Lennox Lewis on Chisora v Klitschko
With Britain’s Dereck Chisora facing Vitali Klitschko this weekend, we ask Lennox Lewis – the last man to beat Vitali – what it’s like being in the ring with the 6ft 8ins Ukrainian.
It's over eight years ago that you fought Vitali Klitschko. What are your main memories of that night?
“That he throws a lot of punches, that he’s very awkward and that I wished I’d taken more time to train. I only really had 10 days [Klitschko stepped in as a late replacement when Lewis’ original opponent pulled out] – and he’s lucky that I had 10 days, because he had years to prepare for me.
"You see, when you’re the top man, everyone is out there hungry and watching you, really trying to figure out how to beat you. Looking back, I shouldn’t have taken the fight.
"But – at my worst – I beat Klitschko. His skin wasn’t able to hold up to the punches I threw.” [The bout was stopped and Lewis awarded a technical knockout after opening up a series of cuts on Klitschko’s face.]
What’s Klitschko’s main strength as a fighter?
“His main strength is the fact that he's awkward and he leans back. A lot of boxers think that he’s in punching range, but when they throw their punch he’s leaned back a whole foot further away.
"Then he leans back in and punches you. So that’s a problem I found; one that I started to solve halfway through the fight.”
You hit him with some huge, flush punches – were you impressed with how he took them?
“Yeah, there were two or three big uppercuts in there. But I’d hit him with an uppercut and he’d slump on me. This man weighs 250lb, he’s 6ft 8ins. You hit him with an uppercut and he slumps his weight on you – halfway through a fight and you’re tired already, but now you have to boost up enough energy to push him off before you punch him again.
"But Vitali can take a hell of a shot – I take nothing away from him there.”
You’ve fought some hard punchers: Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Razor Ruddock. How did Vitali’s shots compare?
“I wouldn’t say he's a harder hitter – he’s more of a thumper. He’s an arm puncher.
"I was more of a puncher, and here’s how you can tell the difference: I knocked people out, he more batters them into retirement [in a fight]. In a lot of his fights, the referee has to step in and say: ‘That’s it, we don’t want this guy to take any more punishment.’ But that’s what he does – he punishes people. A big puncher can take someone out.”
Dereck Chisora is far smaller than Vitali. What kind of tactics do you need to employ against a taller fighter?
“Step on his toes – then he can’t move away [laughs].
"If you’re shorter, you have to use the attributes of speed and movement. Vitali is getting slow on his legs. I see him moving around less now and being more dependent on his reach and his upper-body movement, which is still good. But his feet are not really moving around as much as they used to.”
You have experience in what Chisora faces in Munich this weekend – fighting in front of another guy’s crowd. How did you prepare yourself for a biased audience, maybe even a biased referee and judges…?
“Judges? That part is easy, man. Bring your own judges – [holds up his hands] lightning and thunder! As for the crowd, my mentality was to take the energy from people cheering against me and use that for me. ‘So you're cheering for him? Well, I’m going to hurt this guy’ – and then the’'re not making any noise because they’re worried for their fighter. After that, you can even start to win some of the crowd over.”
We saw David Haye in the ring with Vitali’s younger brother, Wladimir Klitschko, last year – and we might see him in the ring with Vitali in 2012. Does Haye have any better chance of winning against Vitali?
“No, I think Vitali is the best heavyweight out there right now. He’s way better than his brother. I think it’s beyond David Haye to beat either of them right now.
"He needs to box a couple of other people to build up his standing, because you can never come out of retirement and then go straight into a Klitschko fight. You need to build up a following again so people will say: ‘Oh, I think he’s got better – I think he might beat a Klitschko this time.’”
Heavyweight boxing had a golden period with you, Tyson, Holyfield and Riddick Bowe all around the same age. Will we ever see the likes of that again?
“Each era brings a different quality of fighters and right now we’re in a rebuilding era, you could say. This is the era of the Klitschkos.
"But there’s always going to be challengers out there. When I was champion, I’d get guys calling out my name saying: ‘I’m gonna knock you out, but you don’t want to fight me.’ So I’d fight that guy, come back, sit down on my throne and straight away I’d get three more guys calling me out. There’s always people talking about you. They may not have the talent to do it, but they’re talking up a storm.”
But you don’t see anyone out there – British or otherwise – who can beat the brothers?
“I don’t think there’s anyone around able to beat the Klitschkos. But the interesting thing here is old father time. They’re getting old and there’s always hungry boxers out there, so you never know.
"People ask why I retired – it was time for me to retire. I beat everyone of my era, and I was slacking off a bit. That’s what I love about boxing. It keeps you honest. If you’re in shape, it will tell. If you’re getting old, it’ll show. There’s no fooling boxing.”
Alex Reid @otheralexreid
Dereck ‘Del Boy’ Chisora has been involved in his fair share of shocks. He’s planted a kiss on the lips of a rival heavyweight, bitten an opponent’s ear and done his best to ruffle Vitali Klitschko’s feathers – calling himself “the black plague” and telling a startled Vitali that he “swings both ways, player”.
However, the biggest shock of all will be if Chisora can find a way to beat the granite-chinned Ukrainian this weekend. The good news for Chisora is that Vitali is 40 years old and, despite being in phenomenal shape for his age, is injury-prone and slowing down.
The bad news is, well, everything else. At 6ft 1in, Chisora is the smaller man by seven inches. Vitali also towers above him in talent and experience, plus Chisora has two defeats in his past three fights (a 15-2 win/loss record).
Admittedly one of those defeats – his split-points loss to European champion Robert Helenius – was an outright robbery, and it’s on the strength of that performance that the 28-year-old has garnered a shot at Klitschko’s WBC heavyweight belt.
The fact remains, however, that less than a year ago Chisora lost his British title to Tyson Fury, who is a long way short of being a Klitschko brother. Come Saturday, Del Boy will likely learn the hard way that the same can be said of him.