Wladimir Klitschko interview: This is the one
Long-inactive Wladimir Klitschko tells Graham MacLean he’s looking forward to getting into the ring with Anthony Joshua on Saturday in what he feels will be his signature fight - the bout for which he’ll be remembered...
Good things come to those who wait. The reward for Wladimir Klitschko, who twice saw a lucrative rematch with Tyson Fury fall through in 2016, is a blockbuster showdown with Britain’s Anthony Joshua at Wembley Stadium on 29 April.
For many, Klitschko will be in the role of the old stager, attempting to restore former glories. And should he go on to win this battle of Olympic super heavyweight gold medallists, he’ll become one of the select few who have held a version of the heavyweight championship on three or more occasions. Perhaps for this reason, Klitschko refers to the meeting as his “signature fight”.
“It means something that is going to go down in history, and something that will go into the memory of people,” Klitschko told Boxing Monthly over the phone from his office in Hamburg.
“I’m using the language of Emanuel Steward [his late former trainer] when I call it a signature fight. He said: ‘I can give you parallels because I trained Thomas Hearns.’ His signature fight was with Sugar Ray Leonard, or Marvin Hagler, or with Roberto Duran — super fights that are so significant, and different than the rest.
“People mostly remember the highlights of a career. For example, Mike Tyson had a lot of fights, but there are only a few that people remember.
“It’s going to be my 69th fight, and I have four losses. People often talk about my losses. I definitely don’t want to be remembered for losses, but for significant wins. I already unified the belts and I’d like to do it again.”
By the time the bell rings, Klitschko will have turned 41 and 17 months will have passed since his loss to Tyson Fury.
On the other hand, after three training camps (including two for the aborted Fury fights), he ought to be in tip-top condition.
“I do describe it as 50-50,” Klitschko said. “I think Anthony in five years is going to be extremely sharp and dangerous. I don’t know how I’m going to be in five years because I’m going to be 45. I’ve never talked about my age, and I’m not going to do it right now, but maybe in five years I will feel it. I don’t know. I think right now it’s pretty equal because Anthony is going up.
“Talking about myself, people ask: ‘Can he handle it or not?’, and I’m sure that I can. I’m still not going down, and I think our chances are really equal. It all depends on experience, and sometimes strength and endurance, and motivation.
“Anthony has been active, and I had a pause. It’s also an advantage for him, and a disadvantage for me. On the other hand, I do have a lot of experience and I’ve done a bunch of fights and been in different situations.
“You can be as successful as you want, and self confident, and inside there is a certain security because you’ve never lost in the professional ring, and you think you’re the greatest in a certain way because of the motivation.
“But on the other hand there are certain unknown parts, and everything that is unknown makes you cautious, and makes you have certain fears, or a feeling of insecurity. So, to describe the pros and cons on each side, it is a 50-50 fight, absolutely.”
Klitschko and Joshua know each other reasonably well, and they have trained with each other in the past.
“We did spar,” Klitschko said. “I don’t remember how many rounds, but we did spar a lot, and I liked it.
“I was preparing for the [Kubrat] Pulev fight [which took place in November, 2014], and I usually have 10 or 15 sparring partners which are going through a few weeks of sparring sessions in camp.
“To be the best you have to work with the best, and eventually the best will end up as your significant opponents. I’ve learnt myself. I was in the camp of [Evander] Holyfield when he was fighting Michael Moorer [in 1997]. Michael Grant was there, and Larry Donald was there, and other fighters. We were all collecting experience.
“It was the same in the past with [Muhammad] Ali and Larry Holmes, for example. It’s something that Emanuel was telling me. He said: ‘Look at the sparring partners, and don’t forget that some are going to end up as your opponents.’ I said: ‘No way.’ He said: ‘Yes, just watch it.’ So history is repeating itself in a certain way.”
Several of Klitschko’s fights have been staged in German stadiums, so the size of the promotion is unlikely to unsettle him, even if the anticipated crowd of over 90,000 will dwarf anything he has previously experienced.
“Ask Anthony about it,” he said. “I’ve been there. Whether it’s 50,000 [against David Haye in Hamburg, 2011], or 61,000 [against Ruslan Chagaev in Gelsenkirchen, 2009], and now it’s up to 90,000.
“Is there a difference between 60,000 and 90,000? I would say maybe not, maybe yes. For me it’s going to be an experience to fight in front of such a big crowd, but I’ve had those fights in the stadiums and I would say I am comfortable with that.
“I remember I was going from stadium, to stadium, to stadium, to stadium fights, and then I said: ‘I want to go back to the small arenas,’ because it’s cosy, you feel the fans much closer. It’s a different atmosphere. With a stadium [the crowd] seems a little far [away]. Even the way to the ring from the dressing room, it takes you minutes to just walk and get to the ring.
“I’ve been fighting in stadiums that are covered, with good weather, or I was fighting with three degrees [Celsius] against Haye, with a lot of rain.
“On your way to the ring you’ve been through a lot of puddles. The whole atmosphere is different. You’re standing in the ring and you take your robe off, and you see your opponent is steaming like a horse, and you’re thinking: ‘Wow, that’s really cold,’ when you see a body steam like that.
“I’ve done it, I know what it is, and I know what it feels like. Is that going to make a difference? I don’t know. Let’s see.”
The heavyweight landscape has shifted since Klitschko surrendered his long-held belts to Fury in 2015.
Deontay Wilder, Joseph Parker and Luis Ortiz are just three high-profile potential opponents should Klitschko succeed against Joshua.
“I totally get it when people say that when the Klitschkos were boxing it was boring,” the former champion said. “In a certain way you want to have unified champions. People didn’t know who was champion, and how many federations [there were], and regular fans were getting confused.
“When we [the Klitschko brothers] collected all the belts and held them for a long time, it was clear who the champions were. Now it’s got messy again, but it’s also good because it’s not boring.
“There’s confusion. If you go down the street and ask people who the champion of the heavyweight division is, they would probably say: ‘This guy or that guy, but there is another guy,’ and people are getting confused.
“It’s also a good sign that the belts are spread out in different continents and different countries, and under different names. I think it’s good to see the unification fights with different characters — it’s exciting.
“Of course, people will get tired of it and say: ‘Let’s have one unified champion.’
“Now I have time to look back at what I’ve done because before, I didn’t have that. No one had as many championship fights as me in the history of the heavyweight division. I couldn’t break the record of Joe Louis [the most consecutive defences of the title]. I’m happy at least to [accomplish] something different.
“I won’t be the only one [to manage a third stint] because Ali did it, [Lennox] Lewis did it, a handful of guys did it, but not too many. That would be awesome if I can accomplish that milestone as well.”