Experts Contemplate: Can Klitschko Come Back?
Many fine fighters never recovered after suffering a devastating KO defeat. Donald Curry, Michael Spinks, John "The Beast" Mugabi are a few who come to mind. But on the other hand, great champions like Joe Louis, Lennox Lewis, Jack Dempsey and Alexis Arguello all came back much stronger after crushing early losses.
In tennis, I once read that Pete Sampras lost his first tournament by the score of 6-0, 6-0, as a ten-year old kid. He obviously was able to shake off such a heartbreak and became the ultimate champion that he is today. But on the other hand, there also was a highly-regarded female out of Belarus named Natasha Zvereva who competed in the finals of the French Open in 1988 as a 17-year-old. Unfortunately her opponent happened to be one Steffi Graf who destroyed Zvereva 6-0, 6-0. Poor Zvereva left the court in tears and never reached a Grand Slam singles final again, though she has had much success in doubles.
Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote: "Ask yourselves whether a tree, if it is to grow proudly into the sky, can do without bad weather and storms...The poison which destroys the weaker nature strengthens the stronger. And he does not call it poison either."
Alfred De Musset said, "Nothing makes us great as does a great sorrow."
After watching the way Klitschko was so violently ruined by Corrie Sanders on March 8th, I decided to ask a group of boxing experts if they thought he could return from such a humiliating setback.
Carlos Ortiz, former World Lightweight champion: "I saw the fight. Everyone can make a mistake in the ring. He was too confident. He thought he was fighting a bum. And that's what happens when you think somebody's a bum in there. He got what he deserved for not doing what he's supposed to do. (Klitschko) was in shock, more or less. From getting hit. He wasn't expecting it from a guy who fought four fights in four years. He figured, What the heck. And he got what he deserved. Lennox Lewis had the same thing happen to him. He was careless, he got knocked out, came back and knocked Rahman out. And he's back where he belongs."
Gene Kilroy, former Muhammad Ali advisor: "Yeah, (Klitschko can come back). He's not a bad fighter. He just had a bad day. Like George Foreman said on HBO, he came out dry. And after the first round, they didn't put any ice on him in the corner. Klitschko needs Eddie Mustafa Muhammad (as a new trainer). Eddie can fire him up. He fought like a zombie. Now he has to concentrate on being a boxer instead of a celebrity. He was showing up everywhere as a celebrity. George Foreman got the ---- knocked out of him against Ali. Tyson got hit with a lot of punches (against Douglas and Holyfield). Look at Lennox Lewis...whether its one or two punches...they get caught. Klitschko'll be back. Ask yourself this: why would they have such a small ring with such a big puncher like Corrie Sanders? He's got maybe the worst management in boxing."
George Foreman, former two-time Heavyweight Champion: "Klitschko can come back. He's still a great prospect. I like the way he was on his way up when the referee was waving the fight off. I like that. You keep getting up. That's a man. He's not done. He has a future in this sport. He just got caught by one good one. Joe Louis, George Foreman, Lennox Lewis all got caught. He can come back and be even better. He got up. He got up every time. You've got to give him that credit."
Steve Farhood, Showtime boxing analyst: "What does comeback mean? Does it mean coming back and going all the way to the Heavyweight title? I'd say, at this point, most likely, no. He got hit with one punch. And that turned the whole fight. So there's a huge question now. Maybe we were hyping the wrong Klitschko. Maybe Vitali is the better fighter. This is a lot to come back from. This came out of nowhere. So he's going to have to regain his confidence. He's going to have to regain the public's confidence. You can't say never. But I say it's unlikely he becomes the number one heavyweight in the world. It's easy to remember guys who did not come back from devastating losses like that. Gerry Cooney being one of them. He was never the same after the Holmes fight. I'd have to give that some thought. It's hard. It's hard psychologically. You don't know where the guy is mentally."
