Exemplary Role Model Wladimir Klitschko Talks Jennings, Woes in Ukraine

He displayed the confidence of a man who hasn’t lost in a ring in 11 years, who has a handle on his personality, who is married to a Hollywood starlet, who has a new baby he appears to adore. He was a man at ease, no hint of anxiety peeking through.

Wladimir Klitschko spoke to media at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, days out from his title defense against Bryant Jennings, the unbeaten hitter from Philly who has come so far, so fast, as he started boxing just six years ago.

They talked at a presser, and talked up the clash, which is getting not as much attention as it normally would, because of another prizefight occurring May 2.

Wlad answered questions with dignity and clarity and calmness, such as when he was asked if he was irked that so many queries are about Floyd n Manny. No, he said, he sees that fight as a complement to his. That’s not to say his nostrils didn’t flair; he can get a bit salty, such as when he was asked if he heard that Jennings will warn the ref that he’s fighting Wladimir “Klinch-ko.” He defended slightly defensively, actually, one of his favorite tactics. “I’m confident the referee is going to be professional enough to handle it right,” he said.

Wlad was asked about Tyson Fury, maybe his next, and Deontay Wilder. He’s too wise, at 39, for that. He knows he can’t look past the 30-year-old Jennings for a second. But, he allowed, he knows those guys are “competitive and ambitious, and I wish them good luck.” Smart…he builds them up for a potential future fight.

His age popped up; he drew guffaws when he pointed to Bernard Hopkins, age 50, who will work for HBO on Saturday. (Hopkins was in a media room, chatting with undercard scrapper Sadam Ali, who tangles with Francisco Santana in the top support bout at MSG, and on HBO.)

He told me he doesn’t know how much longer he will fight, as he feels strong and sharp. He told me he thinks maybe many of us are jealous that he is “the baddest man on the plant” and gets to beat people up for a living.

He also said, interestingly, that the late Emanuel Steward helped re-ignite his love for the sport, after he lost to Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster. “If Manny Steward wasn’t around, I wouldn’t be sitting here, I wouldn’t box. I didn’t like boxing. I was not in love with boxing, and he made me love boxing. Emanuel educated me…there was a lot of talking, programming. He was always great to talk to. You could hear same story thousand times, never getting bored. Without the man wouldn’t be here where I am right now.”

The topic of records, who has won how many defenses, he deflected well. “I don’t want to compare myself with many of the great heavyweights,” he said, because he still sees them through a child’s eyes. It is for others to say…”I’m really honest, I don’t think about it,” he said, when asked about Rocky Marciano and the like.

Sterner topics even than the fight came up; his brother Vitali, who might attend, is Mayor of Kiev, in the Ukraine, which is embroiled in a bitter tangle with Russia. The boxer said he hopes for peace. He cited “aggression from Russia,” and said the Russian geo-political ambitions have them breaking laws. “It’s a horrible time in history,” he said. “The price for this time is human life. Every day people are getting killed…”

He seeks for the West to help out in the Ukraine fight for autonomy.

Vitali, he said, has the toughest battle, the biggest challenge, bigger than anything that can occur in a ring. “I hope he’s going to make it to this fight,” Wlad said.

Back to the bout…he said he knows young guns will seek to topple him, but he’s keen to show he’s still king of the hill.

The hitter deftly parried a query about Floyd Mayweather being the face of boxing. Is that such a good thing? Wlad said the sport has many faces, like Hopkins, like Gennady Golovkin…”We’re one family, we have different characters in the family,” he said. His place is to point out stuff like the Ukraine situation, or his charitable work, and he will stay in that lane, and let Floyd be Floyd. “I don’t want to compare,” he said. The boxer did say, when asked about Floyd saying he’s TBE, that that is not for him to say, that it is up to the masses and the press to make that determination. He noted that Muhammad Ali lauded Sugar ray Robinson as TBE, and the message was clear but subtle–it’s not for Floyd to say.

As for that May 2 bout, the non-politician brother showed a politco’s flair when he said the Mayweather-Pacquiao bout is a 51-49 edge for Floyd. “They’re both great,” and he knows sympathy will be on Manny’s side, because he’s “the boy from next door.” Wlad said credit must be given to Floyd for being a winner, and Money says what he says, often, because he’s hyping his fights. “He’s the best paid athlete in the world,” he noted. “I think the slight advantage is on Mayweather’s side, for his side and technical ability, on boxing standpoint, we’re not talking personal standpoint.”

My take: Wlad is so smooth, so confident, such a superior role model, and face of the sport. He’s hampered by a weak division, however, so he doesn’t get his just due. And we will never know how he’d react in an era where his foes are by and large so pedestrian.

Of course, I put on the table that I root for underdogs, so would I like, from that standpoint, for the Philly man to topple this king of the hill. From a story standpoint, I would.

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