Joe Rein Writings



You could've phoned-in the Klitschko-Sanders press conference.

It went on time, on schedule, and the closest to volatility was when a reporter - a few seats from Wladimir -- asked Vitali, in affect, "You have a strong chin. Why doesn't your brother? He has the same genes." Vitali would have taken less money in that instant to face his questioner on Saturday night at the Staples Center. "No comment" was all he uttered through his teeth, but the look on his face was the only evidence all afternoon that he was capable of violence.

I hope the fight has more excitement than the press conference -- There was no tug of war prying bodies apart. First-time promoter, Tom Loeffler, Managing Director of K2 Promotions, refreshingly self effacing -- looking more marathon runner than an impresario -- presided over this model of decorum. Fighters were called "Mr. this and Mr. that." It was more Robert's Rules of Order than riotous. It hardly seemed possible that in just a few days, they'd try to pound each other senseless.

While they made last-minute arrangements to start the presser, Vitali, at the head of a phalanx, strode toward the podium set up where the L.A. King's goalie usually stands. Klitschko looked like a rugged male model, at twice the size, dressed in casual elegance -- taut in a black T-shirt under a conservatively cut jacket that screamed understatement. His aura was dignity, not menace - a captain of industry, a chess-master with military bearing. In the gym, he doesn't look well built; he looks welded.

Here his words were impeccable as his threads. Any animus was in the measure of his speech. He doesn't vent; he simmers

Corrie Sanders, with an easier smile and manner, made it clear, he was just happy to be here and anxious to end the fight quickly and go home. He had a contingent of what looked like former Rugby players dressed in matching green T-shirts in the stands spurring him on. They were golf-equipment sponsors from South Africa - one of them, Ernie Ells' brother. When asked the kind of welcome Corrie could expect if he brought home the WBC title to South Africa, their eyes widened like the World Cup was in sight.

When it was thrown open to the press for questions, there was silence and fidgeting for what seemed an eternity while the reporters looked at each other: "Who me?" and scrambled to think of something. It looked like an oil painting: the fighter's waiting expectantly and the press staring back. Finally, one woman fired this hardball at Sanders: "Which do you enjoy more, golf or boxing?

Only James Toney - the walking sound bite - threatened to bring the affair to life, and at a far lower volume and more decorous than Toney can usually be depended on. Sitting in the mezzanine with family and friends, he shouted down, challenging both Klitschko and Sanders, while Loeffler tried to continue, smiling as if Toney - his former client -- was an unruly child in church.

Photographers, smelling a story, descended on Toney like paparazzi as he stared balefully at the proceedings -- the elephant in the room that wouldn't be ignored.

Klitschko lifted just his eyes in Toney's direction. It seemed two things had the same affect on Vitali: when Sanders had patted him on the cheek when he came in the ring after Sanders had stopped his brother, and these outbursts by Toney. They were both an affront...and he only has so much benevolence as a despot. He doesn't suffer fools easily or publicly.

Up close - one on one - Klitschko can be very gracious and far less imposing than his size, but in a flash, he can turn to stone, as in the case of the reporter who hit a nerve asking about the fragility of his brother's chin. Vitali's features stiffened again when he was asked if Emanuel Stewart's absence in his corner was because of Wladimir's performance against Brewster. He was only hired as an "advisor," he said. Fritz Sdunek was his trainer, he continued, with an emphasis meant to close discussion.

All the while, a single heckler's voice from the mezzanine - like salt in a wound - competed: "What about James Toney?" the camp follower kept shouting, intent on disrupting. Toney sat Buddha-like with arms folded, daring anyone to pick up the gauntlet.

There's something about hearing from the Sanders camp that this will be his last bout if he doesn't win that sounds like they're preparing to console him, not congratulate him.

Sanders has the kind of lightening to duplicate what he did to Wladimir if he can surprise Vitali early, but time is not his ally, if you're a one-trick pony. The longer it goes, Vitali's mastery of tactics and work ethic - not to mention the anvils he swings -- should wear Sanders down and put him back on the golf course with a purse amount more closely guarded than the Manhattan Project.

If Klitschko wins, there's the sense that the championship will be in the hands of a efficiently and profitably, with all the strategic acumen of a grand chess master. But, with Howard Cosell's, "DOWN GOES FRAZIER! DOWN GOES FRAZIER!" still ringing my ears, it'll be hard to work up enthusiasm if Jim Lampley caps the evening with "Checkmate!"

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