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Magazine's award to Klitschko rings hollow

LAS VEGAS -- Vitali Klitschko stood at a podium in Las Vegas Friday holding a clone of the belt that Jack Dempsey once wore. It was one of the Ring magazine belts that the publication awards to its recognized champions.

That's what it has come to in boxing. A magazine crowns champions, and someone as ill-suited for comparison with a fighter like Dempsey as Klitschko gets the prize.

This past weekend, boxing had a glorious celebration, the crowning of Bernard Hopkins as the best middleweight of his time. Hopkins achieved this the old-fashioned way, by belting Oscar De La Hoya so hard in the liver that it turned into pate. As did his legs.

That is how great champions should be crowned. In a ring, not by Ring. In a ring, facing challengers as compelling as they are.

Through no fault of his own, the lumbering Klitschko has not been in that situation, except on the night Lennox Lewis took a divot out of his face. Still, if you review the list of today's heavyweight champions or top 10 contenders, you can see how Klitschko ended up with Ring's belt. But why didn't Ring just save it until there clearly was an heir to the great champions like Dempsey?

The latest World Boxing Council ratings list the following men, in order, as the top 10 heavyweight contenders: James Toney, Hasim Rahman, Monte Barrett, Owen Beck, Joe Mesi, Henry Akinwande, Rydell Booker, Jameel McCline, Danny Williams, and DaVarryl Williamson. I am not making this list up, difficult as that may be to believe.

Of those 10, only Toney, from this vantage point, is a legitimate heavyweight contender. If Toney defeats Booker tomorrow night in California, he will become Klitschko's mandatory challenger after the champion faces Williams, the latest conqueror of Mike Tyson, in December. On the surface, you might look at the former middleweight champion and conclude he is no match for the towering Klitschko, who would have a huge height and reach advantage and could have one in weight as well if Toney trains seriously for the fight.

Yet who among boxing's knowledgeable observers would dismiss the highly skilled Toney as a man without a chance to beat the mechanical Klitschko? They might not feel the same if he were facing Dempsey.

As Klitschko accepted the Ring belt, he was happy, but the magazine's editor, Nigel Collins, looked more than a bit sheepish. When asked later about the selection of Klitschko from a field of four nondescript champions holding recognized world titles, he said, "He met the criteria we've established. When you start to make exceptions to your criteria, that's when you have problems."

Well, that's true enough, but when you hand Vitali Klitschko, or any of the present champions, a belt Jack Dempsey once wore, you have problems, too. Legitimacy problems.

Around and around
Speaking of Klitschko, Vitali's little brother, the not-so-little Wladimir Klitschko, returns to the ring for the first time since being knocked out by Lamon Brewster Oct. 2 at the new Caesars Palace Pavilion in Las Vegas against Williamson, a journeyman. Klitschko recently said it remains a mystery why he was so tired after just two rounds against Brewster before imploding and being knocked cold. Right after the fight, he implied there was some grand conspiracy against him. "It will be a struggle to survive but I'm ready," Klitschko said. "There are a lot of questions about what happened in the last fight. I cannot understand why I was so tired after two rounds. I was fighting myself, not Lamon Brewster. It was a disaster." What seems to most conspire against him, beyond a lack of basic defensive boxing skills, is that when he gets hit, his anxiety level skyrockets and he's quickly exhausted. If he learned how to clinch, that might help . . . Old friend Wayne McCullough is back in the ring tomorrow night as well, under Toney-Booker as the first fight in a two-year promotional deal signed with his former promoter, Dan Goossen. McCullough, at 34, is hoping he can get one last title shot before the end of the year. Goossen originally had offered McCullough a three-fight package but all the opponents were undefeated fighters also promoted by Goossen, and McCullough has been around long enough to know what that meant. McCullough believed Goossen would be working for the younger, undefeated opponents. Later, they reopened negotiations, and the Pocket Rocket is back and hoping to get a shot at the super bantamweight title, although he'll fight as a featherweight tomorrow. The show will be broadcast live on Fox Sport Net's "Best Damn Sports Show Period," a first . . . Felix Trinidad claims he is rising at 4:30 a.m. to run for two hours to prepare for his Oct. 2 comeback against hard-punching Ricardo Mayorga at Madison Square Garden. Then he goes to his personal gym for three hours of training in the evening. Trinidad is 41-1, his only loss coming when Hopkins destroyed him. "Mayorga has said so many things," Trinidad said. "That's his gimmick. It has been since I can remember. He said he will knock me out, that he will retire me for good. I don't mean any disrespect, but I think Mayorga will get knocked out. I love to knock out my opponents. I have baffled many when they thought they had me down and out but I always came back to knock them out. Mayorga is rugged but I'm not fighting Superman. I want to hear the crowd roaring my name. I'm happy to be back." . . . Roy Jones Jr. challenges one of the several light heavyweight belt-holders, Glen Johnson, Saturday night on HBO. It is his first fight since Antonio Tarver knocked him cold. Frankly, nobody cares. The only fights anyone wants to see Jones in are a third bout with Tarver or a rematch with Hopkins. That is Hopkins's choice, too, but he doubts Jones is interested. "My wife will tell you how many times I've watched that tape," Hopkins said of the Jones fight, in which he lost a clear decision. "I know every minute, every second, every round of that fight. Roy's a smart man. He knows my thinking. Roy's never shown any interest in fighting Bernard Hopkins again. I learned that night losing is not fun." Hopkins has not lost a fight since . . . The string of hurricanes that battered Florida also beat up the plans of Mayorga as he prepares for Trindad. Mayorga was forced to move out of his Fort Pierce, Fla., training camp when high winds tore off a portion of the roof. Mayorga relocated to Miami. He is also facing a rape allegation in his native Nicaragua. Still, he remained confident about the Trinidad fight. "I'm convinced I will take him down," the flawed but flamboyant Mayorga said. "If he plans to stand in front of me and fight like a man, that will be tailor-made for me because I am stronger than he is. Tito has been on the canvas more than any other world champion in the history of boxing, and that is documented. He will land on the canvas again and will retire again."

