By Ivan G. Goldman
Wladimir Klitschko could do nothing wrong against hapless Alex Leapai Saturday in Germany, but to me the real hero of the evening was ESPN. By jumping into the U.S. TV breach, the network REMINDED HBO and Showtime that they’re not the only network dogs in the fight biz.
And it was an excellent telecast of four a-half rounds of annihilation. Viewers got to hear Michael Buffer’s famous copyrighted call (hint: it ends with a word that sounds like “tumble”), they listened to Teddy Atlas and Joe Tessitore talk them through the slaughter, they heard a translator explain what Klitschko said in German, and they didn’t have to sit through three national anthems.
Those money-making commercials between rounds aren’t tough to take at all. As a Mafia don told Marlon Brando in The Godfather, after all, we’re not communists.
And if we see a total walkover by Wladimir, it’s more entertaining if he’s throwing lots of punches, as he did against Leapai, 30-5-3 (28KOs), rather than tossing off occasional shots punctuated by loads of clinches, which was his method of operation against his previous opponent, Alexander Povetkin.
Povetkin, who trained for a time with Atlas, knew enough to try to come in using angles, so Klitschko, 62-3 (52 KOs), couldn’t always keep him off with a jab. Instead he jabbed and grabbed and sometimes tossed off a big right. Boring and ugly for twelve long rounds. Leapai, though he could barely do anything right, was, like Povetkin, always trying to win. But Klitschko just couldn’t miss him with that jab. It was like watching someone play pin the tail on the donkey, but without a blindfold.
And as 14-1 underdog Leapai grew weaker, his footwork disappeared. Wladimir always knew where his Australian opponent was going to be. He only had to dodge increasingly desperate barroom punches. We never learned how much power Leapai packed because he just couldn’t hit Wladimir. Final punch count, 147-10. After the third knockdown Eddie Cotton looked down at a confused, beaten fighter and called it over.
So no, it wasn’t any nail-biter, but when the heavyweight champion of the world takes on a challenger, we should have the opportunity to see it. Klitschko’s opponents invariably discover in the first round that they’ve never encountered anything like him. They get discouraged, physically damaged, and downright depressed. Instead of a standard corner guy egging them on they might be more in need of a psychiatrist — or maybe just a sweet old lady to tell them everything’s going to be okay and don’t worry, the check won’t bounce.
Meanwhile, ESPN has a more promising heavyweight match for us May 10, when Chris Arreola and Bermane Stiverne battle in Los Angeles for the WBC title vacated by Wladimir’s brother Vitali. Both have showed much more ability than Leapai. ESPN is putting up far more money for that show than it does on its Friday Night Fight series.
Stiverne decisioned Arreola in their first fight last year after rendering Arreola almost harmless when he smashed him with a third-round shot that flattened his nose into a skin-colored mouse pad. Can he do that again? Your guess is as good as mine. Either way, the WBC belt will be held by either the first boxer of Haitian extraction to hold a legitimate heavyweight title or the first boxer of Mexican heritage to do so.
And then it gets more interesting as Klitschko, who holds the other three major belts, will no doubt angle for a unification. However, Arreola is “advised” by boxing godfather Al Haymon. If Arreola wins the title, I’m not sure Haymon would be any willing to let his fighter risk the belt against Klitschko. And I can’t ask Haymon about it because he won’t talk to reporters, a disservice to fans. Fight writers, if they’re any good, try to ask the questions fans want answered.
I’m betting Stiverne-Arreola II will draw U.S. viewers and that if the winner faces Wladmir for all the marbles it will pull in even more. It’s good to know that if the stupid politics involving Haymon, HBO and Showtime gets in the way, ESPN stands ready to get in there and eat their lunch.
Sick Justice: Inside the American Gulag, by New York Times best-selling author Ivan G. Goldman, was released in 2013 by Potomac Books, a University of Nebraska Press imprint. It can be purchased here.