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Cut Short Vitali Klitschko outslugged Lennox Lewis, but a bloody gash halted his title challenge


Two years ago Lennox Lewis thought so little of Vitali Klitschko
that he claimed he could have the 6'8", 248-pound Ukrainian for
breakfast and his kid brother, Wladimir, for lunch. The WBC
heavyweight champ was no less contemptuous of Vitali before their
title bout last Saturday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Lewis mocked Klitschko for having failed to answer the bell for
the 10th round in an October 2000 WBO title defense against
Chris Byrd because of a torn left rotator cuff. "I don't think
Vitali has the heart of a champion," Lewis said. "If that was me,
they'd have to carry me out on a stretcher."

On Saturday, however, in a thundering slugfest that was halted
(prematurely, some would say) because of a deep gash over
Klitschko's left eye, Lewis, looking soft and sluggish, was
fortunate to escape with a sixth-round TKO. When he was announced
as the winner, drawing boos from the 15,939 in attendance, he was
behind 58-56 on all three judges' cards.

From the opening bell Klitschko, 31, a former kickboxing champion
with an awkwardly upright style, landed left jab after left jab,
nudging Lewis back just far enough that he couldn't counter, then
keeping the champ off balance with rights. With 47 seconds left
in the second round, Klitschko shot a big, looping right over
Lewis's low left hand, and the champ was shaken. Lewis held on,
and at the bell he walked unsteadily to his corner.

Suddenly Lewis looked very old. Three months shy of 38, he had
weighed in at a fleshy 256 1/2 pounds, three more than he had
been in any of his previous 43 fights and seven more than in his
last match, an eighth-round KO of Mike Tyson last June in
Memphis. Lewis had never been plumper than he was in 2001 when he
slouched into a ring in Johannesburg for a bout with Hasim
Rahman. By the second round of that fight Lewis was breathing in
great, heaving gulps; by the fifth he was flat on the canvas.

Unlike in that fight, Lewis revived himself on Saturday, opening
the cut over Klitschko's eye in the third round. While the
challenger held his ground, the winded champ peppered the wound
with straight rights and uppercuts, causing rills of blood to
stream down Klitschko's cheek. By the end of the sixth the eyelid
resembled a filleted lobster. When ring doctor Paul Wallace
stopped the fight, Klitschko leapt off his stool in dismay,
screaming, "No, no, no!"

Wallace says he stopped the bout when it was clear that
Klitschko's vision was obscured: "If he had to move his head to
see me, there was no way he could defend his way against a
punch." As the fans booed, the blood-flecked Klitschko urged them
on, parading around, arms raised triumphantly.

The champ was unmoved. "If the fight went on, I would have
knocked him out," said Lewis, some $10 million richer. "There's
no way he could have finished. He was just deteriorated anyway."
Left unanswered was whether Lewis would have put the challenger
away before collapsing from exhaustion.

"I showed everybody I can fight Lennox Lewis," said Klitschko,
who demanded, and deserves, a rematch. "I showed everybody I have

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY NICK POTTS/AP FACE JOB By the sixth, Klitschko was nearly blinded by his cut,but he was still pounding the out-of-shape Lewis.