Vito Antuofermo, former Middleweight champion: "Oh yeah, sure he can come back. He's young yet. What is he, 24? (Actually 27.) Sure he can. But he showed he's vulnerable to get hit. Lennox Lewis got knocked out by Rahman and McCall. He came back a better fighter. So he definitely can come back. When they say the kid scalds himself, he never touches that pot again. Now he knows better. He's still young. He's in good shape."
Mike Onello, USA Amateur boxing coach and author of the forthcoming Turtle Press book, Boxing: The American Martial Art: "Can he comeback? From what? To me, he's a work-in-progress. He's got all the ingredients. It's just got to be put together. He's big, he's strong, he's definitely smart, he's definitely got power. I believe if he worked with Emanuel Steward he could be great. If he worked with Steward. 'If' is a big word. I think right now he's about 60% of what he could be. He's like a pancake...he's got the flour, the egg, the milk...but he hasn't put it all together. He hasn't put offense and defense together. He's either on offense or he's on defense. He doesn't have that ebb and flow. When a fighter is on offense, he should be on defense the same time. He doesn't have that. When he attacks, he goes on offense. When you attack him, he goes into defense. He doesn't fight back. He goes into, like, survival mode. He needs that rhythm, he needs that American style, he needs that ghetto. The Europeans are all the same. Lennox has that Jamaican sway in his shoulders. Jones has his own rhythm, he moves to his own drumbeat. Klitschko's very mechanical. Right now, he is a great fighter. But to be heavyweight champion, you have to be beyond that. I would call this a setback. A good way to assess himself. What hurt him is he lost his mystique. Now everybody knows Klitschko can be knocked out. He gave away a big edge to the other heavyweights. Like all opponents will now be confident against him. No one is going to be intimidated like maybe they used to be. He's gotta be on his game, gotta be sharp. He's got to go out and establish respect. He's got to win his next two or three fights big. If he doesn't, his career could be over. He's got to show, I'm no joke, I'm for real. He's got to prove it was, like he said, a "lucky punch." Lennox went out and showed that with Rahman. Now Klitschko has to prove that."
"If you put Klitschko with Steward, I think he'd be a real good student. To me, I would want Steward in his corner. No doubt. And I think Klitschko's close relationship with his brother is no good. It's time for independence. They both got as far as they could. Now it's time to grow apart. I think they need to go off separately and grow apart from each other. I think they're at a stagnant point. I think Lennox is no dummy...he saw this. And when he made those comments, "Klitschko isn't ready for me," he was right. Everything he predicted has come true. I agree Klitschko isn't ready for him. Lewis never feared Klitschko. He just may not want to fight anymore."
"The question is, Will Klitschko change? Yeah, he can come back. Will he change, get rid of Team Klitschklo and change? I think - if he did make it - it would be good for the sport. People are getting tired of Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson. I'd like to see Klitschko do well. Educated, the brothers, good sportsmen, it would be very, very good for the sport."
Jake LaMotta, former Middleweight champion: "I didn't see the fight. But everybody can come back. Anybody can come back. It happens lots of times. But it's going to be very hard I think. But you never know what kind of willpower he's got. You don't know what kind of a makeup he has. If he has the certain kind of makeup, he'll disregard what happened, and come back. Other guys have done it. Nothing's impossible. A number of guys have done it. They have that certain extra stuff in them that could make the difference."
LeRoy Neiman, Artist: "He could be finished. I don't know. I think these giants are going to get chopped down all the time. I think Roy Jones can beat him. We're giant-crazy as a culture. Like in basketball, you get that best player - that little guy from Philadelphia (Iverson) - he can handle himself against all those big guys. (Klitschko) can comeback, but I don't think he can be champion. He came out in the second round and showed nothing. He came out and stuck his chin out. We've got Chris Byrd, Tua, some short guys out there who do well. We believe, at this point, every giant in history hasn't become champion. Lennox Lewis may be the only exception."
