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Fighting Klitschko: What It’s Actually Like To Box Wladimir

In this day and age there aren’t any heavyweight contenders with the marquee name recognition like “Foreman”, “Frazier”

In this day and age there aren’t any heavyweight contenders with the marquee name recognition like “Foreman”, “Frazier” and “Norton” for Wladimir Klitschko to defeat and acquire the deserved accolades.

So boxing has to suffice with the best of today, like Ibragimov, Byrd, Brewster, and Austin, etc. to measure how good Klitschko really is. “He’s an all around athlete. A great athlete, a better athlete than what I had anticipated when I got in there with him,” said Ray Austin, who was defeated in two rounds by ‘Dr. Steelhammer’ in March 2007. “He’s got everything a heavyweight is supposed to have – he’s strong, he’s got mobility, movement, good jab. But the key thing was for me to go in there and take it to him and make him fight and don’t let him box and get in his comfort zone. That was the plan – to break his rhythm.”

Austin says it wasn’t his night. “Basically, in that situation, my mind wasn’t even there. Wasn’t nothing coming together for me that night,” says Austin.”Nothing. And it ain’t no certain excuse. It happens like that sometimes. Some nights is your’s, some nights it’s not. That was the wrong night for me not to click in [laughs].”

Klitschko surprised Austin with his athleticism. “He was kind of fast on his feet. His mobile movement from the right to the left was better than I anticipated,” Austin admitted. “Cause when I first went in there, I cut the left off immediately and he darted back the other way. And he did it so swiftly and fast. Like, this is what he do, he didn’t have no problem. When a guy is used to going a certain way – like you got a guy who you push and he’s not used to going backwards, he’s kind of clumsy when you push him back. You go, Uh oh, I kinda found something. But when I cut the left off, he did it like that’s how he was practicing. He just moved with no problems, like this is what I do. I said, Oh okay, this guy isn’t gonna stand still. He came to fight [laughs]. Because I watched the Sam Peter fight and Sam seemed like he caught up with him a little more. Even though he boxed Sam pretty good, Sam was able to catch up with him and land a couple of punches. And that’s what I was looking to do.”

With three straight comeback wins under his belt, the WBA #7 ranked Austin still hopes to challenge for a world title and when asked if he’d like a rematch, Austin responded,”If he’ll rematch me, I’ll definitely appreciate that. If not, I’ll target his brother. I see a lot of things with his brother I know I can expose. I’m not gonna say what it is – if I get the fight then he work on that. I saw him fight Peter. He has a fight coming up, I’m gonna check to see if he’s still doing the same things. Right now, the heavyweight I want to fight is him – Vitali.”

When asked if he thought Wladimir, in his current form, was an “all-time great”, Austin agreed, “Yeah, I think he’s one of the greatest so far. He hasn’t really truly been tested, he’s been in a couple of wars, he won a few, lost a few but he still got to prove himself. Long time to come to prove himself. But so far, out here right now, he’s probably one of the best.”

Phil Jackson was stopped in the second round against a 23-year-old Wladimir Klitschko in 1999 and later sparred with him. “The experience that I got from Wladimir – he’s a tough cookie. He had those losses, I don’t know what happened to him. To me, Wladimir – he’s a good fighter. Something went wrong, somewhere down the line. To me, I knew he could still be the champ because he has that power. He has that power.” That’s not the only asset Klitschko owns, says Jackson, who sparred with both brothers in Atlantic City before Wladimir boxed Ray Mercer in 2002. “He has an excellent jab. He’s not a mover like his brother – his brother moves extremely well. Wladimir wears you down with that power.” Jackson, who lost a world title bid to Lennox Lewis by KO 8 in 2004, says Klitschko hit harder than Lewis. “Klitschko had more power, most definitely. In both hands. You could feel it. Put it this way – if it would have been Wladimir in there when his brother fought Lennox Lewis, I think he would have dropped Lennox Lewis. I honestly do. I think he would have dropped Lennox Lewis.”

