By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Maybe it’s just a mood thing.
In the days of my youth, the week following Labor Day was never a favorite because it meant a return to school after an all-too-short summertime in Western New York.
And if readjusting to school bus and homework schedules weren’t enough, there was always the stark realization that bone-chilling temperatures and early-season snowfalls weren’t far away.
So even though I’ve moved more than 1,100 miles south and haven’t so much as grazed a snow shovel in a decade, I’m chalking up holiday grouchiness to subconscious hometown nostalgia.
And though he’s does nothing specific to warrant ire, when it comes to weekly boxing columns, Vitali Klitschko is the target of my admittedly illogical Tuesday venom.
Bottom line… I’m just sort of tired of the guy.
I concede that he’s been among the best – if not the very best – that the heavyweight division’s had to offer since he slung the WBO title belt over his shoulder by vanquishing Herbie Hide in 1999.
And given a sudden shoulder flameout against Chris Byrd a year later that could have been fatal given today’s “one-loss-and-he’s-finished” mentality, it’s surely respectable the mammoth Ukrainian has rebuilt both career and street cred with 15 wins in 16 fights since – all but three by KO.
But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
In fact, while I’ve seen the bigger older brother of multi-belt champion Wladimir beat an assembly line of overblown wannabes like Samuel Peter and Chris Arreola, he’s never once sent me away from a bout thinking, “Holy cow, I just saw an unbeatable fighter.”
Instead, I’m more often left combing the rankings for precisely the man who’ll handle him.
I initially thought Cuban amateur star Odlanier Solis had the stuff last March, but one glancing blow and one buckled knee later, it was back to the giant-slaying drawing board.
This time, though, I feel a little more confident.
In Polish veteran Tomasz Adamek, the now 40-year-old Klitschko faces an admittedly smaller foe – the two went chin to forehead in awkward stare-down pics at Monday’s final presser – but one who’s more than decisively handled 1,520 pounds of Goliath in six bouts since jumping from cruiserweight.
And unlike Solis and the other Davids who’ve slung stones toward Vitali since he returned from sabbatical, this one actually seems to mean it when he says he plans to win.
“I know how to beat Vitali Klitschko,” Adamek said. “I know that he’s a champion, but I’m convinced that Saturday night I will be three-division champion. Trust me, it will happen. Every great story has to end. His great story as a champion will end on Saturday.”
Nice speech, kid, but early returns say the odds-makers aren’t buying.
Adamek was a giant underdog upon a Monday night look-in with the folks at World Sports Exchange (wsex.com), who require a $600 bet on the champion to return $100, while a $100 speculation on the challenger would bring back four times the initial investment.
A late-round stoppage or scorecard decision seem the scenarios of choice, with the over/under in rounds set at 9½. It’s an even $100 for $100 for forecasting an end before 1:30 of round 10, with the required outlay swelling to $130 to reel back the same $100 in the final 450 seconds or beyond.
Make no mistake, those betting lines make perfect sense when clinically matching a 6-foot-7 behemoth against a challenger six inches shorter, who on his largest day was also 30 pounds lighter.
But what might look good on paper loses something in intangibles.
Unlike Peter, Arreola and the other contending flotsam in the heavyweight swamp, Adamek hits the ring with a mantel full of accomplishment from a dozen years as a professional.
He took his first title in 2006 and has fought for crowns five times since – winning all but once – while routinely entering as the smaller, quieter and less-menacing option.
By contrast, while Klitschko has always been in condition and surely performed well in vanquishing the likes of Peter, Arreola and Solis – not to mention J.C. Gomez, Kevin Johnson, Albert Sosnowski and Shannon Briggs – since Labor Day 2008, it seems decades ago that he met a foil considered anywhere near Adamek’s equal among the world’s pound-for-pound elite.
If at all.
After facing down myriad sluggers, speedsters and stylists on the way up the scale, it looks from here as if the hometown hero is ready for anything still offered by an older, slower and increasingly more robotic Klitschko, who’s lost to arguably the two best all-around fighters – Byrd and Lennox Lewis – he’s ever encountered on the big stage.
So, come Saturday, let’s call it a threesome.
In what’s far more likely to resemble death by a thousand cuts than a 36-minute bloodletting, Adamek walks away as WBC champion, sets up a true IBF/IBO/WBA/WBO unification with brother Wladimir and gives me an ear-to-ear smile with a unanimous decision win.
And, if he loses big in 3, so what?
It’s September, I was going to be angry anyway.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
Vacant IBF junior lightweight title – Guadalajara, Mexico
Argenis Mendez (No. 1 contender) vs. Juan Carlos Salgado (No. 3 contender)
Mendez (18-1, 9 KO): First title fight; Unbeaten since 2008 (6-0, 1 KO)
Salgado (23-1-1, 16 KO): Third title fight (1-1, 1 KO); Held WBA title in 2009-10 (0 defenses)
Fitzbitz says: “Cagey Dominican out-skills former champ on home turf.” Mendez by decision
WBC heavyweight title – Wroclaw, Poland
Vitali Klitschko (champion) vs. Tomasz Adamek (No. 1 contender)
Klitschko (42-2, 39 KO): Seventh title defense; Held WBO and WBC titles (3 defenses)
Adamek (44-1, 28 KO): Ninth title fight (7-1, 4 KO); Held titles at 175 and 190 (4 defenses)
Fitzbitz says: “Newbie heavyweight pulls upset for third division crown.” Adamek by decision
Last week’s picks: 4-1
Overall picks record: 242-78 (75.6 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him at www.twitter.com/fitzbitz .