- The Washington Times - Friday, June 20, 2003

Tonight Lennox Lewis defends his World Boxing Council title against Vitali Klitschko at Staples Center, the first heavyweight championship fight in Los Angeles since Floyd Patterson stopped Roy Harris in 13 rounds in August 1958 at Wrigley Field.

That means L.A. missed the glory years of the heavyweight division, from its birth to its slow death. It was dead back in 1958, and it is dead now, and the only difference is that there is no resurrection ahead this time — no Muhammad Alis or Joe Fraziers or even Ron Lyles on the horizon.

In case you hadn’t noticed the death of the heavyweight division, here are some particulars about the two men vying for what was once the most prestigious individual title in sports. Lewis hasn’t fought in more than a year. Klitschko has fought once in the past year, and it took him 10 rounds to stop Larry Donald, who could stop himself in less than 10 rounds.

This matchup was made at the last minute. Lewis was supposed to fight Kirk Johnson, but he pulled out of the fight two weeks ago because of a torn chest muscle, and Lewis, who is as cautious a fighter as has ever held the heavyweight title, thought so little of Klitschko that he was willing to accept him as a last-minute substitute.

Don’t expect anything like what we saw two weeks ago on HBO, when junior welterweights Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward reminded everyone again, in their third fight, about how brutally magnificent prize fighting can be.

That said, Klitschko, who, at 6-foot-7 is two inches taller than Lewis, could knock Lewis out. Anyone, as Hasim Rahman showed, can knock Lewis out if he lands a clean enough shot. And normally, that would be very exciting and add some life to the division, as it did briefly when Rahman knocked Lewis out more than two years ago.

But who cares if Vitali Klitschko is heavyweight champion, or, at least, the WBC heavyweight champion? He’s a decent enough guy, well educated and all that, which is fine if he were playing quarterback for Notre Dame. But we are talking about the heavyweight champion of the world here. He doesn’t have to be a criminal, but swagger and style should go with that title. Neither Lewis nor Klitschko has either one, and neither does Kirk Johnson, Lewis’ original opponent.

Here’s something else none of them has — American citizenship.

Lewis is British. Klitschko is Ukrainian. Johnson is Canadian.

If heavyweight boxing is dead, then American heavyweights are dead, buried, cremated, zombified and any other way you can come up with to use or dispose of a carcass.

There was a time when we used to make fun of heavyweights from other countries. Even the good ones were limited, certainly not a threat to win, or worse, dominate heavyweight boxing. Ali used them for easy paydays.

The joke is on us now, baby. Here’s how pathetic the American heavyweight boxing scene is — we have to rely on midgets and senior citizens to represent us.

There are two other heavyweight champions, and they are both American. Roy Jones is the World Boxing Association title holder, by virtue of his March victory over the fraud who held it before him, John Ruiz. But Jones was the light heavyweight champion until he beat Ruiz, and while he may hold a heavyweight belt, he is not a heavyweight champion. I’ve seen heavyweight champions before, and I know what they look like — not like Roy Jones.

The International Boxing Federation heavyweight champion — and America’s other title holder in the division — isn’t much less of an illusion, although he may be more worthy. Chris Byrd is the IBF heavyweight champion, but he was a middleweight amateur, and if you saw him in a crowd of people on the street:

(A) You wouldn’t recognize him.

(B) He would be about the 10th guy you would say could possibly be the heavyweight champion.

That said, Byrd should be the one Lewis is fighting. He is probably the most talented fighter in this lifeless division whose biggest draw remains the freak show named Mike Tyson.

Speaking of lifeless, this mountain of a man — this Ukrainian giant — that Lennox Lewis is fighting tonight quit on his stool after the ninth round in a fight against little Chris Byrd more than three years ago because of a shoulder injury.

Couldn’t they have just made Gatti-Ward for the heavyweight championship?

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