Some fights take years to happen, with no expenses spared on promotional build-up to create the biggest event possible, and then there are some fights that just happen out of chance and circumstance. The Lewis v Klitschko fight was the latter, the fight was never meant to happen, on that date of June 21, 2003 Lewis was scheduled to defend his world titles against Canadian Kirk Johnson, but with 2 weeks to go before the fight Johnson pulled out sighting a chest injury, Vitali Klitschko who had been long campaigning for a showdown with the world’s best big man in Lewis was scheduled to fight on the under-card so to save the event which was being held in Los Angeles at the Staples Center and televised live on HBO Klitschko stepped up to the mark as Johnson’s replacement, and we had a fight.
At that point in time Vitali Klitschko (32-1) was seen in the boxing world as a heartless fighter who had quit on his stool due to a shoulder injury in a WBO title defense against light-punching American Chris Byrd in the 9th round in a fight that Klitschko was well ahead, gifting the title to his opponent, the boxing media had dubbed Klitschko ‘’Vitali Quitsko’’, that stigma must have hurt the proud Ukrainian.
Having lost his unbeaten record to Byrd in 2000 Klitschko was riding a 5 fight winning streak having stopped Larry Donald via TKO 10 in his previous fight. The champion Lewis was looking to close the curtain down on what had been a near perfect career with a record of 40-2-1 and having avenged all blemishes on his record the London stylist had defeated every opponent he had ever faced. Lewis himself was only riding a 2 fight winning streak having shocking lost his championship in a 2001 fight with Baltimore banger Hasim Rahman in South Africa via 5th round knockout in one of the divisions greatest upsets, Lewis brutally regained his title 7 months later with a sensational one punch KO.
So to the fight, Lewis weighing-in at a career high of 256lbs and Vitali 248lbs, on the line would be the WBC and linear championships as well as the lightly regarded IBO title. Round 1, Klitschko lands a sharp right hand with 42 seconds remaining a messy first round, with an intense feel as both giants (Lewis 6’5, Klitschko 6’7) stand their ground. Klitschko won the round on activity landing some sharp right hands.
Round 2, Lewis comes out jabbing, Klitschko comes back with a hard right hand, midway through the round Vitali lands a long right which lands flush on Lennox’s chin, Lewis comes back with some great lead power jabs, the crowd are on their feet as both men go at it, HBO’s wordsmith commentator Larry Merchant utters the line ‘’This is Gatti-Ward on the highest level of the scale’’. Vitali rains punches down on the champion Lewis to end a tremendous round.
Round 3, in the opening seconds of the round Lewis lands the most important punch of the fight. It was a long grazing right which landed just above Vitali’s left eye immediately opening up a horrendous gash which would flow with blood. Not deterred by the injury Vitali sticks to the task at hand landing with triple jabs but taking incoming fire as well, with Lewis landing with another thudding right hand. Larry Merchant throws in another classic line ‘’There has never been a heavyweight championship between Big Men with this kind of intense action’’. Another tremendous round, non-stop action for 3 minutes and much better round for the champion Lewis, as Vitali goes back to his corner and sits on his stool we get to see the severity of the cut, a grotesque deep gash just over his left eye. HBO’s lead blow-by-blow announce Jim Lampley asks co-commentator former 2x heavyweight world champion George Foreman ‘’Can you go forward with that?’’ referring to the cut, Foreman replies NO WAY. Doctors and officials in the corner inspecting the cut but the fight was allowed to continue.
Before the start of the 4th round Larry Merchant throws out another classic line ‘’If this is an epilogue to Lennox Lewis’s career its sum epilogue’’ the 4th round is a lot quieter as both men are clearly tiring, Round 5 Vitali looking discouraged as he comes out for the round. Lewis starts to work uppercuts on the inside and a left hook, both men come together in a cling but with one hand free Lewis proceeded to land 12 repeated right hooks to Vitali’s body, Lewis showing his experience and punch variety in this round but Vitali comes back with right hands and backs Lewis to the ropes with a flurry of shots, Lewis is looking exhausted with both hand down but still a good round for the champion.
Vitali walks back to his stool with his face covered in blood and bruising on his left cheekbone ,Round 6, chopping right lands from Klitschko, Vitali creating some distance and landing 1-2’s, OH MY GOD with a minute gone in the round Lewis lands a vicious right uppercut on Klitschko’s jaw which jolts his head back, the type of uppercut that laid rest to American Michael Grant, Vitali stands firm, both men stumble half way across the ring in a clinch near the end of the round, Lewis working in more uppercuts as the round ends.
The fight is finally stopped in the corner by the ringside doctor as the damage to Kitschko’s eye is just too severe. As Klitschko realizes the fight is being stopped he gets up from his stool and yells out repeatedly ‘’NO, NO, NO’’ the fans in the arena boo as they feel Vitali has been unjustly wronged, but the majority of the crowd can’t possibly see how bad the cut is. On the official scorecard Vitali was ahead on all 3 cards 58-56, HBO’s Jim Lampley repeated an old Larry Merchant line which seemed fitting saying ‘’Isn’t it fair to say Lewis wins the fight Klitschko wins the event’’.
Vitali repeated in his post-fight interview ‘’I want rematch, I want rematch,’’ Lewis when under question about the toughness of the fight would repeat ‘’look at the state of his face’’ and he was not wrong Vitali’s face was a mess his lips were cut and swollen the left side of his face was bruised and swollen and of course the terrible cut above his eye, but Lewis was far from unmarked himself with a large cut across his nose and swelling on his face.
One thing is for sure no one would ever question the heart, chin and courage of Vitali Klitschko again. Going 3 complete rounds with one of the worst cuts you will ever see against a massive heavyweight puncher is proof of that. Unfortunately for us boxing fans a sequel never happened as this turned out to be Lennox Lewis’s final bout.
One thing that did bother me about the post-fight reaction to this fight was the idea that Lennox Lewis was ‘‘lucky’’, was this the best Lennox Lewis performance of his career ?, no, it was far from it, at times he looked sloppy he weighed-in at a career high, and he looked exhausted at times, but when I heard Jim Lampley say ‘’ a lucky escape for Lewis’’, with people like long-time boxing writer Colin Hart and ex-lightweight champion Jim Watt also calling Lewis ‘’lucky’’, I completely disagree, the fight did not end on a bad refereeing call or a bad judging decision, the fight in effect ended from a hard accurate right hand landed by Lewis at the beginning of round 3 and the fight could have easily been stopped after the 3rd round. So you could say that Lewis beat an all-time great heavyweight in his prime in Vitali Klitschko on his worse day.