By Thomas Hauser
Requesting that the United States Government conduct an investigation is serious business. Before doing so, one should, at the very least, get the facts straight.
On May 5th, Judd Burstein (the attorney recently retained by Wladimir Klitschko) sent a letter to the United States Attorney for the District of Nevada. In that latter, Burstein declares, "I am writing to respectfully request that your office conduct an investigation into the highly suspicious events surrounding Mr. Klitschko's April 10, 2004, Las Vegas bout against Lamon Brewster, and the equally suspicious frustration of Mr. Klitschko's subsequent efforts to ascertain whether or not he had been illicitly drugged or poisoned prior to or during the bout with Mr. Brewster."
In many respects, the letter reads more like a press release than a serious call for an investigation. Indeed, one could be forgiven for believing that its primary purpose is to gain an immediate rematch for Klitschko, so let's start by revisiting the fight.
Against Brewster, Klitschko looked like a fighter between styles. He fought with his feet wide apart; held on awkwardly when Lamon got inside; and bailed out whenever Brewster threw punches. In round three, he was wobbled by an awkward blow that looked like a hybrid jab-hook. Then, in the fourth round, he landed a huge right hand that put Brewster on the canvas and had Lamon on queer street when he rose.
If the fight had ended at that point, there would be no talk now of poison or drugs. All we'd hear from the Klitschko camp is how wonderful Wladimir looked. But Brewster survived with a marvelous display of will and, in round five, began landing heavy blows of his own. At the bell, he knocked Klitschko out.
Burstein's letter references a series of irrelevancies concerning Robert Mittleman's fixing of fights and Arnold Rothstein bribing eight members of the Chicago White Sox to throw the 1919 World Series. Next, he makes a mountain out of a molehill by referring to "a very suspicious incident concerning fight credentials." Apparently, prior to the bout, a member of the Klitschko team went to pick up his credential and was told that it had already been picked up. This is construed to have created "a situation where an unidentified person secured an all-access pass through fraud, thus providing himself unfettered access to the arena," which could have led to all manner of nerarious things.
Building block number three is gambling. Burstein's letter states, "The odds on the bout plummeted from 11 to 1 in Mr. Klitschko's favor to just 3-1/2 to 1 by fight time . . . Mr. Brewster was understandably a heavy underdog, and nothing in the public domain gave any cause for such a drastic change in the betting line. On the other hand, if a drugging of Mr. Klitschko was planned in advance, that fact would easily explain why there was so much late money bet on Mr. Brewster."
However, in reality, very little money was bet on the fight, so one or two wagers were capable of shifting the odds dramatically. Also, the sports book at Mandalay Bay is reported to have changed the odds on its own to engender more betting on the bout.
Then the Burstein letter gets to the heart of the matter; the suggestion that Wladimir Klitschko was either poisoned on drugged.
"Inexplicably, beginning in or about the second round," Burstein writes, "and prior to having been hit with any significant punches, Mr. Klitschko exhibited and experienced a rapid loss of energy, coherence, and equilibrium . . . As both Mr. Klitschko and his entire team, including Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward, will attest, Mr. Klitschko was in extraordinary physical condition for the bout. Indeed, according to Mr. Klitschko, he had never trained so well or come into a bout so well-conditioned. Significantly, he had never shown himself to be a fighter who lacked conditioning or stamina. Thus, what happened on April 10 is wholly inconsistent with Mr. Klitschko's career."
This is known as rewriting history. Boxing fans will recall that the first loss of Klitschko's career came against journeyman Ross Puritty, when Wladimir all but collapsed from exhaustion and his own corner halted the fight. Let's also remember that Emanuel Steward assured everyone that Lennox Lewis was in great shape for Lewis-Rahman I. The difference is, when a poorly-conditioned Lennox got knocked out, the deposed champion didn't blame foul play; nor did he blame the altitude in South Africa (which was probably a factor). Instead, he said simply, "I got caught."