Short jabs
Undefeated 2000 Olympic gold medalist Audley Harrison recently pulled out of a Nov. 13 fight because of problems that led to hand surgery. Harrison (17-0, 12 KOs) will not fight again until next year. Plans are in place for the British heavyweight to relocate to the US next year to improve his training. It is the second time Harrison has injured his left hand. That was not all the bad news he got recently. The BBC, which had signed an exclusive deal to televise many of his early fights, dumped Harrison in large part because he refused to fight opponents with the slightest likelihood of fighting back. Harrison called the network "ruthless." Really? . . . Much of the boxing world's attention Saturday will be on a non-televised fight at the Fire Lake Casino outside Oklahoma City, where former heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe will begin a comeback against who knows who. The opponent had changed five times as of last week, with punching bag Marcus Rhode the latest to sign on. Rhode is 29-25-1 and has lost to Andrew Golota and Evander Holyfield. Bowe is being trained by former Sugar Ray Leonard associate Janks Morton, promoted by his second wife, Terri, and aided by a longtime boxing manager named Jimmy Adams from Memphis . . . Jones says he intends to beat Johnson, seek a third fight with the man who knocked him cold, Tarver, and then may go back to 168 pounds to campaign as a super middleweight. Whatever . . . Showtime recently celebrated the 100th fight and 50th telecast in its ShoBox series that tries to showcase young talent. The network has made a solid contribution to the sport with those shows, because there are few places where people can see developing fighters outside of ESPN2's series, which is on hiatus . . . Executives at NBC Sports are not happy about the desertion of Main Events promoter Kathy Duva, who after using NBC to showcase several of her young fighters the past two years, reportedly has made a deal to deliver the names NBC helped create to ESPN2 for its "Friday Night Fights" series.

Local bleatings
The ravages of boxing took root for Micky Ward recently when the eye that was damaged in his final fight with Arturo Gatti finally was surgically repaired. Ward underwent surgery on both eyes at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary to treat blurry peripheral vision. Ward, who turns 39 Oct. 4, retired June 2, 2003, immediately after the third Gatti fight, which he lost by decision. In the middle of that fight, he said, he suddenly felt he no longer belonged in the ring. It's an experience many an old warrior has had at the worst of times -- with rounds left to fight . . . Worcester-based World Boxing Association welterweight champion Jose Rivera ran into more hard luck, injuring his right thumb so badly in training that he had to pull out of his defense against Thomas Damgaard on the undercard of Trinidad-Mayorga. The torn tendons in his thumb were repaired by Red Sox physician Bill Morgan, who believes Rivera will be fit to fight by mid-November . . . Former world title contender Ray Oliveira returns to the local boxing scene Oct. 1 when he takes on Hicklet Lau in a 12-round main event for the vacant International Boxing Union welterweight title at Bayside Expo Center. On the same card, undefeated heavyweight prospect Matt Godfrey (4-0) takes on Andrew Hutchinson, and popular light welterweight Jamie Clampett returns to the ring for the first time since losing the Women's International Boxing Federation title to England's Jane Couch. Clampett will face Brenda Bell Drexel in a six-round match. South Boston's Martin Thornton (8-1-1, 3 KOs) and Kevin Watts (18-6, 7 KOs) are also on the card. 

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