klitschko's left eyelid.

"I did not want them to stop the fight," a stunned Klitschko said. "I feel like the people's champion."

And indeed, he was treated like one. As he stormed around the ring at fight's end in frustration, the crowd of 15,939 cheered for him, and booed when ring announcer Michael Buffer announced that Lewis had retained his title.

Klitschko kept moving through the ring, seemingly in search of someone to authorize the resumption of the fight. He slapped Lewis on the side of his arm and then, to better soak in the cheers of the crowd, Klitschko hoisted himself up on the corner ropes and raised his arms as if he were Leonardo DiCaprio in the bow of the Titanic.

All three judges -- Pat Russell, James Jen-Kin and Tom Kaczmarek -- had Klitschko ahead, 58-56. The Times' Steve Springer also had it 58-56.

Lewis, who had exhibited his usual politeness in the days before the fight, refused to give Klitschko much credit afterward even though the 5-1 underdog appeared headed for the upset win had he not suffered the eye injury.

"Just look at his face," said Lewis (41-2-1 32 knockouts). "Just look at the state of his face. He was just deteriorating anyway. He would have got knocked out in the next couple of rounds. There is no way he could have finished the fight."

In his heart, Lewis had to know that his victory hung on a single overhand right in the third round that smashed into Klitschko's left eye, blood immediately streaming down the face of the transplanted Ukrainian. The cut was deep and wide.

Until then, it was Klitschko's fight. Although he is now 32-2 with 31 knockouts, he has long been considered the lesser of the two Klitschko brothers in the ring. Wladimir, five years younger at 26, had been given the better chance of ultimately winning a heavyweight crown.

But that assessment changed quickly in the first two rounds. Lewis, 37, who weighed in at a career-high 256 1/2 pounds, seemed awkward and uncomfortable in the first round. It might have been ring rust because Lewis hadn't fought in a year, since beating Mike Tyson last June.

But in the second round, Lewis had more than rust to worry about. Klitschko, whose best weapon is a right hand, caught Lewis with a right that rattled his head, jarred his body and shook his legs.

Lewis came back to make a fight of it, but he was never the same after that blow. Because of the cut, however, he didn't have to be.

As Klitschko's cut man, Joe Souza, worked on the gash at the end of the third round, Wallace examined it and allowed the match to continue.

"Joe did a great a job," said Al Gavin, Lewis' cut man. "Joe gave him at least three rounds and kept him in the fight."

Lewis connected on two solid uppercuts in the sixth round that jerked Klitschko's head back ,but, as the bell sounded, it was Lewis who walked slowly back to his corner and slumped onto his stool.

It was in the other corner, however, where the fight was about to be decided as referee Lou Moret again summoned Wallace.

"There was a significant difference from the first time I had examined him," Wallace said. "Because of the laceration, the lid was hanging in such a way that he was not able to protect himself.

"I asked him to look at me and, when he lifted his head, his eyelid covered his field of vision. He had to move his head to see me. If he had to move his head to see me, there was no way he could defend himself. If he got hit with an overhand right, he might not be able to see it. It was a dangerous situation."

Dangerous enough for Wallace to tell Moret to stop the fight. Did Wallace think about giving Klitschko one more round?

"In boxing," Wallace said, "it's not a matter of what could happen in one round. It's about the moment."

For Klitschko, it was a painful moment.

"I can see very well," he insisted. "It's no problem. I saw every punch. I was well prepared for this fight. I took every one of his jabs. I showed everybody that I can fight Lennox Lewis. I showed everybody who I am.

"He was heavy. He was tired. I know his conditioning was not good. My strategy was to win this fight in the later rounds. It was working perfectly."

Klitschko claimed the cut was caused by a head-butt, which was disputed by Lewis.

"Tell me where I head-butted him," Lewis said. "He had five separate cuts. You can't do that with one head butt. Head-butt? That's crazy man, crazy."

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