When Wladimir Klitschko fights on US soil for the first time since February 2008 tonight he not only needs to woo a sceptical American public but demonstrate that at 39 he is still the most formidable heavyweight on the planet, and hasn’t taken his eye off the punchball because of helping to fight Ukraine’s political battles.
His overdue re-appearance at Madison Square Garden in New York against the undefeated Bryant Jennings us an indication of whether he is becoming more vulnerable in his ring dotage, though I doubt that the smaller, less experienced Jennings has the craft or clout to relieve him of his WBA Super, WBO, IBF and IBO belts.
One man who will be keeping an observant eye on Klitschko’s every move will be, of course, Tyson Fury, the British champion who is mandated to fight him next as number one contender for the WBO title.
But in the unlikely event of Klitschko getting clobbered then Fury, never tongue-tied, could be excused a few expletives.
I can’t see that happening. Although 30-year-old Jennings has a three-inch reach advantage and a 19-0 record, with 10 KO’s, he has not really fought anyone of consequence. He’s a real-life Rocky from Balboa territory in Philadelphia who hopes to become the first unified American heavyweight champion in more than 13 years yet did not pull on a pair of gloves until six years ago.
Mind you, we all remembered what happened in Rocky…
Klitschko likes to hand-pick opponents to suit his style, which is why I believe he twice ducked fights with Dereck Chisora (before Vitali took on Del Boy). Jennings fits the bill – but like Chisora, Fury certainly doesn’t.
There are plenty who scoff at the lippy giant Traveller’s chances of toppling Big Wlad.
Fury is a young man of swirling contradictions in his persona. To some his Tyson namesake, he can be an absolute charmer one day and irritatingly charmless the next. But his uncle and trainer Peter seems to have got him into shape physically and mentally of late.
At 6ft 9in he’s bigger by a couple of inches and at 26 some 13 years younger and has the ability to switch-hit by turning southpaw, which ‘Dr Steelhammer’ doesn’t seem to like. Fury matches him in almost every department, and I believe he has more heart.
Although he’s been put on the deck he gets up to win and always takes the fight to his opponent.
Also there’s the question of motivation. One wonders whether boxing is of secondary importance now that he has found fatherhood. He admits too that his thoughts are often with elder brother Vitali, who retired as the WBC champion and has been elected mayor of Kiev, capital of their troubled homeland.
Wladimir himself is active politically in the Ukrainian cause and said only last year:”How can I even think about boxing when my fellow countrymen and women are dying in the streets?”
He has been using his connections in the west to garner support for the drive towards what he calls “peace, freedom and democracy” in a country I never thought would be divided by blood.”
All of which can be a distraction when you are preparing to defend the second longest heavyweight reign of all time. He may be deemed more robotic than ruthless but Klitschko has now won 63 of his 66 fights, with 18 successive title defences since regaining the title nine years ago.
Should he beat Jennings we have 30 days to put together the fight with Fury before it goes to purse offers.
I really want the bout to happen here where it can attract a 50,000-plus crowd, more than it would in Germany, Klitschko’s preferred boxing base.
Both Wladimir and his brother have the reputation of being gentlemen scholars, dignified fistic philosphers (both have PhDs) who are brilliant ambassadors for boxing. That’s all true – but believe me they know all the dirty tricks of the trade, too. Especially when it comes to unsettling opponents before a fight.
Don’t be fooled by that Mr Nice Guy guff. Some of the things that have gone on behind the scenes when you fight the Klitschkos in Germany would shock you. They are past masters at trying to mess up their opponents mind.
Great fighters though – in and out of the ring.
Derry Mathews boxed exceptionally well in Liverpool to annex the WBA Interim World Lightweight title by deservedly outpointing Canada’s Tony Luis in a terrific fight which certainly enthralled the Liverpool crowd.
Considering he came in at very short notice as third choice opponent Luis put a great battle, chasing and hustling throughout 12 tough, rough rounds.
But Mathews has the capacity to dig deep when it matters and has now earned a crack at the full-blown title.
There’s also a great domestic dust-up in the making with Manchester’s Anthony Crolla, who was at ringside and fully recovered from the fractured skull sustained when he bravely chased burglars from a neighbour’s house.
Crolla was originally booked to fight for the WBA title before this setback. He intimated that he’d be more than happy to take on Mathews again, against whom he has lost on cuts drawn in two previous encounters.
Completing the trilogy would be a terrific scrap, so let’s get it on.
Carl Froch seems to be left in limbo after his hopes of a valedictory bout in Las Vegas with Julio Cesar Chavez Jnr came crashing down when the Mexican quit on his stool, against Poland’s Andrezj Fonfara last weekend.
Chavez, 29 had been completely outgunned for nine rounds. Floyd Mayweather Jnr. apart, sons in boxing rarely turn out to be better than their old man and Chavez has always struggled to emulate his legendary dad.
WBA World Super-Middleweight champion Froch had wanted to end his career with a Vegas showdown against Chavez Jnr but his options seem limited now.
He could retire gracefully of course- but the word is he might choose to fight 50-year-old Bernard Hopkins, who was beaten by Joe Calzaghe and lastterly by Russia’s Sergey Kovalev. It doesn’t seem a match that would do much for Froch’s legacy.
Whispers coming out of the Mayweather training camp may give Manny Pacquiao some heart. They say 38-year-old Floyd is not looking that sharp, getting caught in sparring with the sort of punches he usually slips quite easily. Are the years- and the legs – catching up with him? We’ll see on Saturday week.
What happens in the gym is one thing, in the ring another. My money’s still on the Money Man.
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