By Thomas Hauser
Lennox Lewis almost gave away the heavyweight championship of the world on Saturday night.
It was an exciting dramatic fight. But no matter what Lewis says, he was out of shape and overweight for his bout against Vitali Klitschko. His timing was off. He was sucking air after three rounds. Lennox had thought he could win by simply showing up. He looked like anything but the master boxer he takes pride in being.
As the bout progressed, there was more brawling than boxing and the match up came to resemble a toughman contest. Lewis's advancing age might also have been a factor.
Klitschko had an edge in the first round and wobbled Lewis with a straight right a minute into the second stanza. After that round, trainer Emanual Steward told his charge, "He's winning the fight. You've got to take it to him." Lewis did just that, opening up a gaping cut on Klitschko's left eyelid with a glancing right hand early in round three. But by round four, Lennox was exhausted. From that point on, the bout was reminiscent of his 1996 fight against Ray Mercer when, in the late rounds, he had to stand and fight because there was nothing else he could do.
But fortunately for Lewis, Klitschko's eyelid had been ripped open. It was a horrible cut. After six rounds, Dr. Paul Wallace stopped the fight. Klitschko was ahead 58-56 on all three scorecards at the time of the stoppage.
Anybody who draws a parallel between this fight and the Gatti-Ward trilogy is missing the point. Gatti and Ward were in shape to go the distance each time. Lewis wasn't. He rarely threw his jab with authority and fought like the bully in a schoolyard brawl who loses all semblance of technique and simply slugs away.
Meanwhile, no matter how bitterly disappointing the outcome was for Klitschko, the wisdom of the stoppage was confirmed in his dressing room after the fight. Klitschko lay on a table on his back. His wife was holding one of his hands. His brother Wladimir held the other. The doctor who was about to suture the ugly gash was trying unsuccessfully to find a spot on Klitschko's eyelid to put the anesthesia. Wherever he inserted the needle, the skin shredded away. There was both a vertical and a horizontal flap. Cuts of that nature increase the chances of damage to a person's optic nerves and muscles. Anyone with questions on that point should ask David Reid.
In retrospect, Lewis-Klitschko offers an opportunity to evaluate the California practice of stopping the clock while a ring doctor examines a cut between rounds. The rationale for this practice is that it's important for the doctor to probe closely and his examination shouldn't take away from the sixty seconds allotted to the cutman to do his job. Opponents of the practice argue that a good ring doctor can assess damage by watching the cutman in action and that granting an extra thirty seconds between rounds changes the dynamic of a fight.
Three times on Saturday night, the ring doctor ordered the clock stopped while he examined Klitschko's eye. The beneficiary appeared to be Lewis, who looked as though he needed the extra time to recover more than Klitschko. Further discussion on this issue leading to a national standard would be desirable.
Meanwhile, it's hard to ignore HBO's curious use of Bob Costas, who opened the telecast while Jim Lampley and Larry Merchant were kept off-camera for the first fifteen minutes. Bob Costas is a superb play-by-play baseball announcer. He's as good as anyone in the business when it comes to basketball. He's an intelligent articulate interviewer. But Bob Costas is not a boxing expert.
Jim Lampley and Larry Merchant are the best announcing team in the history of the sweet science. They don't need help. It's an insult to boxing, and also to Lampley and Merchant, to begin a telecast with Bob Costas reading from a teleprompter.
Also, it should be noted that HBO's audience didn't see the actual stoppage of the fight. That's because, at the time, Lampley was, as instructed, reading a full-screen promo for Real Sports and On The Record. One expects the New York Post to dispatch seven reporters to the scene to cover Mike Tyson's release from police custody after a five-o'clock-in-the-morning brawl. But one would hope that HBO, which is the standard-bearer for boxing in today's entertainment-driven world, would have a better sense of priorities.
Then again, one never knows what makes for a big story in boxing. Take, for example, "The Samantha Shoe Caper." Tim Smith broke the story on June 11th in the New York Daily News.
"An hour after Arturo Gatti and Mickey Ward went toe-to-toe at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on Saturday night," Smith wrote, "Samantha Davis, the wife of HBO Sports boxing czar, Kery Davis, went toe-to-heel with the Atlantic City boardwalk. The heel of Mrs. Davis' expensive Gucci shoe got stuck in a crack in the boardwalk. She refused to let anyone else dislodge the shoe. After about three rounds of pulling and tugging, 'Shoeless Sam' KO'd the boardwalk. The shoe, heel intact, was saved."
Thereafter, the story spread like wildfire. On June 15th, George Kimball of the Boston Herald published his own eye-witness account. "In the wee hours last Sunday morning," Kimball reported, "long after Gatti and Ward had been trucked off to the local hospital, HBO vice president Kery Davis, his wife Samantha, New York Daily News scribe Tim Smith, and I were walking back from the arena when Mrs. Davis had to go, literally, toe-to-toe with an unforeseen adversary. The heel of one of her Guccis got stuck in one of the cracks in Atlantic City's famed Boardwalk. It took a good five minutes and drew quite a crowd, but the woman Smith promptly christened 'Shoeless Sam' was eventually able to extricate herself."
Never mind that, the same week, Lewis and Klitschko signed to fight on short notice; the Nevada State Athletic Commission enacted a rule requiring MRI testing for all fighters; Joe DeGuardia won an arbitration against Antonio Tarver that will reshape the light-heavyweight division; and Marco Antonio Barrera sued to free himself contractually from his manager and promoter. The Samantha Shoe Caper is a saga teeming with glitz and drama. Gucci footwear is favored by the fashion elite, wildly expensive, and the height of glamour. Moreover, Gucci shoes are known for their "killer heels." This refers to the damage that can be inflicted by a swift kick and also the fact that the heels are murder on one's feet.
Thus, given HBO's penchant for human interest stories, and keeping in mind that Tim Smith and George Kimball are among the best role models that the boxing writers fraternity has to offer, I'd like to report (tongue in cheek) the following postscript to Lewis-Klitschko:
Harold Lederman was devastated when he went to the pressroom after the weigh-in and found that the sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies were all gone. "This is horrible," wailed Lederman. "I've been looking forward to those cookies for an entire week." Fortunately, a crisis was averted when someone from the California State Athletic Commission gave Lederman a Three Musketeers candy bar.
Shortly before Lewis and Klitschko entered the ring, Michael Buffer was seen in a panic, frantically running down a Los Angeles street, looking for hairspray. When Buffer finally found a drug store, he ran into Oscar De La Hoya, who was buying hair gel.
Lou DiBella was at home eating spare-ribs just before the fight and got a sliver of pork stuck between his teeth. "Thank God; I had some dental floss in the medicine cabinet," DiBella revealed afterward. "But even then, it took forever to floss it out."
Cedric Kushner lost his cellphone. "You can't imagine the wave of panic that swept over me," Kushner later acknowledged. "But I'm quite resourceful, so I dialed my own cellphone number. An attendant in a washroom at the Staples Center, where I had inadvertently left the phone, answered. And I was able to retrieve the phone with a minimum of inconvenience."
And last but not least . . .
Madison Square Garden president Seth Abraham suffered a momentary crisis while dining at La Grenouille on the night of the fight when he noticed a mealy bug on the rose in his button hole. But Abraham, who earned a reputation as one of boxing's great minds while at HBO, didn't panic. He simply discarded the rose and replaced it with one from the floral arrangement on the table in front of him.