posted on Dec, 3 2003 @ 10:48 PM
Associated Press - December 3, 2003
NEW YORK (AP) - Vitali Klitschko figures he will be the heavyweight champion eventually. How soon depends in large part on Saturday night's 12-round
fight against Kirk Johnson.
Klitschko subbed for an injured Johnson last June against WBC champ Lennox Lewis and was ahead on all three scorecards when he was stopped by a nasty
cut in the sixth round.
Now Klitschko and Johnson head a Madison Square Garden card, and the winner becomes a mandatory opponent for Lewis - if Lewis fights again. Should the
title become vacant, the Klitschko-Johnson winner would be in position to claim it.
Also on the heavyweight card are undefeated Joe Mesi (27-0) against Monte Barrett (29-2) in a 10-round co-feature. The bouts will be televised by
``I planned to be world champion last June 21,'' Klitschko said Wednesday. ``It is experience. You need to have experience. It is the most important
factor to have. If I had been more experienced, I would be champion now.''
Klitschko (32-2, 31 KOs) thought he could have continued against Lewis, but that decision was out of his hands. Then he hoped for an immediate rematch
with Lewis. Instead, he must take a step back and fight Johnson (34-1-1, 25 KOs), while Lewis considers his options.
Klitschko recognizes it is a vital step.
``I am giving my best to be world champion,'' he said. ``This fight is very important. Kirk is the top heavyweight in the world. To be the official
challenger, winning this fight is very important.''
For Johnson, this fight is just as vital.
He was disqualified for low blows in a title fight against then-WBA champ John Ruiz in July 2002. Then, impressive wins over Jeremy Bates and Lou
Savarese earned him the date with Lewis, but he was forced to step aside because of a torn chest muscle.
Promoter Dino Duva called those disappointments two strikes for Johnson, who laughed off that description.
``I don't live my life with two strikes,'' he said. ``I'm not playing baseball. If it was baseball, three strikes and I'd be out. I understand this
opportunity. I'll get in the ring and do what I have to do.''
Johnson believes he is better prepared for Klitschko thanks to some training tips from ex-champ Larry Holmes.
``I overtrained for Ruiz,'' Johnson said. ``I was in great shape for Lewis but tore the muscle. I had no control over that. Saturday night, I'll be in
``Vitali is a strong fighter. I'm Kirk Johnson. I don't worry about anything else. I'm all about doing what I need to do to win the fight. My skills
are what I win with.''
Klitschko said he is fully recovered from the cut that stopped the Lewis fight.
``I feel well,'' he said. ``I'm in great shape. I am ready for a great performance. I don't underestimate Kirk Johnson. He is a good fighter with a
lot of experience. It will be an interesting fight Saturday night.''
Klitschko is a counter puncher, and Johnson knows that can cause problems.
``I like guys to fight me, not wait for me,'' he said. ``He's difficult to find. It's not an easy fight, but I'm confident I'll do what I have to
Johnson was asked how he would fight against someone who fights with his style.
``If I were fighting Kirk Johnson, I'd keep my hands up and I wouldn't chase after him,'' he said.
Then he smiled.
``But Kirk Johnson would adapt to that, too,'' he said.