The Burstein letter next features a section entitled, "THE FRUSTRATION OF MR. KLITSCHKO'S EFFORTS TO LEARN THE TRUTH." Here, Burstein states, "Out of concern for Mr. Klitschko, he was taken to the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada after the bout. At that time, blood and urine samples were taken from Mr. Klitschko. The next day, in order to ensure that he would have an opportunity to ascertain the truth, Mr. Klitschko arranged for additional blood and urine samples to be taken at Quest Diagnostics. Mr. Klitschko's team made it emphatically clear that they wanted the blood and urine specimens preserved so that they could be tested by an independent doctor of Mr. Klitschko's choosing. On April 14, 2004, both UMC and Quest were sent appropriate medical authorizations, signed by Mr. Klitschko, requesting that his medical records, including his blood and urine specimens, be sent to noted physician, Dr. Robert Voy. Quest has a policy of retaining blood and urine specimens for seven days after testing, and UMC has a policy of retaining blood specimens for ten days after testing. Hence, all of the blood and urine samples were in existence on April 14, when Quest and UMC received the medical authorization forms signed by Mr. Klitschko."
However -- "incredibly," according to the Burstein letter -- the blood and urine samples were destroyed. "Of course, there are a number of possible explanations, some innocent, for what occurred," Burstein writes. "However, one of those possible explanations, and an eminently reasonable one, is that those specimens were destroyed in order to hide the truth of what happened to Mr. Klitschko."
There are myriad problems with this hypothesis. First, it presupposes that the University Medical Center and Quest Diagnostics were part of a massive conspiracy and cover-up. And second, it misstates the facts.
In truth, the Klitschko camp was told exactly what to do to get Wladimir's blood and urine specimens, but failed to follow up with the necessary paperwork in a timely manner. Klitschko signed an authorization for his representatives to receive all medical information and samples. But the lawyer who preceded Burstein on the case only requested information, not blood and urine samples, from UMC and Quest.
Let's also note that all of the drug screens tested "normal." And while it's technically possible that a drug not tested for was administered to Klitschko, there's no clinical evidence to support that hypothesis. Moreover, Wladimir left the hospital against medical advice hours after the fight. Behavior of that nature is hardly consistent with a belief that one has been poisoned or drugged.
Burstein acknowledges that, prior to writing to the United States Attorney, he did not contact the Nevada State Athletic Commission to confirm the factual statements contained in his letter. Rather, he states, "Every fact in my letter came from a memorandum prepared by Ron DiNicola's office."
However, Mr. DiNicola is hardly a disinterested observer. He is one of Wladimir Klitschko's attorneys and, on April 16, 2004, sent an equally flawed letter regarding the fight to WBO president Francisco Valcarcel.
So what happened to Wladimir Klitschko in his fight against Lamon Brewster?
The truth may lie in another HBO offering. Anyone who watches The Sopranos knows that Tony Soprano suffers from panic attacks.
A panic attack has nothing to do with courage. No one should question Wladimir Klitschko's bravery. Rather, a panic attack is a physiological response during which a person experiences a range of symptoms such as light-headedness, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, hyperventilation, fatigue, and shortness of breath. One scenario far more likely than the conspiracy theory advanced by the Klitschko camp is that, as the fight progressed, Wladimir Klitschko suffered a panic attack. Then he got whacked and suffered a concussion.
Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko are likeable intelligent individuals. There was every reason to believe that they would be a breath of fresh air for boxing, and they still might be.
But for the moment, it's hard to escape the conclusion that Wladimir is in denial; that there are certain hard truths that he is simply unable to accept. And while we're on the subject of the Klitschkos, boxing fans are growing weary of Vitali's complaining that his fight against Lennox Lewis was stopped too soon and that Lennox retired rather than give him a rematch.
There are enough bad occurrences in boxing to obviate the need for creating imaginary ones. Marc Ratner (executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission) says as much, when he declares, "I'm saddened by this whole state of affairs. We have a wonderful fight this weekend [Pacquiao-Marquez] and another one [Jones-Tarver] coming up. And instead of concentrating on these fights, we're spending time dealing with nonsensical allegations that have no validity whatsoever."
Let's also consider the fact that all of this is insulting to Lamon Brewster. Lamon fought a courageous fight, and it's wrong to tarnish his victory in this manner.
Judd Burstein is an excellent lawyer and my friend, but this is one time when he has overstepped his bounds.
As for Wladimir Klitschko, there's no embarrassment in his having been knocked out by Lamon Brewster. But Wladimir is dangerously close to embarrassing himself now.
Award winning author Thomas Hauser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org