Bad era, good genetics, whatever. We all know by now that the modern heavyweight division is ruled by two brothers, Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko. The only real question is which of them is better.
The elder brother, Vitali, returns to action on Saturday, less than three months after battering then-unbeaten American contender Cristobal Arreola in Los Angeles. Some actually expected Arreola could be competitive. Personally, I thought Arreola had a chance if Vitali (38-2, 37 KO) was stiff. Injuries forced him into an early retirement in 2005, and when he fought Juan Carlos Gomez in March 2009, he came out very immobile. Gomez failed to take advantage of it, and fought much of the bout with what seemed an obvious fear of mixing it up with the powerful Klitschko. Once Vitali loosened up, Gomez's fears were proven to be well-founded, as Klitschko stopped him in nine.
It took ten rounds with Arreola, but while it may not have been the most graceful-looking footwork you'll ever see, stiffness was no problem for Vitali on that September evening. While lumbering, he moved around easily, peppering the strong young American from the outside, busting up his face and forcing his corner to call an end to it after ten one-sided rounds.
Klitschko, 38, seems to want to clean out the division as much as he possibly can before his inevitable, long-term retirement, which likely isn't too far down the road. Both Klitschko brothers are educated men with out-of-the-ring ambitions aplenty, and both have made it clear that overstaying their welcome in boxing isn't part of their plans.
So now he meets Kevin "Kingpin" Johnson (22-0-1, 9 KO), another unbeaten, younger American. But don't go thinking Johnson is some young stud on the rise, either. At 30, it's kind of a now-or-never deal for him, and I think he and his team know that. With his 82-inch reach and good technical skills, he's as much a danger to the brothers as just about anybody. At 6'3", Klitschko (at about 6'8") towers over him. And Johnson will likely get no favors in Switzerland, so he'll have to put on quite an exhibition, proving he is clearly the better man.
Can he do it?
In a word, no. Johnson is an intriguing fighter. Sure, his window to be a top heavyweight may be small given his already-advanced age, but he is in no way ready for a boxer of Klitschko's strength, skill and wisdom. Vitali is an immeasurable leap in class from the guys Johnson has beaten thus far. Earlier this year, when Johnson faced Devin Vargas, we had an interesting matchup of unbeaten American prospects. Johnson came out the clear victor.
He needed a few more steps up in class, though. He didn't take them. Perhaps because the chance (or money) was too good to pass up, or perhaps because he genuinely feels he can dethrone Vitali, he's in there with the wolves now.
If Kevin Johnson upsets Vitali Klitschko, put it on the list of great heavyweight upsets. The Klitschkos right now look near as untouchable given their surroundings as anyone ever has, and Johnson was not on the radar before this fight was quickly announced.
I don't say this to try and question Johnson's abilities, or to be a doubter. But if Johnson does win, I want it to be framed properly. He's not just an underdog in this fight, he essentially cannot beat this man. Klitschko TKO-8