Will Klitschko Always Be The Chessmaster?

BY Michael Woods ON February 23, 2008
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It was 4 AM on Saturday evening. It was actually Sunday morning, technically, but for Wladimir Klitschko it was Saturday night still. He was still up, still wound up, still wounded from hearing the boos at Madison Square Garden.

The true nature of his performance had set in, and the Ukrainian was none too pleased. He reached out to trainer Emanuel Steward, who had firmly exhorted him before the twelfth and final round of his consolidation fight to close the show, put a firm stamp on the evening, make up for the long pockets of inaction with a fiery climax.

I’m disappointed in myself, he told Manny. I should have pressed Sultan more, should have leapt on him more often, and not been so respectful of his counterpunching abilities. I’m sorry, Wlad said in so many words to his trainer and confidante.

Wladimir is a chess player, a cerebral—-maybe a tad too cerebral for a sport that often rewards split second reactions, over overlong contemplation--man who will wait with the patience of a cat to pounce. Problem is, a boxer, if he wants to make money, and put butts in seats, needs to know he is an entertainer. Throwing 29 punches a round, and spending the vast bulk of each round sizing up your foe, and waiting for that perfect opening, does not constitute entertainment for most of us. This is why you don’t have a flourishing pro chess league.

Steward told TSS that he ended up consoling his skilled, but psychologically complex client. He told him that Ibragimov was in fact a tricky foe, hard to hit, with a tough style to decipher. Better luck next time, champ, we’ll learn from this one, Steward told him.

So, give Wlad a grade, Manny. Fire away.

“It’s not as bad as I thought,” he told TSS Sunday. “I looked at it, put it in perspective. Sultan was very hard to fight, he’d lean way back, lean his head back.”

One thing Steward insisted was not the case—that the ghost of Corrie Sanders, the lead fisted South African who knocked highly touted and 40-1 Wlad silly in the second round of their 2003 faceoff, was not present in the ring at MSG. “Not at all,” he said. “That was never a factor.”

Hey, we’re all adults here. We all understand that some things can and cannot be said. I wouldn’t expect Manny, if he wants to keep a relationship with Wlad intact, would admit that there was ghost in the ring with him on Saturday. In fact, it would be borderline cruel for him to do so. That would undermine the psyche he has labored so mightily to glue together. But I can theorize that Wlad saw another shorter, Caucasian lefty in front of him on Saturday and had a series of brown acid flashbacks. If that were the case, that would make Wlad’s lack of activity on Saturday a bit easier to swallow, wouldn’t it?

Steward admits that he was frustrated on Saturday. The Kronk way is to press the issue, make your own openings, don’t wait for them to appear. But Manny accepts that the cerebral sportsman is what he is. He cannot be radically overhauled to be a rapid onset destroyer. Wlad sensed his disappointment, and late last night and then again Sunday morning, told Manny that he know she could have done more, and been better. “He knew I was upset,” Steward said.

Steward knows that his business is sports entertainment. That Vince McMahon, he coined a term that applies not only to his product, but any sport that exists that aspires to fill arenas. He knows that to just win is good, this fight. But next fight, you best close the show, give the fans in the stands a little red meat to savor.

“I’d hate to be the next guy Wladimir fights,” Steward said. “Because he’s going to be overly aggressive.”

So, let’s get this straight. Wlad’s not on Cloud Nine, not content that he won, even if the means to the end weren’t gripping. He understands that the reviews are in, and most are not kind?

“Oh, no, he’s not on Cloud Nine,” he said. “That’s a thing I like about him. He’s down on himself.”

Klitschko, Steward said, would like to have a mouthwash fight, get the bitter taste out of his mouth ASAP.

“Yes, he’s very disappointed,” Steward hammered home. “So much so that I’m now telling him, ‘It’s not that bad.’”

So who’s next?

Steward would like a non-cutie, preferably a righty. Hello, Alex Povetkin, IBF No. 1 challenger.

“We’d take that one if it could be made, tomorrow,” he said.

Tony Thompson is in line for a WBO mandatory, but that could likely be put off for awhile.

“I’d like a guy we can look good against, even if there is a bigger chance of losing,” the trainer said.

The most frustrating fights and fighters are the ones that don’t measure up to their ability. Wladimir gets more than his share of harsh reviews because people know full well that when he wants to, when he chooses to, he can be quite effective, and fun to watch. The problem is, too much of the time, he chooses to scout his foe, instead of slug his foe. If he reversed the slugging to scouting ratio, then there would be fewer bad reviews. But with his chin history, that will never be the case, I don’t think.

His next outing will be a true turning point fight for him: will he come out guns blazing, show a more Kronk-y attack? Or will he always be a chessmaster in the ring, deliberate and methodical, and ultimately, frustrating to watch?

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