"(A man) six-foot, 200 pounds...that's enough. There's no man too big for him to beat. He's got speed. Ali...guys taller than him were nothing to him. There was a great big handsome giant guy named James J. Beatty from Minnesota. They had him groomed to be heavyweight champion. At Sunnyside Gardens they had him fight an 185 lb. guy, James J. Woody. Woody just went in there and knocked Beatty down four times in the first round and out in the second. He chopped him down so effortlessly. Every time Beatty went down, he was stretched out. He said he wanted the rematch. They had it as a semi-windup at The Garden. And it was exactly the same choreography as the first fight! Beatty was 12-0 going into those fights. He ended up his career like 13-8. He ended up acting in some movies, he played Jess Willard in that movie, The Great White Hope."
Mark Taffet, HBO Sports VP: "Oh yeah, of course he can be a Heavyweight champion. If he dedicates himself, gets back in the gym, works on his weaknesses and, most importantly, really wants to be a Heavyweight champion, absolutely he can be. Any athlete at that level - that dedicates himself to his craft - has the opportunity to be a champion. What's very interesting is, when a superstar loses, when a recognized Heavyweight champion loses, then it tends to add character. He tends to come back greater. When a man loses on the way to becoming a recognized Heavyweight champion, it's that much more difficult. It's a bigger obstacle and a bigger hurdle than most. So this will be a true test of Wladimir Klitschko's heart as a fighter."
Grant Elvis Phillips, owner and creator of the innovative Grant Boxing equipment: "I don't know what he's coming back to. Yeah he can come back to America and fight again. I think he probably was one of the most over-hyped fighters that I've ever seen. I'm sure his complexion has something to do with that. And I think the guy is extremely amateurish and it was a rather embarrassing defeat. Anyone can get beat but the way this guy went down and the way he handled the situation and the adversity of being hurt just shows how much this man really needs to do. No, I don't believe (I've ever seen anyone come back from such a devastating loss). I believe the cat's out of the bag now. Everybody knows that this guy can't take a shot. And really can't fight. I saw that in other fights with him, with even Mercer. Mercer was hitting him with jabs and he was flinching and rubbing his nose and his eyes looked like they were watering up. You can just tell. And the first guy who really came out that said, Let me go out and hit him on the jaw and see what happens...dropped him. I don't see it. Even if he got an American trainer. We all know now that if he gets hit on the jaw, that he's gonna go. And he doesn't know what to do after he's hurt, so, I don't see it."
Bouie Fisher, trainer: "He may have to take some time away from boxing, take a good look at himself and the mistakes he made. He can come back - if he doesn't let this loss take control of him. He can come back if he really wants this. A guy has to really want this. You've got to be prepared to do this job always. You can't look past no one in this sport. You can be overconfident, but you can't do that in boxing. After a guy wins a lot of fights easily, he begins to think he can just walk right out there. You have to prepare yourself mentally and physically. Technically, I believe he needs a lot of help there too."
"Boxing is a very hard job, especially when you have so many pressures to deal with. So many people expect so much from him. I've seen guys take terrible beatings in the ring and come back. Back in the day I think boxers had a little more courage than they do today. Today, fighters are more sheltered and protected. Ezzard Charles and Archie Moore had rough times in the ring but were able to bounce back and come back. Ezzard Charles had some terrible early fights. Lloyd Marshall knocked him out (8th round in 1943 when Charles was age 21). Charles took off almost three full years and came back a stronger fighter in 1946. He knocked out Marshall twice after that (in 1946 and '47). Charles beat Walcott for the title in 1949. Back then, the fighters prepared properly. Today, they don't want to work. They want to go out and showboat and look good for the cameras. When you run out of gas...that's a terrible feeling. Guys today have a few good fights and they get big-headed. The next fight for Klitschko will be awfully tough."
