Vitali Klitschko destroys Kevin “kingpin” Johnson

kjohnsonBy Jim Patrick – Since Vitali Klitschko’s scheduled December 12th title defense against Kevin “Kingpin” Johnson was announced the overwhelming reaction of many observers has been that of disinterest. What? Who? and Why? basically sum up the general responses of the sporting public. Destroy, dominate, swift and easy were terms used by many when offering their views of this perceived one sided mismatch. What has Kevin Johnson done to deserve a shot at the title? Who has Kevin Johnson fought? Who is Kevin Johnson? These are the questions repeatedly pondered by arm chair analysts and fight fans alike. On December 12th the skeptics will get the answers to these questions and possibly many others they may have. One thing they will realize is that Kevin Johnson signed on to fight the Klitschko that was right for him.

Clearly and deservedly Kevin Johnson will enter the squared circle on December 12th as a prohibitive underdog, but that does not mean he will not be competitive. Heavyweight is, and always will be, the sport’s marquee division. Unfortunately the division is void of many capable or recognizable names presently. With Lewis, Bowe, Tyson and Holyfield apparently off the title radars for good (finally, hopefully and thankfully) the name Klitschko is the one which is synonymous with the heavyweight division. If there was only one Klitschko the perception of dominance wouldn’t be so great but two of them means that almost every significant title fight must go through a Klitschko.. This keeps the name fresh in everyone’s mind. There certainly are other title fights out there like Valuev-Haye and now Haye versus whomever but to be considered the true heavyweight champion one must beat a Klitschko. The problem is there is not a consensus as to which Klitschko that would be. There is a line of thought that Wladimir is the best while many praise Vitaly as the true king of the division.

If it was possible to morph the strengths of each Klitschko into one fighting machine we would have the answer. The only common denominators they have are size and strength. Individually, Wladimir’s strengths: athleticism, footwork, hand speed are what would be considered Vitaly’s weaknesses. Conversely, Vitaly’s strengths: toughness, chin, and heart are what Wladimir arguably lacks. Taking these factors into account the brothers have done a very good job of facing challengers that play into their individual strengths while limiting the possibility of someone exploiting their weaknesses. Vitaly has saved Wladimir from a rematch with Sam Peter or a potential brawl with Chris Arreola, two sluggers who could have tested Wlad’s fortitude and chin.

After seeing Wlad stopped by Lamon Brewster and Corrie Sanders and being deposited on his posterior by Peter it is safe to say Wlad would prefer to stay away from punchers. Instead of a rematch with Sanders or Peter, Wlad had his big brother blow them out, thus, alleviating any rematch talk. Hell, even after he lost to Ross Puritty, due to stamina issues, he had big brother Vitaly beat up the bully for him. The only loss he avenged on his own was Brewster, three long years after the original encounter, and only after Brewster had lost to Sergei Liakovich. If the Brewster fight wasn’t during Vitaly’s four year hiatus from the sport big brother probably would have been called upon to beat up the bully once again.

Present day, Arreola’s recklessness would have caused Wlad to be uncomfortable and we all saw Sam Peter dribble Wlad off the canvas three times while Wlad cautiously scored a defensive and tactical victory. Would Wlad have been comfortable with the prospect of facing the Nigerian again? Naysayers will argue that Wlad beat Hasim Rahman and Ruslan Chagaev to disprove this theory. Rahman was shot and hadn’t scored a meaningful knockout since 2004 and Chagaev had gone to the scorecards in five of his previous six victories. Wlad, when healthy, is scheduled to defend against the light punching Fast Eddie Chambers. Stylistically Chambers is a perfect match for him but not one that would be ideal for Vitaly. Vitaly’s style is more suited for crude brawlers who bore in face first, like Peter and Arreola. By selectively choosing their opponents the brothers have collectively toppled many of today’s top contenders but would the Klitschko dominance seem so impregnable if they had faced their brother’s challengers instead, possibly allowing their weaknesses to be exposed? On December 12th this theory will be put to the test.

Kevin Johnson is quick, agile, athletic and well schooled. Kingpin’s critics argue that he is boring, hasn’t faced top competition and he cannot punch. What is overlooked is the fact that Kingpin moves well for a heavyweight and has very fast hands. Johnson took up boxing late in life and had very limited amateur experience. He learned how to fight while on the job. With a record of 3-0 he traveled to Laughlin, Nevada to face highly decorated amateur and touted prospect (at that time) Timur Ibragimov who was 13-0. The bout ended in a four round draw which many felt was a blatant gift to the better known Ibragimov.

Three months later, with a record of 4-0-1, Johnson traveled to Uncasville, Connecticut to face local prospect Robert Wiggins who was 19-3-1. The favored Wiggins had already defeated Cisse Salif, undefeated prospect Erik Kirkland and fellow prospect Derek Bryant in a rematch of his first pro defeat. Wiggins’ other two losses were a narrow points loss to 17-1 future title challenger DaVarryl Williamson and a controversial split decision loss to future title challenger Monte Barrett who was 27-2 at the time. In only his 6th pro fight Johnson won a clear points verdict over his vastly more experienced foe.

