LOS ANGELES - A lot has changed in the heavyweight world since Lennox Lewis whipped Mike Tyson last year in Memphis.
There are two new belt-holders, one deflated contender and no sign of Tyson.
One thing that has not changed: Despite his layoff and tendency to give his titles away, Lewis (40-2-1, 31 KOs) is the true heavyweight champ until someone beats him in the ring.
"I am the last great heavyweight," Lewis said.
That boast gets put to the test tonight when a giant from Ukraine tests the rusting skills of Lewis and his suspect chin in the first heavyweight title fight in Los Angeles in 45 years.
Vitali Klitschko, an awkward 6-foot-7 contender, got two weeks notice and the biggest chance of his career and could not pass it up.
"I am not a god and nobody is perfect," Klitschko said. "But I am really confident to go in the ring. I've been waiting a long time to fight Lewis."
Lewis, who will be punching up to reach his opponent for one of the few times in his career, is a 4-1 favorite to defend his WBC heavyweight title in a scheduled 12-round bout at Staples Center. The fight will be televised by HBO, beginning about 10:30 p.m. It is a lot different than last June, when a bigger, faster Lewis battered Tyson before stopping him in the eighth round of the richest heavyweight bout.
Since, Roy Jones Jr. and Chris Byrd have won titles. Klitschko's brother, Wladimir, was exposed in a knockout loss to Corrie Sanders.
Still, the heavyweight championship belongs to Lewis until he loses or gives it up. He once was the undisputed champion, but gave up the IBF belt rather than fight Byrd and the WBA belt so he would not have to fight John Ruiz.
To keep his WBC title, Lewis had to fight Klitschko (32-1, 31 KOs) by the end of the year. By fighting him now, he leaves open the possibility of a big-money fight later this year against Jones.
Lewis, who will get a reported $10-million tonight, thinks Klitschko is outmatched.
"He has bitten off more than he can chew," he said. "He wanted this so much. Like they say, be careful what you wish for. He wished for this fight, and this is what he is going to get."