Wladimir Klitschko appeared unstoppable against Kubrat Pulev last time out. Finally, someone stood in front of the longtime heavyweight champion and made him fight toe-to-toe, and for his effort he was obliterated in five rounds. Klitschko cracked Pulev just about any time he wanted to with his vaunted left hook, knocking the brave but foolish Pulev down four times before the end came.
Klitschko said he hopes Bryant Jennings does the same on Saturday.
“When two fighters are coming to each other, for example in this case with my last fight against Pulev, he came into the ring and didn’t care who I was. He came with so much confidence, and he was sure he was going to win the fight. And that made the fight exciting. I think if you have both fighters who really want to do it, and I think that Bryant Jennings is coming [like that]…the ring is going to be small and I think there’s not much space to run around. I think this fight is going to be really intense and really exciting. I don’t think the audience will be unhappy.”
The last time Klitschko defended his titles on American soil was at the same venue in 2008, Madison Square Garden in New York, against Sultan Ibragimov. Klitschko said he remembers the fight well because he was booed over the course of the 12 rounds when Ibragimov continuously refused to engage.
“I remember the fight. I remember Ibragimov was telling people that he was inspired by Mike Tyson or something and said he was going to go out like Tyson and take me out. So after taking a couple hits in the first round he just backpedaled and I was chasing him basically.”
Klitschko harbors no resentment toward New Yorkers or Americans for being boo birds that night.
“In a certain way, I don’t blame people who booed because to a certain extent I myself in the ring alone cannot make the fight.”
Judges scored the bout wide for Klitschko, but he didn’t return to fight in America for over seven years.
“I’ve been around so long, and I think my fighting record speaks for itself. I’m capable of doing what I’m capable of doing, but I need someone else to tangle with me on it. I need someone to come fight me and want to win not just want to promise a lot before the fight but then deliver on nothing.”
Two Klitschko stakeholders, his trainer Jonathan Banks and HBO Sports VP Peter Nelson believe Klitschko will look more like the fighter he was against Pulev than the plodding, boo-bringer he was against Ibragimov.
Banks has trained Klitschko since 2012. He said the fighter fans saw against Pulev is the one he’s seen in the gym all along. He said the only difference is that Klitschko is fighting now more like the wrecking machine he is in the gym.
“He looks different to a lot of people, but I just want the world to see the Wladimir Klitschko I see in the gym. The guy you saw in the Pulev fight is the guy I’ve been seeing for years.”
Nelson, however, suspects at least part of Klitschko’s transformation is the fighter adapting to age. Klitschko is 39 years old but somehow appears more unstoppable than ever.
“Great fighters know how to adapt both over the course of a fight and the course of a career,” said Nelson. “With Wladimir, we’ve seen a steady and progressive evolution, an ability to take certain elements of his vocabulary [in the ring] that might not be as sharp anymore and replace them with certain other tools that have greater explosiveness for him.”
But don’t ask Klitschko about his age.
“I’m telling you, this 39 doesn’t feel like 39. I’m beginning to realize that age really is just a number. I see it in my gym with my sparring partners. They are in their 20s and my coach is 7 or 8 years younger than me…I’m surrounded with young people. I feel young!”
Seriously, don’t ask him.
“Sometimes when I’m giving interviews and I hear this reminder that I’m 39 and don’t I think I should change and do something else. I mean yes, I’m active in my life outside of boxing. I do only two or three fights a year best case, but I have my life outside of boxing. So boxing is my life but it’s not my whole life.”
Klitschko said he focuses on training camp when he’s there, but the downtime between was spent doing the things he loves, which includes being a father to his new baby girl, Kaya.
“Don’t be jealous that I have a job of beating people up for a living and getting paid for it!”
Here’s a scary thought: Klitschko believes fatherhood has given him even more punching power than he already possessed. Klitschko was already one of the hardest punchers the heavyweight division has ever produced, and now he thinks he can wreck folks even more.
“I was looking forward to becoming a parent and it finally happened. I never stop dreaming, and it was one of my dreams and I’m absolutely excited about it. My brother [Vitali] said to me: You know what, bro? As a father, you punch harder. And I’m definitely looking forward to the fight as a father. So let’s wait and see.”
Finally, Klitschko said he had another dream, one that he is hoping to tackle next year. Klitschko confirmed to TSS that he intends to compete at the Olympic Games in 2016 under the new rule changes that will allow professional fighters to compete.
“Other sports have done it but never in boxing. I think it’s great. It’s great for the promotion of the sport, and I hope I’m going to be healthy enough and I hope I’m going to fit into the rules so I can perform. It would be amazing, twenty years later after [winning gold at] the Olympics in Atlanta to perform one more time, and not just perform but win Olympic gold. That would be fantastic. That’s something I’m dreaming about, and I hope my dream will come true.”
Photo credit : Rachel McCarson
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