by Johnny Walker
Because world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko’s last two fights (against Jean Marc Mormeck and Tony Thompson) have been particularly uncompetitive, many of the the cynics who call themselves boxing fans have already decided that the Ukrainian’s next challenger, Polish giant Mariusz Wach, has already lost the fight before he even steps in the ring.
While Internet boxing forums abound with those disparaging the chances of the man who calls himself “The Viking” when he faces Klitschko in Hamburg, Germany on November 10, Wach himself has been quietly and determinedly preparing as he never has before. And the transformation from Wach Mach I to Wach Mach II is evident in the fighter’s physique: where he was once merely large but lacking in muscular definition (a “warm dumpling,” as he called himself), Wach now totally looks the part, like he belongs in the same ring as the always ripped and ready Klitschko.
Wach’s arms alone seem twice the size they were when he fought last (in Atlantic City, a stoppage win against Tye Fields). As the cliche goes, “Boxing isn’t a bodybuilding contest,” but heavyweight boxing has indeed increasingly become a matter of skill combined with great size and strength, and Wach, at nearly 6’8″ tall, with his new-found intense commitment to fitness, looks like the first guy to come along in quite some time who can offer more than a token challenge to Klitschko’s dominance.
To add to the feeling that something just might be different this time out, it appears certain that Klitschko will be without the services of his legendary trainer Emanuel Steward when he takes on Wach. Steward has been hospitalized recently and is suffering from a serious illness rumored to colon cancer, though that has been denied by his sister.
At any rate, it is unclear who will replace Steward should he not be healthy in time for the Wach fight, though James Ali Bashir is the likely candidate. How will Klitschko react should the man who helped him salvage his boxing career when it was at its lowest ebb not be there in a crucial moment?
This last question has Wach’s trainer, Juan De Leon, worried that Wladimir may pull a vanishing act before fight time, and seek a delay of his meeting with Wach.
“I hope [Klitschko] will not give up before the fight, because they will be afraid that he will not cope without the Steward in the corner,” De Leon says.
“I do not exclude it, but I hope that this situation does not happen. Without Steward [Klitschko] will be missing something, he will not be so sure of himself.”
“Wladimir will now prepare with James Bashir, whom I know very well,” De Leon explains.
“He worked for many years as the second coach of Wladimir, but he is not and never will be Emanuel Steward. Klitschko’s preparation will be less effective without Steward, and this is another premise heralding our victory by knockout.”
Hyperbole? Maybe — but like I said, something feels different this time.