John "The Ice Man" Scully, trainer of heavyweight Lawrence Clay-Bey: "Yes, I believe Klitschko can make it back. Each and every fight, every circumstance surrounding it, is different. Maybe he comes back in four months and reverses it and crushes Sanders. Other fighters have come back from defeats like that. Terry Norris came back from two knockout losses - to Simon Brown and Julian Jackson - that were worse than what happened to (Klitschko). Marlon Starling was knocked out badly after the bell against Tomas Molinares and in his next fight he put on a career-best performance and won the WBC (Welterweight) title from Lloyd Honeyghan. And, of course, you have Lennox rebounding from the McCall and Rahman losses to the point where he is now the premier Heavyweight in the World. I think people have written Klitschko off way too quickly."
Angelo Dundee, Hall of Fame trainer: "You could throw out the window most first-round knockout losses. If you go out cold, you're not ready, it means you didn't warmup properly...if you get nailed in that first round, your body doesn't react as well as if it's warmed up. You had a guy like Emile Griffith (former Welterweight and Middleweight champion) knocked out in a round (by Ruben "Hurricane" Carter in 1963 at the age of 26). It never happened (to Griffith) again. It's a lesson learned. It's a tough lesson learned if you get hit on the chin like that. You know what the old axiom is: 'Don't take no fight cheap.' I don't know what actually happened there in Germany, I wasn't there. I don't know if he was warmed up properly. I don't know if his mind was really on the fight, with all those anthems. I think he can comeback, yes. He didn't get seriously hurt. He didn't take no physical beating. He didn't take no shellacking. He can comeback and be a wiser, smarter fighter."
Mark Breland, former Welterweight champion and Olympic gold medalist: "Klitschko has a weak chin. Coming back will be tough for him. He has a good style. But guys have seen...once you crowd him, it's a totally different fight. Being from...where's he from? (Ukraine), that European style...he's used to guys staying away from him and that way he can outbox them. But when you got a guy that's gonna crowd him and stay on top of him, he doesn't have the greatest chin. And they know it. Corrie Sanders was supposed to get beat by this guy. And you have bigger punchers than Corrie Sanders. Just get through his arsenal and you're in there. You just got to get through it. But I think Klitschko will have a tough time coming back."
Winky Wright, IBF Super Welterweight Champion: "Oh yeah, he just got caught with a shot. I think he can still come back, you know what I'm saying? He just got caught with a shot. It happens. (Ever happen to you?) No, no. Knock on wood, you know? Never happened to me, thank God!"
Al Gavin, boxing trainer, cutman and gym owner in Hempstead, Long Island: "I think he just got caught cold. And he didn't know how to fight a left-handed fighter. It was a dangerous fight for him to take. One knockout does not make a career. I think he'll be back. Joe Louis...he took a beating for quite a few rounds before he went. But he was able to come back. It depends on the human being. I think Klitschko has the right stuff. I think George Foreman was right - he's a good fighter. That loss might've helped him. In fact, sometimes a loss helps you...you don't have that idea that you can't be beat. So you become a little more careful. That's what I believe."
Randy Neumann, boxing referee and former top ten heavyweight contender: "Oh god, yeah, he can come back. See, this is a new media thing I believe, If you ever lose a fight, you're finished. You go back to the old days, if you look at Jimmy Braddock's record, and all of those guys. Everybody fought tough fighters, and sometimes you won and sometimes you lost. But no, coming back from a knockout isn't easy. (There was a guy who got knocked out) almost as bad (as Klitschko). The guy's name was Randy Neumann. And he fought a guy named Jimmy Harris in the Embassy Theatre in North Bergen. In the first fight I got TKOed. I was out on my feet. I didn't know what planet I was on. I threw a right hand lead. He threw one under mine. I never threw any more right hand leads [smiles]. Then I became the 9th-ranked heavyweight (in the world)...when we had a few heavyweights in the 70's. In the second fight, I knocked him down three times and won every round on a decision. 'Flash' Gordon said, Oh boy, nobody comes back from those. 'Flash' was very impressed. He was our guru in those days. Jimmy Harris couldn't fight much. But he could punch. That's when I learned the difference between a puncher and a boxer."
