Man can put ample butts in seats in soccer stadiums, and draw TV ratings that blow away our best and brightest boxers, with some ten million folks tuning in to see a Wladimir Klitschko fight in Germany, his adopted homeland.
But Klitschko, age 38, is back in the ring to give a another swing at The States, at the US market, which last served as a platform for the man in 2008.
And why, I asked long, tall Wlad (63-3 with 53 KOs)–who by the way was the most energized and ebullient and charming version of himself I’d ever come across, which made me wonder if it isn’t the new status as a proud papa to baby Kaya which had him in such a state—why are you bothering coming to do your thing in the US, when you have such a command of the German market?
He summed it up with Sinatra: if you can make it here, here being NYC, then you can make it anywhere. NYC and the big stage at MSG, those are the stations that serve notice to the planet that you have made it, and there can be no real call for debate otherwise, he implied.
Klitschko’s foe was also present for the presser; the man angling to be the first vegan world heavyweight champion, Bryant Jennings (19-0 with 10 KOs; age 30), admitted he was beyond jazzed and that he was feeling something that looked to some of us like nervous energy. Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that, mind you, but Jennings came to this sport late. He only had about three amateur fights, and is 19-0 as a pro. He’s a superior athlete, it should go without saying, having come this far this fast, but a major point to watch is how he handles the immensity of the stage on fight night.
Wlad told me that he’s been knee deep in diapers since Kaya was born in December, but daddy-hood agrees with him. I wondered if it might be changing how he sees himself, as a man-father-partner-fighter, and he said that he went to brother Vitali and asked him about that new normal. V has a few kids, and told little bro that he punched harder after he started having kids, so Wlad said he hopes to be doing the same. Not sure if it’s a case of transference of energy or what, but anyway…
Wlad turns 39 on March 28, but none of us detected any slippage in his last showing. He was pretty savage in handling B- grade hitter Kubrat Pulev (KO5) in Hamburg, in November, and many folks on the Twitter are figuring Jennings, about three or more inches shorter, and about 23 pounds lighter, likely, on fight night, could see the lights earlier than that.
The Philly-based boxer told the press at MSG that indeed, he does foresee a KO on April 25. He believes he’ll score that stoppage but acknowledged that it could go either way. Yes, Klitschko’s talent is openly discussed these days, as by and large everyone understands that he is a solid pugilistic specimen, and has a style that is beyond hard to dismantle. The length, the reach, the focus, the hand speed, the power, the mobility for a big man, the wisdom accumulated in 66 pro outings….Hard hill to climb. Jennings turned pro in 2010, and hasn’t been in with anyone nearly approximating Wlad’s arsenal.
Klitschko really was in fine form; a media person asked him how he’s changed since his dark days, back in 2003 and 2004, when his chin was getting tested and was getting failing grades. He joked how much he appreciated that reminder and that he almost forgot about those hiccups…but said that he learned from the losses and they forced him to improve. Yep, he went all Nietszche on us..
Some of us hoped that professional pest Shannon Briggs, who has humorously and skillfully made himself a worthy challenger to Wlad, despite being 43 and having been walloped badly by Vitali back in 2010, would show up and add some zing to the event. He didn’t; and Wlad didn’t seem like he was hoping he would. He said Briggs has crossed a line, from humor to something else, and that puts him in danger. Klitschko Promotions exec Bernd Boente told me that Briggs is a superb entertainer, and seemed open to perhaps booking him into a fight with Wlad at some point, though he mentioned Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder as being more viable challengers than The Cannon.
Tom Loeffler, the US based arm of K2 Promotions, presided and handled the presser. Jennings’ promoter, Gary Shaw, just off his short Roc stint, also talked to the assembled. He said that Jennings is a skilled athlete and noted that nobody gave Buster Douglas a chance either before he tangled with Mike Tyson, 25 years ago.
Jennings’ trainer Fred Jenkins went there, and said it would be a one sided fight, in favor of Jennings. Jennings’ manager James Prince promised victory April 25, and then Jennings took to the mic. He admitted to being edgy, so as I said, I will be curious to see how he handles the extra surges of adrenaline that come with such a promotion.
Wlad cracked people up when he asked for more energy, and said this wasn’t a funeral parlor. He skillfully built up Jennings, as he does with all his foes, and said the two will entertain people come fight night. He said Jennings reminds him of another Philly guy, Rocky Balboa, and then said the difficulty of making this promotion made him happy to have a good lawyer, which is at a certain stage more vital than having a good coach. He ended with a call for peace in the Ukraine.
Bottom lining it: Klitschko seems at or near peak, as an entertainer, as being able to command a room, and Jennings is in the toughest test of his life..or maybe not..he came from humble beginnings, and spurned the darkside streets, so maybe that was his toughest test and he can pull of another improbable win come April 25.
Check back for much more, from interviews with Loeffler, Boente, Shaw, Prince, Jennings, and more.
Photo credit: KMG/Will Hart
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