LENNOX LEWIS WEIGHS IN ON JOSHUA-KLITSCHKO — Former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis recently weighed in on the upcoming IBF/WBA title bout between champion Anthony Joshua 18-0 (18) and former champ Wladimir Klitschko 64-4 (53). Lennox stated that he believes that if Wladimir’s late trainer Manny Steward were still alive and working with Wladimir, that he would beat Joshua.
“If Manny was still here, Klitschko would still be the champion, and he would be a better fighter,” Lewis, 51, told Press Association Sport. “I would have made him the favorite to beat Joshua if Manny Steward was here.
“It’s a big loss, because he needed Emanuel, and it’s really hard to replace Emanuel. In essence he’s training himself, and he can’t train himself because Manny set out a number of different things you could do in different situations. I know them all. I know he has that experience level.”
Referencing Klitschko and his current trainer, 34-year-old Johnathan Banks, Lewis said “Who has more experience? Who can tell who what to do? It really depends if Klitschko’s listening to Banks. In his last fight when he lost, he wasn’t listening, but Banks was telling him the right things.
“It’s the respect aspect too; if he has respect for that trainer. The fact he’s keeping him around shows me he has respect for him, and he may feel he didn’t listen last time, and may listen this time.”
Lennox makes some salient points. Steward, who passed away in 2012 at age 68, was credited for guiding Lewis to the zenith of his career. He also was there from the beginning with Thomas Hearns who went on to achieve greatness. However, Lewis raised a question with his own statement. He said Johnathan Banks told him the right things to do during his last bout when he lost the title to Tyson Fury — with the implication being that Wladimir didn’t listen or chose not to follow Banks’ instructions.
The thing Lewis is forgetting is that there were multiple fights in which Steward was in the corner and pleaded with Klitschko to let his hands go and Wladimir didn’t cooperate. When Klitschko came back to the corner Steward berated him again. Then in the next round Wladimir would follow a retreating opponent around the ring looking exclusively for the safe shot that never, at least to his liking, was there. Thus Wladimir would go on to win a lopsided decision in a bout that most observers hurt their eyes watching.
Don’t read this wrong, but trainers are overrated. They only provide 5-10% to fighters who are world class, but the fighter needs that percentage. It’s been long forgotten that Steward worked the corner for two of the biggest fights of Thomas Hearns’ career. They were his bouts versus Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler in which Hearns lost. If you recall during the mid to later rounds of the first Leonard fight, Steward was imploring Hearns to grab Leonard and clinch with him, but Thomas didn’t adhere to Steward’s wishes and proceeded to allow Leonard to open up on him from mid-range without anything coming back his way. Again, between rounds Steward gave Hearns the right instructions on what to do to prevent Leonard from getting off on him inside with massive uppercuts, hooks and right hands. But in the heat of battle things were happening too fast and eventually, due to Hearns not breaking up Leonard’s punching rhythm, he was stopped in the 14th-round.
Granted, Steward saw what was happening and knew how to, if not stop it, halt Leonard’s momentum. The problem, as it turned out, was that Leonard was the slightly greater fighter. When Hearns fought Marvin Hagler four years later, Hagler goaded him into a war and by the end of the first round, they were going toe-to-toe on pretty even terms. But Steward sensed that Marvin was better suited for that against Hearns than most thought would have been the case. So Steward again correctly instructed Hearns to use his legs and box Hagler and not to trade with him. The only problem was, Hagler wouldn’t allow Hearns the time nor the needed space to box him. Hagler kept the pressure on and forced Hearns to fight it out with him and ultimately stopped Hearns in the third round.
After both bouts with Leonard and Hagler, Manny had a grocery list of things that Hearns was instructed to do, but for whatever reasons he didn’t listen. And therein lays my issue. Trainers can give great advice and give their fighters the best chance they have to win – but if the other guy is the greater fighter or happens to hold the stylistic advantage, the trainer can’t do much.
Manny Steward was a godsend to Lennox Lewis, but he couldn’t do anything for him when an out-of-shape Lewis was clocked and knocked out by Hasim Rahman. Steward resurrected Klitschko’s career and taught him how to fight like a big man and use his size. But Wladimir had plenty of stinkers with Steward in his corner and, if you remember, there were rumors Steward was going to leave Klitschko because of his frustration with not being able to get Wladimir to open up and get off during many of his title defenses. Steward felt that Klitschko, with his size and power, never should’ve had to go the distance with the opposition he faced.
I agree with Lennox Lewis that from a psychological vantage point in preparing for Joshua, Steward’s presence around Klitschko would be a plus. That said, Klitschko will be 41 years old the night he fights Joshua. Never in his career has Wladimir faced another heavyweight who was not only his equal in size, but one who had better hand speed, who was either his equal or had greater two-handed power, and who came to the ring with the mindset of wanting to look spectacular like Anthony Joshua has demonstrated.
If Emanuel Steward were in the corner the night Wladimir takes on Joshua, there’s a case to be made for Wladimir being more confident and relaxed before the bell sounded for the first round. But once the bell rings everything changes. Joshua is smart and knows that Klitschko is most vulnerable early when he is gathering his confidence and looking to shake off the usual trepidation he brings to the ring, as he did during his years with Manny. AJ will jump on him with the intent of either finishing him or stripping him of his confidence. Steward would yell from the corner, box him, grab him, tie him up……but like Leonard and Hagler versus Hearns, getting hit in the heat of battle will nullify Steward’s astute instructions and the better fighter will have won.
At age 40 going on 41, Wladimir Klitschko is who he is. And that is an incredibly gifted older fighter who enters the ring with shaky confidence. And we have multiple fights and undeniable layers of proof that when the opponent throws at Wladimir with bad intentions – he goes into a shell. That was the case when Steward was in his corner and will be the case when he fights Anthony Joshua on April 29th.
And so, Lennox Lewis is only half right regarding Emanuel Steward. Klitschko is going to lose by stoppage to Joshua and there’s nothing Steward could’ve done to prevent it. The issues of confidence and panicking when hit never went away while Steward was there. Now Wladimir is older and fighting the most gifted and hungry opponent he’s ever faced — one who is his equal or better in every category except experience. And sadly, experience will not be an issue in this bout.
The fight will be decided by Joshua’s ability to get off and Wladimir’s ability to not panic or freeze. And Steward, if he were there, couldn’t do anything to change either dynamic. The problem is that the advice I’m sure Steward would have given Klitschko, which would be to go for broke at the sound of the bell, is just another thing that Wladimir wouldn’t listen to.
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Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com