Monday, July 2, 2007


It was Jack Johnson and Jim Jeffries who collided in Reno, Nevada on July 4, 1910 for the heavyweight championship of the world. But the fight was about much more than a battle over heavyweight bragging rights. This was an epic struggle that pitted a black man versus a white man for the greatest prize in all of sports – on the nation’s birthday.

It was a racially charged fight, stoked in part by writer Jack London. On the very day that the black Johnson won the heavyweight championship from the white Tommy Burns in Sydney, Australia in 1908, London sent out the call for Jeffries to come out of retirement and win the title back from Johnson. In his column, which appeared in the New York Herald, London wrote: “One thing remains, Jeffries must emerge from his alfalfa farm and remove that smile from Johnson’s face. Jeff, it’s up to you!”

For the next two years the public clamored for Jeffries to make his return to the ring and take the title back for the white man. Jeffries returned, but he failed miserably in his quest as Johnson humiliated him and knocked him out in the fifteenth round.

And here we are 97 years later.

Depending on with whom you speak, race relations in the United States seem to have improved, but the heavyweight division is still in a flummoxed state for the people of America. The problem, from Uncle Sam’s point-of-view, is fighters that are distinctly un-American hold all four of the alphabet heavyweight titles currently in circulation. Our Cold War antagonist, the former Soviet Empire, has a lock on all of the belts. The WBA titlist is Ruslan Chagaev from Uzbekistan, WBC belt-holder Oleg Maskaev is from Kazakhstan, WBO claimant Sultan Ibragimov hails from Russia and IBF entrant Wladimir Klitschko is also from Kazakhstan.

And unless Lamon Brewster, who was born in the heartland of America, Indianapolis, Indiana, can replicate his 2004 win over Klitschko this weekend when the two meet in Cologne, Germany for the IBF title, the outlook for American boxing fans hoping for a homegrown heavyweight champion will continue to be dim. Chagaev and Ibragimov are slated to engage in a rare heavyweight unification fight in Moscow in October while Maskaev is penciled in against Nigeria’s Samuel Peter also in October.

That leaves Brewster, who knocked out Klitschko in five rounds back in 2004 to win the vacant WBO title, as the only American heavyweight with a bead on a title shot for the near future. Brewster held the title for two years before losing it to Serguei Lyakhovich from Belarus, another former Soviet republic.

Lamon Brewster is a curious sort of fellow for America to tag its hopes to. At 34, he’s quiet, unassuming, usually has a smile on his face and he’s mysterious in a pleasant sort of way.

At the press conference to announce this fight, which was held at the Smith & Wollensky Steak House in Las Vegas on the afternoon of the Mayweather vs. De La Hoya fight, a bearded Brewster was dressed in a black pork pie hat, large dark sunglasses and a black sports jacket. It was almost as though he were trying not to be seen, but he did seem happy to be there. He’s deeply spiritual and thanks the higher power whenever a microphone is put in front of him.

In his soft-spoken voice he told the assembled media that, “You can't call yourself a true world champion if you're not willing to fight around the world. I feel that if its God's will for me to win. It isn't going to matter where I am or who I am in the ring with. No matter, God will be with me. I’m very excited about this opportunity, this is opportunity knocks. I can say this much. I gave the first victory (against Klitschko) to God. He gave me strength to win and pulled me through that. That was a really tough fight for anyone that night, fighting for the world title.”

The rematch with Brewster was put together to give Klitschko and his trainer Emanuel Steward revenge for when Klitschko went down to defeat at Brewster’s hands. The two, who were working together for the first time, still view that fight as a bizarre, unexplained, aberration. Klitschko’s meltdown was blamed on conspiracies that ranged from poisoned water to having an excessive amount of Vaseline rubbed on his legs before the fight.

Well ahead on points, and seemingly on the verge of a knockout victory, the big Klitschko engine suddenly and inexplicably ran out of steam and he collapsed to the canvas in a heap of utter exhaustion. The fight was a disaster for Klitschko and many called then for his retirement. Most said he didn’t have the heart for the game and that he should be ashamed of the way in which he self destructed when Brewster eventually began to fight back.

Whatever the case, Brewster and Klitschko both get their chance for redemption on Saturday night. Brewster wants to rebound from his loss 14 months ago against Serguei Lyakhovich in which he lost the WBO title via decision and very nearly his eyesight when he suffered a detached retina in his left eye. Klitschko, of course, wants to put the first Brewster fight behind him and move along with his career without having to answer the questions about what happened in the first fight.

When asked how he felt about having to fight in Germany where Klitschko was once based, Brewster was realistic. “Well, you know what man? Unless I got horseshoes in my shoe and they got a magnet under the ring, ain’t no need to be worried. It’s a fight, you know? That’s what it is.”

Brewster is also not expecting to see the same Wladimir Klitschko that he faced three years ago. Since that fight, Klitschko has been on a tear through the heavyweight division having won six straight fights. He defeated the dangerous top rated contender Samuel Peter, won the IBF title against Chris Byrd and knocked out then undefeated American Calvin Brock in seven rounds.

Brewster commented on what he might see in the ring this weekend. “Well, I definitely expect improvements, man. I mean, you know, he knows what he had then couldn’t beat me. He did great in rounds one through four, but it just makes for a better fight the next time around. I believe God is going to judge me as far as what I need to do in the fight. I feel I will be victorious but there are certain things I need to do to win this fight. I'm the type of fighter that doesn't go in with premeditations. If those don't work then you will be lost in the ring. I can't tell you what's going to work. Wladimir has matured and is not the same fighter he was in our first fight and I am not the same fighter that I was.”

Pressed further for his real thoughts about the challenges of fighting overseas, Lamon opened up a little more. “Well, I say this man. You don’t think I can possibly go over and win, you know, with everything in his favor, a decision. So I know what I have to do. You're going to see the best Lamon Brewster. I am the best American born heavyweight out there today. Instead of allowing it to put pressure on me, I use it as inspiration.”

One thing is for sure, if the United States is going to have an American heavyweight champion in the foreseeable future the call now goes out to Lamon Brewster much like Jack London called out to Jim Jeffries way back in 1908.

Lamon, it’s up to you!

July 2007

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