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Klitschko looks sharp in L.A. workout

02
Sep

Vitali Klitschko (left), here pummeling Kirk Johnson, often looks vulnerable while employing basic one-two combinations from an upright stationary stance. However, as Johnson and 35 other KO victims can attest, the Ukrainian giant is harder to fight than he looks and is brutally effective at what he does. Photo / Scott Foster-FightWireImages.com

To those who maintain that Chris Arreola is too fat, too slow and too predictable to even compete with Vitali Klitschko when the heavyweights meet at Staples Center on Sept. 26, I say don’t judge the chubby Angeleno by his looks.

Despite his ample midsection and penchant for swapping leather, Arreola is quicker and craftier than he appears.

Unfortunately for Arreola, the same can be said about Klitschko.



The three-time titleholder often looks ponderous in the ring because of his size (6-foot-7 1/2, 250 pounds) and upright Russian amateur style style, but he's anything but.

I was reminded of this while watching THE RING’s No. 1-rated heavyweight shake out in front of the Southern California boxing media on Wednesday at the Pound4Pound gym in Los Angeles. He looked so sharp I wondered how I could have forgotten.

Then I thought about Klitschko's last two bouts, one-sided stoppages that were impressive considering that he was coming off nearly four years of inactivity but not the kind of performances that make one jump out of his seat with excitement.

Even when Klitschko is dominating the likes of Samuel Peter and Juan Carlos Gomez, he looks rather ordinary. Despite his massive frame and obvious physical strength, he doesn’t appear unbeatable as he gradually imposes his stationary, somewhat methodical style on his opponents.

This is why Team Arreola preferred to face the 38-year-old WBC titleholder instead of his younger brother, Wladimir, the recognized world heavyweight champ.

Vitali is thought to be the more rugged of the Ukrainian brothers but Wladimir is believed to be the more talented boxer and athlete because he possesses a professional style with a smoother, more-complete offense. The older sibling’s style — which basically consists of one-two combinations delivered from an upright stance — appears almost one-dimensional by comparison and is often described as “stiff” or “awkward”.

However, looks can be deceiving where Vitali is concerned, as Jonathan Banks can attest.

Banks is very familiar with the younger Klitschko as he’s served as Wladimir’s chief sparring partner for the past five years. However, the camp for Arreola was the first time Banks has sparred with Vitali and the 27-year-old Detroit native admits that held some misconceptions about the older brother.

“Looking at Vitali from outside the ring, I thought he would be relatively easy to outbox,” said Banks, a former cruiserweight contender and title challenger now campaigning in the heavyweight division.

“He always looked off-balance to me, almost clumsy like there was no set pattern to the way he boxed. He looked like he was there to be hit because of the way he holds his hands low, but he was a lot harder to box and to hit than I thought he would be.”

Banks says the Klitschko brothers have different styles but they are equally effective in what they do. Vitali just does it with less movement and activity.

“Wladimir is more active and he can get up on his toes and move around for two or three rounds at a time if he wants to,” Banks said. “Vitali doesn’t move much. He just leans back to avoid punches and I can tell you that he’s almost impossible to hit clean when he does this. He lets you come to him and he catches from the outside. If you get in close, I found out that he’s extremely strong in a clinch.”

Although Vitali’s main weapon is his jab followed by an occasional right hand, Banks said it’s hard to avoid those basic punches.

“He’s faster than he looks,” Banks said. “He’s definitely faster than Arreola. And he’s sneaky with his jab. He blinds you with it and gets you with the right hand.”

Banks thinks it will only be a matter of rounds before Klitschko catches and stops Arreola with his signature combination.

“I think it will be a six-round fight, maybe four rounds,” Banks said. “This is the best fight for [Vitali] because he’s got a guy who’s tailor made for him, a guy who will stand there and go toe to toe with him.”

Klitschko exuded confidence as he addressed the media and went through an abbreviated training routine with longtime coach Fritz Sdunek on Wednesday, but unlike Banks he wouldn’t make any bold predictions on the fight.

“This is boxing, one mistake can end a fight,” he said in typical diplomatic fashion. “One round, one punch can make all the difference. Chris Arreola can punch, so can I. We’ll see whose punch will be the decisive one.

“Don’t ask me who will win. I will give my best to win. That’s all I can say.”

And that’s all anyone can ask of the enormous gentleman.

Before Wednesday’s media workout, I thought Arreola would also give his best and that it would be enough to make things interesting.

Now I’m not so sure.

I had forgotten just how freakin’ big Klitschko is, and how sharp the Ukrainian is in terms of intelligence, reflexes and hand-eye coordination.