Jackson sees a difference in Klitschko’s style now compared to 1999. “Back then, he just don’t give a damn. He just came forward. He just throw ’em at you. Now he boxes more, he boxes smarter now and waits for the right time to use the power.”

Chris Byrd clashed twice with Klitschko in 2000 and 2006 and struggled mightily in both duels. “Wladimir beat me the first time, I just didn’t feel right. The second fight, I can be very honest – I was never in the fight. He fought a great fight. He made some changes to his style. He got my respect for beating Sam Peter. I got hit with all kinds of punches. It wasn’t the fight we trained for in sparring. Everything felt great going in but when you get out there and start getting hit and certain things don’t work for you…I thank the Lord I had the chance to have a rematch with Wladimir Klitschko. He’s such a big, strong, good boxer. I take nothing away from him.”

Employing an ill-conceived strategy in the rematch let Byrd down. “It was knuckle-headed of me to think I was bigger and stronger than him,” said Byrd. “He’s 241 pounds of muscle and I was 212 pounds of bulked up muscle, not even for real muscle. So I felt I had to go in there and push him around. And it didn’t work out. It was a horrid showing, getting hit with all kinds of punches. I was pretty sharp in sparring, I was pretty aggressive, but Wladimir Klitschko is a big, strong guy, he’s talented. He knows how to box.”

When asked what type of style could offset and possibly defeat Klitschko, Byrd replied, “I would say be a big, strong guy and press him forward. But you gotta move the head. I didn’t move my head. You gotta give him angles because he’s so tall and shooting down and he’s taking that half-step back and he’s getting his punches off. It’s hard to fight him.”

Lamon Brewster also boxed Klitschko twice, in 2004 and 2007. Brewster famously won the first battle but came up short in the rematch. An improved left jab was the vital difference, according to Brewster. “He was able to maintain the jab, whereas the last time I knew his jab would be busy but I was able to get past it. In the second fight his jab was better, he had an awesome jab and I tried to get past it but I couldn’t. So then he was accumulating punches. I knew, at some point, I couldn’t keep getting hit like that.”

“I felt I was the same, relentless Lamon Brewster in both fights but sometimes, somebody has the better night. Unlike crying wolf or claiming poison, you just admit when someone’s better than you that night. He was better that night. And I might be better the next night.”

Perhaps the man who did the best to compete with the current edition of Klitschko was Sultan Ibragimov last year. Though it was a dull and uneven contest, Ibragimov achieved a moral victory of sorts, by lasting the distance – and averting a hellacious beating. The left-handed Russian forced Klitschko to box more cautiously than usual. “I should have been more aggressive,” says Ibragimov. “When I tried to go forward, he’d go back. If I did get inside, he’d hold me. I couldn’t fight him. It wasn’t that I took his punches, or his speed or power – it was his height and it was a very hard technical fight. Nobody could do anything. I felt bad that I didn’t train differently. I should have had more of an attack strategy than defense.”

Mario Costa was in Ibragimov’s corner and concluded Klitschko is a more defense-oriented fighter now. “I think he fights almost scared. He’s a defensive fighter. He doesn’t want you to check his chin. It’s hard to fight a guy like that. He’d try to punch Sultan from waaaay outside. Then back up. Always throwing something and be so safe. It’s very hard to fight a guy like that. He fights safe. Many times he’ll throw a jab and go half-step back, not move forward.”

After the fight Costa, spoke about it with his friend Mike Tyson. “Mike said tall guys are hard to get in on most of the time,” said Costa. “He said he always had a hard time with taller guys, to get in it’s always hard.”

If Foreman, Frazier and Norton were around today, they might find themselves similarly troubled to figure out how to beat 33-year-old Wladimir Klitschko, who with seven wins in a row in world title fights, is proving himself to be a dominant force – with his prime years ahead. “From my point of view, I can say I feel like a fish in the water,” the IBF/WBO/IBO champs says. “I feel very confident. I feel that I can be very consistent in my performance. And, especially, I love what I do. When I go in the ring I’m happy about it. I’m not struggling, I’m not surviving, I don’t need to do it. I do it because I love it and I want it.”

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