Klitschko vs. King?
A lot of people can't stand the sight of their own blood. Unfortunately for Calvin Brock, Wladimir Klitschko is one of them.
Klitschko and Brock were sailing along fairly evenly and without apparent animosity between them this past Saturday when Klitschko sustained a cut along his left eyelid late in the fifth round of their heavyweight confrontation at Madison Square Garden. By midway through the sixth, the gash had begun to widen significantly and several long rivulets of red trickled down the cheek of the IBF champion and dripped onto his shoulder.
Irked by their appearance and his own, Klitschko suddenly altered his approach and began throwing a hard, straight right hand behind a jab that had, to that point, been piling up points but doing little noticeable damage beyond controlling the distance and making it exceedingly difficult for Brock to get inside and work on the champion's body as effectively as he would have liked. That alteration in style began late in the fifth round, but was emphatic in Round 7 when Klitschko twice in succession slapped Brock with his distracting jab and then whistled a straight right hand immediately behind it that found Brock's chin.
The first hurt him noticeably. The second split his defenses and caught him flush on the jaw. The force of it spun Brock sideways and sent him pitching face first to the canvas, as if someone had knocked over a tall stack of unbalanced papers. The only thing that broke his fall was his face, which slammed the floor and left Brock lying in a heap of unconsciousness for several seconds.
Ultimately he would come to enough to lift himself to his feet, but referee Wayne Kelly took one look into the challenger's eyes and saw a pool of emptiness and stopped the bout with 50 seconds remaining in the round, thus handing Klitschko not only his IBF belt back, but a crushing one-punch knockout the likes of which have been all too seldom-seen in the heavyweight division since the retirement of Lennox Lewis several years ago.
"It made me a little bit mad when I saw my blood,'' Klitschko (47-3, 42 KO) said later. "It happens. It's not the nicest thing but it happens in sports. I felt a little bit sense of urgency, but the fight was developing my way anyway.''
That really came as no surprise despite Brock's undefeated record. The larger issue then, for both Klitschko and the welfare of the beleaguered heavyweight division, is what develops as a result of it, as well as from the victory a week earlier by American Shannon Briggs, who stopped WBO champion Sergei Liakhovich in the final seconds of the final round to become the only U.S.-born heavyweight titleholder at the moment.
Despite the spectacular nature of Klitschkio's victory, it was not unexpected and therefore ultimately unsatisfying to both Klitschko and the larger public, which craves the crowning of one man as heavyweight champion, but seems no nearer to seeing that come to pass then it has been for several years now. Klitschko has long said that is his goal, and he reiterated both his intention to accomplish it and the major stumbling blocks that exist even after ridding himself of Brock in spectacular fashion.
"I'm not interested in staying in the sport just to keep fighting,'' Klitschko said. "I'm interested in unifying the title. The heavyweight division needs a real champion. I don't consider myself the real champion because there are others out there (with title belts). The real champion will unify the title. My goal is to unify the title in my next fight. It doesn't matter if it's (WBA champion Nikolai) Valuev, Shannon Briggs or (WBC titleholder Oleg) Maskaev.''
Getting the opportunity could prove far more daunting than stopping Brock (29-1) however, because to get those fights Klitschko has to first win a negotiation with Don King, who promotes Briggs and Valuev and has long insisted on future options on Klitschko in exchange for making any such unification possible. It is a high price, one Valuev paid with six options for the right to challenge then-WBA champion John Ruiz, but one the far more powerful Klitschko has no intention of duplicating.
Maskeav, meanwhile, is already set to fight next month in Moscow and is considering a defense against former middleweight and light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins next year for big money, a bout that would put any Klitschko fight on hold until next fall at best, because it would be far more attractive to Maskaev to face the smaller Hopkins first knowing the more physically imposing Klitschko would likely still be available later.
What Klitschko insists he wants, however, is what King has long publicly advocated but refused to do anything about: a three-fight tournament to sort out the various titleholders and establish one man for the public to rally around. It is a sound idea which illustrates both the wisdom of the PhD-holding Klitschko and the hard reality of what's ailing the division and what's needed to revive it.
Few, including King, would dispute the need for an undisputed heavyweight champion in these troubled times for boxing, but getting the business done is the real battle. King is unwilling to risk his hold on the subtitles within the division without an option on future fights with Klitschko, and the IBF champion has steadfastly refused to grant him or anyone else such futures. Therein lies a struggle more formidable than any the various champions might pose for Klitschko.
"It's easy for me to say what I want to do,'' Klitschko said after listening to a loud and challenging monologue from Briggs, who was in the audience but without his promoter at his side. "I don't have a promoter telling me who to fight. My next negotiation will be with Don King and (German promoter Wilfried) Sauerland (who each have a promotional share of Valuev).
"I won't give any options (to King), but let's get a real heavyweight champion. I'm a fan of boxing. I want to see one person hold all the titles. I'd love to take Valuev next. He's something because of his size (7-foot, 323 pounds). I wish to fight him next but wishing is not enough. It is up to the media to bring the pressure down. You have to put on pressure. I hope you hear no excuses from my side or from Don King's side why we didn't make the fight. It's all about power in sports.''
Certainly it is and Klitschko showed the kind of punching power and drawing power (over 14,000 at the Garden attended) to dictate the terms to some extent. His firm connection to HBO, the sport's biggest cable operator, further enhances his dominance of the heavyweight marketplace, but none of that can bring him what he wants without the cooperation of King or Maskaev's promoter, Dennis Rappaport.
Klitschko's manager, Shelly Finkel, has already told Rappaport they are agreeable to a 50-50 purse split with Maskaev to try and encourage the 37-year-old WBC champion to put his title and his chin at risk. But Rappaport knows the risk of fighting a bigger, younger, stronger opponent and is looking for easier money elsewhere first and will likely find it.
Which leaves Wladimir Klitschko dealing with Don King, who he has found to be a far more formidable foe than Calvin Brock or any of the champions he represents.
Of course, that's the real unification problem.