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Wednesday, June 18
Updated: June 19, 5:58 PM ET
 
Max: Byrd's eye view of Lewis-Klitschko

By Max Kellerman
Special to ESPN.com

Lennox Lewis
Lewis doesn't appear worried, but some think he should be.
It looked like a disaster from the beginning. Mike Tyson was supposed to fight on the undercard of a Lennox Lewis title defense at the Staples Center in L.A., ostensibly to drum up interest in a Lewis-Tyson rematch. Lewis was to take on top 10 contender Kirk Johnson, a man who no one thought had much of a chance, and Tyson was to take on Johnson KO victim Oleg Maskaev. The two matchups were unappealing, and the point of the card -- to set up another mismatch between the champ and Tyson -- was deplorable.

Then Tyson decided against fighting on the card, and the Staples Center was left with an uninteresting Lewis title defense, no Tyson, and a bunch of tickets no one wanted to buy. And then Kirk Johnson suffered an injury and pulled out of the fight, which turned out to be a good thing. Enter Johnson's replacement, Vitali Klitschko.

Klitschko has never beaten a real top 10 heavyweight in his career, and he quit the only time he was ever in a tough professional fight, against the much smaller Chris Byrd. Yet at 6-foot-7, the elder and larger of the two giant boxing Klitschko brothers is two inches taller than Lewis, and he is skilled for a huge man. Vitali can also really punch -- especially with his right hand. Lewis, of course, has been knocked out twice in his career by right hands -- by Oliver McCall and Hassim Rahman.

Until his recent knockout loss to South African Corrie Sanders, the younger Wladimir Klitschko was generally regarded as the more skillful of the Klitschko brothers. It was Wlad who was groomed for a superfight title shot against Lewis until Sanders upset the apple cart. Yet Byrd, Vitali's conqueror, has fought both brothers and tells me that Vitali is actually tougher to fight.

Chris Byrd: Yeah, Vitali is more difficult because he fights more in the Russian style. Wlad is the more skilled of the two, but he fights more American, which is easier to deal with.

Max Kellerman: Can you describe the Russian style?

CB: The Russians are counter-punchers. They have a stand-up style. They stand tall, jab, take a half-step back, then shoot the right hand. Vitali is a good example of that style. Kostya Tszyu is, too.

MK: Why is that style more difficult?

CB: Because since we don't see that a lot over here, it is just harder to adapt to. In the amateurs, I fought Russians 10 times and only won four.

MK: Does Vitali have a shot against Lewis?

CB: Oh yeah. Vitali is a skilled big guy who knows how to throw his punches -- especially the right hand. And I think he's hungry now, too.

MK: OK, so how do you see Lewis-Klitschko going?

CB: It's not going to be an easy fight. Whomever connects with the right hand first will win it.

MK: So who will connect first?

CB: It all depends on Vitali. If he comes in scared, Lewis will knock him out. If he comes in ready to fight, it will be a barnburner. Vitali has range, and if he connects, Lewis will go to sleep. People say that Lewis was knocked out by Oliver McCall because he wasn't mentally prepared or whatever. McCall hits hard, but I have never seen Larry Donald hurt like he was against Vitali as an amateur or a pro. Vitali hurt him easily. He can really punch.

MK: Thanks, Chris.

My pick is Lennox by early knockout, say about the fourth round. Lewis is simply a higher caliber fighter than Vitali Klitschko. The champ is more experienced, more skilled, more athletic, and did not quit the first time he was in tough. Lewis has been criticized for fighting without passion, and for having a fragile chin, but there is no questioning his heart and will to win. Against both McCall and Rahman, Lewis got up from huge punches, and pleaded with the ref to let him continue. Against Frank Bruno and especially Ray Mercer, Lewis came through and won tough, bruising fights. If Saturday night's title bout becomes a war of attrition, it is hard to imagine Vitali winning.

Certainly, though, the challenger has chances, and not just because of his big right hand and awkward Russian style. Lewis is now 37 years old and has not fought in a year. He has not had a competitive fight in more than two years. Add it up, and it is not unthinkable that come Sunday morning we have a new heavyweight champ.

Max Kellerman is a studio analyst for ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights" and the host of the show "Around The Horn."





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