NICE TO SEE YOU AGAIN, HOPING TO KICK YOUR BUTT - The two words that best sum up why Wladimir Klitschko is so justifiable as an overwhelming favorite to defend his multiple heavyweight baubles and belts Saturday night against Tony "The Tiger" Thompson are not left cross, right uppercut, or even unseen speed. The words are a name : Emanuel Steward.
How much further Steward will propel and refine Klitschko as a boxing machine is a wide open question. If Klitschko retains his present form for a few more fights, it's not only another accolade in the Detroit professor's portfolio. It could be Steward's most impressive achievement as a trainer, no small matter when considering Steward's unsurpassed career.
Steward is probably one of the primary guiding forces in the K2 empire.
It's been almost four years exactly since Klitschko, who weighed in at 249 1/4, stopped Thompson, 244 3/4, in the 11th round of their initial encounter. How much the 40 year old Thompson has gained or lost in his skill set remains to be seen, but there's no doubt that Klitschko is vastly improved since that first go in Hamburg. Even under the unlikely possibility Thompson somehow became twice as good, he's still a big underdog.
The fighters have maintained formal interactions during fight week functions, with no unnecessary drama. Thompson flipped off a fan who yelled "You Lose" at the weigh in and that's as wild as things have been. One gets the sense the boxers are, appropriately, saving issues for the ring.
K2 has employed Thompson as a sparring partner, and he appeared on the undercard of Vitali's fight against Juan Carlos Gomez. If the Thompson who pounded durable Adrian Serin into a harsh 5th round stoppage that night shows up in Switzerland, Klitschko will have his hands full, but only for a while.
Both fighters look like they have a bit a grudge about something to prove.
If Thompson's claims of knee problems during the first meeting are accurate, we may see that 50% improvement in his performance, but we will not see much difference in the result. Alpine odds should be around 4-1 Klitschko.
The contest in Bern is very likely to resemble the first bout, except that Thompson will likely try to establish something early and there could be some heavy exchanges. That scenario is really Thompson's only chance, to put Klitschko into a shell, then control enough infrequent exchanges to get the nod.
Won't happen. Klitschko's awesome jab is getting even better, but the most noteworthy thing visible at this week's public workout was speed. Klitschko looks like he is operating in another gear these days, behind shifting shoulder leverage that has turned leather gloves into laser beams. The improvement in Klitschko's flow of defensive leg movement into stationary punching power is even more apparent than it was during Steward's work with Lennox Lewis.
Watching Steward's general daily interactions, he appears to think in levels like a three dimensional chess master and such cognitives are multiplied in a boxing ring. It seems almost impossible that Steward would have observed the southpaw Thompson around K2 camp and not have developed formulas to use against him, just in case. In this case that was the case, and Klitschko should see everything coming well in advance.
What we should see coming is another version of the Klitschko - Jean Marc Mormeck affair. The challenger tries as hard as he can but it's a water balloon against a brick situation.
What we should see coming is another early night.
What we should see coming is that if Steward admitted some adjustments had to be made in the first fight, they have been made, and further adjustments have been prepared.
What Thompson probably won't see coming is the straight shot that pastes him to the canvas.
Steward and Klitschko have emerged as one of the most interesting fighter/trainer combos in many a moon.
If Steward says the battle will end within five rounds, placing a wager that direction isn't an unwise move.
If there's a way to improve the already formidable Klitschko even more, it's also a pretty safe bet Emanuel Steward will find a way to do it.