Not buying Merchant

BY MIKE HOUSER

Appeal Sports Writer

Thank you, Larry Merchant, for once again playing the part of a willing heavy bag, begging fans around the world to work you over. Ditto for HBO.

During Saturday's broadcast of Wladimir Klitschko's pole-axing of Tony "The Tiger" Thompson, HBO's crusty, curmudgeonly expert commentator once again took issue that the United States doesn't have a world heavyweight champion.

Merchant went on to say that if rooting for America's next heavyweight hopeful is wrong, that he doesn't want to be right.

All that was missing was Merchant's red, white and blue suit and a warped record blaring out the National Anthem.

In case Merchant hasn't noticed, the Cold War is over. There is no more U.S.S.R. For that matter, there is no more Nazi Germany and no more reason for HBO to be playing clips of Joe Louis crushing Max Schmeling in their rematch.

And why the hell was HBO showing all of this ancient propaganda anyway? Especially when Klitschko, of Kiev, Ukraine, is fighting. Weren't the Russians our allies in WWII?

And isn't that, like Merchant and his pontifications, ancient history anyway?

I guess the attempted " and poorly illustrated " nexus is that Louis (start chanting U-S-A), was the greatest heavyweight of his generation. We all know that to be true already, so why keep degrading Schmeling?

Schmeling, who knocked out Louis in their first meeting, wasn't a race-hating Nazi who high-fived with Hitler after beating America's heavyweight champion. Yes, Hitler thought Schmeling was a great representative of the Aryan race, but that doesn't mean the German boxer bought into it.

Far from it. What HBO should be televising is that Schmeling, who became quite a successful businessman after WWII, helped out his old nemesis, the "Brown Bomber," who was down on his luck because of poor management, the I.R.S., drugs and mental illness.

Quite ironic that this so-called "Nazi" was aiding an American hero who was kicked to the curb by his own government. Somewhere I can hear Don King bellowing, "Only in America."

So let's dispense with the hyperbole of race and patriotism " and the continuing decline of Merchant " and deal with the relevant issue: Wladimir Klitschko is the best heavyweight of this generation.

He assumes that designation by default from the retired Lennox Lewis, who took it over from Evander Holyfield, who pried it from Mike Tyson, who took it from Larry Holmes, who inherited it from Muhammad Ali, who continued the proud lineage of Rocky Marciano, Louis, Jack Dempsey and so on.

For the sake of what remains of Merchant's sanity, let's now address whether "America's Next Heavyweight' " undefeated Chris Arreola, of Riverside, Calif. " can beat Klitschko.

Well, it's a good thing that Merchant said he doesn't want to be right, because it's not going to happen.

Arreola, 24-0 with 21 knockouts, is a good, strong boxer, but the biggest name on his resume is fellow prospect Chazz Witherspoon, over whom he just scored a three-round disqualification win.

There is, however, a world of difference between beating 'Spoon, who was then 23-0 and untested, and taking on the 6-foot-7 Klitschko, who is now 51-3 (45).

Though he does not measure up with any of the great heavyweights mentioned above, "Dr. Steelhammer," who is three inches taller than Arreola, does possess one of the most powerful right hands in the history of the sport " arguably, that is, because there will be some dissent.

A single right hand from Klitschko is all it took for the lights in Thompson's eyes to flash TILT. A single right hand from "Dr. Steelhammer" is all it took to turn Calvin Brock's face and right ear into a jiggly mass of Silly Putty and distort his visage a la Jersey Joe Walcott, when Marciano landed one of his wrecking balls of a right hand in the 13th round of their first fight in 1952.

And Klitschko is more than a one-handed fighter. Though he's not as tough as his older brother Vitali, his left hand is more useful, as it morphs easily from a jab to a hook. He is faster, lighter on his feet and, as he proved by beating current WBC beltholder Samuel Peter, he can survive when he is hurt.

Arreola doesn't yet belong in the discussion of top heavyweights, much less juxtaposed with Klitschko, who will next fight undefeated 2004 Olympic gold medalist Alexander Povetkin, 15-0 (11), of Russia, not America.

From there it should be a rematch with Peter, if the "Nigerian Nightmare" gets past Vitali Klitschko in October. Then there's a possible matchup with 7-foot sideshow Nicolay Valuev, also of Russia.

Merchant also made the error of saying "we" when he talked about needing an American heavyweight champion. Who, exactly, is "we?" Me? You?

Personally, I enjoy watching the best fighters in the world, regardless of what country they come from. I can think of no American lightweight more exciting than Filipino Manny Pacquiao. If I want to see a light heavyweight, it's Joe Calzaghe, of Wales.

At junior welterweight, it's Ricky Hatton, of England. I also like to watch Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez, of Mexico, when I talk about super bantamweights. The list goes on and there are more foreign than American fighters on my list.

When Merchant talks about "we" in boxing these days, he'd better include the rest of the world, not just America. Times have changed. It's too bad Merchant and HBO can't change with them.

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