Sporting a career mark of 8-0-1 Johnson faced the durable Robert Hawkins who was 21-5 at the time. In the six months leading up to his fight with Johnson, Hawkins fought three times. He lost a competitive 12 round decision to Eddie Chambers (115-112 across the board), he defeated Robert Wiggins and in his last fight prior to facing Kingpin he lost a decision to Sam Peter. Johnson proceeded to shut out the much more experienced Hawkins over eight rounds. In Hawkins’ next fight he lost a razor thin 10 round decision to David Tua (96-94 on two of the cards).

Johnson made his ShoBox debut in August 2007 when he shut out fellow prospect Damien Wills and after two more wins he defeated the competent Terry Smith by unanimous decision.

Following his scrap with Smith, Johnson scored three straight stoppage victories. First up was former WBA Heavyweight titlist Bruce Seldon. At age 41, and realizing this was his last chance, Seldon was game and in remarkable shape (221 pounds). He fought with a desire, courage and hunger many have said he lacked after his fight with Mike Tyson. After some good two-way action early Johnson began to pull away and stopped Seldon in round five.

A 3rd round stoppage of Matthew Greer followed which led to Johnson facing another undefeated hopeful, former US Olympian Devin Vargas. Despite his 17-0 record Vargas was no match for Johnson. The Kingpin had his way from the opening bell and battered the game Vargas until the bout was mercifully stopped in round 6. The stoppage win over Vargas paved the way for Kevin to earn his opportunity to fight for the WBC Heavyweight Championship of the World.

Despite the perception that Johnson is undeserving, stylistically this fight is a golden opportunity for him. Vitaly has not given any indication that he will be stopped any time soon by the current crop of heavyweight hopefuls and Johnson will not be looking to score a knockout on December 12th. What Johnson will do is attempt to outhustle the mechanical and calculated champion. Vitaly has a very good jab but Johnson’s is faster and despite a height disadvantage Kingpin possesses the longer reach. Johnson will not walk in face first looking to land crude powerful punches. He will use his athleticism and speed in an effort to punch and avoid Viatly’s retaliatory blows. Johnson’s record suggests he lacks knockout power but his resume isn’t littered with no hope opponents who were brought in to build his record. He was matched aggressively early on and that will serve him well against Vitaly. Had he started his career versus the same 21 foes Vitaly did Kevin probably would have KO’d 15 or 16 of them and people wouldn’t be making such an issue about his knockout percentage. Despite having virtually no amateur experience the cumulative record of Johnson’s opponents from his 4th bout through his 11th bout was 91-25-2 and only 10 of their losses cam via stoppage. Despite his extensive amateur pedigree, including the Olympics, the cumulative record of Klitschko’s first 11 opponents was 117-101-6 and they had been stopped an astounding 74 times! It is easy to see how Johnson would have more KO’s to his credit had he been matched as carefully as Vitaly. With his on the job experience Johnson has developed into a more complete fighter and judging by his most recent victories he appears to be sitting down on his punches much better now when need be.

Johnson has the legs and speed to make Vitaly look awkward and keep him off balance. Vitaly is very consistent and methodical in how performs. Every one of his fights looks like a mirror image of his last. There are no surprises when facing a Vitaly, his style is well known, often seen and it varies very very little. There is not a whole lot known about Johnson. Early on he was 95% jab, all left hand and little else. In his recent efforts we have seen other weapons added to his repertoire, including more frequent use of his right hand. It will be difficult to prepare for Johnson based on past fights because he is constantly improving.

Look for Johnson to box cautiously early and as the bout progresses to mix in more of his arsenal. Johnson will give Vitaly angles, move in and out and will not stay in the pocket for any extended period of time. When Chris Byrd began to frustrate Vitaly his shoulder injury became incrementally more severe, eventually causing him to quit. Johnson has the ability to outbox Vitaly and he will not allow Vitaly to turn this into a war. The only time Johnson has looked uncomfortable as a pro was for a short period of his fight with Seldon. Bruce recklessly attempted to crowd and swarm him in the first round which caused Kevin to back up. It was short lived though as Kevin regrouped and took command from that point forward. Vitaly is not a swarming, relentless brawler he is measured and consistent which will work in Kingpins favor. This fight will go deep as both combatants have good chins. As the bout progresses look for Johnson to increase his work rate and find success. People question Johnson’s stamina (not sure why since he has easily gone 10 rounds on four occasions) but that will not be an issue since Johnson has had plenty of time to prepare and will show up on fight night in the best shape of his life. The bigger issue will be Vitaly’s stamina. He is getting up in years, appears to get a little gassed in the middle rounds and quite possibly he is taking Johnson lightly. The perception is that Vitaly is a borderline all-time great. How?

His resume is as follows: Two-Time Heavyweight Champion with a grand total of 6 title defenses over those two reigns. He picked up his titles by beating former Cruiserweight Herbie Hide and Nate (not Tony) Tubbs knockout victim Corrie Sanders. He has defended against the immortal: Ed Mahone, Obed Sullivan, Danny Williams, Sam Peter, former Cruiserweight Titlist and Yanqui Diaz 1st round knockout victim Juan Carlos Gomez and Chris Arreola. Over his two-reigns he has actively held the title for a little over 2 years. It seems like he has been champ forever because he retired, as champ, for four years. Oh and by the way, despite the circumstances, he DID lose the fight he is most remembered for against Lennox Lewis!

On December 12th there are two things to remember:

Kevin Johnson is fighting the right Klitschko for him and that only one fighter will enter the ring undefeated on December 12th and one fighter will exit the ring, still, undefeated!

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