Harold "The Shadow" Knight, assistant trainer of Lennox Lewis: "I think the Klitschko brother can come back, if he fights the European type fighters and lower level or second-string type of American fighters. He will not, in my opinion, beat any top class fighters from the USA. Yes, other fighters have came back after a devastating KO like that, but only the special, talented and gifted ones, the ones who had no choice but to fight, the ones who are hungry, that do not have a doctorate degree to fall back on. With all due respect to Wladimir."
Larry Merchant, HBO boxing commentator: "Do you think Lennox Lewis can come back from being knocked out in the 2nd round by Oliver McCall? That's your answer. Can it happen? Yes. Will it happen? That remains to be seen. I think Klitschko will come back more like Lewis than like Michael Grant, after a similar conclusion. You know, he's still young. He still has his deep amateur background. Maybe he dealt with being hit with a major league shot for the first time. Maybe it had never happened to him before. I still see in him the character of a fighter as well as the talent but that has to be proved. There was a lot of clucking when Lewis was beaten. Under similar circumstances...another upright and ultimately horizontal European heavyweight. But it's hard to look into the heart and the head of a guy who is ambitious to be a champion."
Chris Byrd, IBF Heavyweight Champion: "Yeah, stuff happens. You get caught. That's part of boxing. He's been boxing long enough to know what you've got to do after a fight...after losing. It happens. That should motivate him even more to be a champ. I always put myself in that same situation. The same thing happend to me after I fought Klitschko...that was my second loss. My first loss was (to) Ike (Ibeabuchi)...was devastating. And then I lost to Klitschko. I'm like, Man! And my wife tells me, What are you gonna do, quit or fight? You got two options...either quit and give this stuff up. Or fight. Fight your butt off. That's what true boxers do. And I think he's a true boxer. He'll be back. I mean, he just got caught. That's just part of the sport. But I think he won't take himself for granted next time. 'Cause he took Corrie Sanders for granted like he was nothing. When you start reading your articles and everybody's telling you you're the greatest thing out there...he's gonna stop doing that. That's for sure. So he'll be back. I think he'll be fine. Because he had a huge amateur background. He has lost fights before and come back. The amateur background that Klitschko has will be very beneficial. On the other hand, if you have a fighter without that huge amateur background, they don't know how to lose. Look at Michael Grant. He's not the same since getting blown out by Lennox Lewis. I mean, that's a totally different situation from Klitschko. And the amateur experience is that difference. Michael didn't have that to fall back on. And all he knew was winning. So when he lost, it was devastating. And he's not been the same fighter since. I think Klitschko will be fine."
Larry Holmes, former World Heavyweight Champion: "No (Klitschko won't be champion). Because he didn't have it from the beginning. Once you don't have something, you can't come back and get it. You know, he's a frontrunner. Both of (the brothers) are. As long as things are going well, they're all right. When things start going bad, they fold. That's what happened. If you don't have no heart from the beginning, you're not gonna get any."
Emanuel Steward, Trainer of Heavyweight Champion Lennox Lewis and HBO boxing analyst: "I think Klitschko has tremendous talent. He does things that have always impressed me. But what I saw (against Sanders) in his eyes...before, during and after the event, makes me question his passion for boxing. Upon entering the ring, Wladimir seemed a little complacent. He didn't seem like he was fully focused. I didn't like the look in his eyes. Nor did I like the energy he fought with in the opening seconds. Not every human has the mental make-up to be a successful prizefighter, even if they are blessed with talents and physical abilities. Wladimir is now at a crossroads that many fighters come to. Only Wladimir knows what kind of heart beats within him. The heart of a champion will pick up from this loss and strive forward. And if he doesn't have the heart of a champion, he has been exposed and will never regain what we all thought he had. Great fighters rebound from such losses with a vengeance. As Lennox Lewis did after he was KO'ed by McCall and Rahman. Klitschko could still emerge as a heavyweight star. He is still a youngster by heavyweight standards. And he still has all the physical tools to become a champion. Let's see what kind of a heart he possesses."