Yes, he looked stiff and awkward while shadowboxing but when he worked the mitts with Sdunek he got off with fast, fluid punches.

And Klitschko reminded everyone of how heavy his shots are as he shook the building during his one round on the biggest heavy bag in the gym.

What amazes me is how much power he gets without actually turning his body into his punches. Klitschko doesn’t pivot on his right foot when he fires that big right hand of his. He doesn’t rotate his shoulders or twist his hips to get maximum leverage on his money punch.

Which means Klitschko has basically put together a 37-2 record with 36 knockouts while throwing arm punches.

Can you imagine if he actually got his giant body into his punches and turned his shots over? His record would probably be 39-0, all by stone-cold KO.

But Klitschko, who holds a Ph.D. in sports science and philosophy as his brother does, will be the first to tell you that boxing isn’t about power.

“Experience, speed and conditioning are the main points of boxing,” he told the media after his workout. “My sparring partners have good technique and good speed. Some of them have more experience than Arreola, so I feel well prepared.”

Somebody asked Klitschko, who thought he had a date with David Haye before the British bomber pulled out to challenge Nikolai Valuev, if the switch in opponents threw him off at all.

“Every professional boxer has to be ready to fight anyone at anytime,” he replied. “My first fight in Los Angeles was not supposed to be against Lennox Lewis, but I got the opportunity [when Lewis’ original opponent, Kirk Johnson, pulled out with an injury] to fight him with only two weeks to prepare. I took it because I was in condition and ready to fight.”

That he was. Klitschko’s bold stand against Lewis, who stopped him on cuts after six rounds of clash-of-the-titans-type action, thrilled a packed Staples Center in June of 2003 and earned the Ukrainian contender respect among American fight fans.

He returned to the Staples Center the next year and defeated Corrie Sanders to win THE RING and WBC heavyweight titles in front of 15,000 fans.

Despite his history with L.A.’s premiere sports venue, Klitschko realizes that Arreola, a Riverside, Calif.-based Mexican-American, is the fighter with home court advantage.

“He’ll have more support than I will,” Klitschko said. “But L.A. is my second home. My children were born here. I have a house here. I’ve have many friends here. I’m not an outsider.”

Klitschko says his friends and Arreola’s supporters will get a show on Sept. 26, but they can expect more than big punches from him.

“It will be an action fight,” he said, “but I will show all of my skills, defense and movement.”

That’s bad news for Arreola.

GYM RUMORS

One of the reasons I’m having second thoughts about Arreola’s chances against Klitschko is that more than one gym rat — and these guys are usually reliable — has told me that the young slugger isn’t giving 100 percent in the gym and has skipped out on more than one training session during this camp, which is currently held at Joe Goossen’s Ten Goose gym in Van Nuys, Calif.

These guys have no reason to lie to me, but I’m going to give Arreola the benefit of the doubt and reserve my final opinion until I get a chance to see the big man with my own eyes.

I plan to do just that next week.

Stay tuned.

BIG MAN, BIGGER HEART

During Wednesday’s media workout Tom Loeffler, managing director of Klitschko’s promotional outfit K2 Promotions, announced that the WBC titleholder will donate 100 tickets to the Sept. 26 fight to Southern California firefighters.

“Vitali has a house on the hillside in Los Angeles where he can see all the fires, and he really appreciates the hard work and dedication from all the firefighters,” Loeffler said. “Donating 100 tickets to the Firefighters Association is Vitali’s way of thanking them for all their hard work and efforts while putting their lives on the line to keep the people of Los Angeles safe.”

HEAVYWEIGHT CO-FEATURES

Loeffler said the co-featured bout to Klitschko-Arreola has been finalized and like the main event it pits an Eastern European standout against an American hopeful.

Russia’s Alexander Ustinov (17-0, 14 KOs) will take on Detroit’s Cedric Boswell (30-1, 24 KOs) in the chief supporting bout of the evening, according to Loeffler.

Loeffler said Klitschko considers Ustinov, a 32-year-old resident of Belarus who stands 6-foot-7¾, to be his “successor.” Boswell, a 40-year-old resident of Atlanta, has won nine bouts since his lone loss against Jameel McCline and a three-year hiatus from the sport. Boswell’s streak included a two-round KO of UK prospect Roman Greenburg (then-27-0) last year.

The Klitschkos’ favorite sparring partner J-Banks (21-1, 15 KOs) will also be on the undercard, most likely against Anaheim's Javier Mora (22-4-1, 18 KOs).

And you thought Arreola was Southern California’s only Mexican-American heavyweight.

Doug Fischer’s column appears every Thursday. You can reach him at [email protected]

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