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Atlas adjusts the timetable, preps Povetkin for Klitschko

05
Jul

Remove the names, and it’s as marketable a matchup as you can dream up. You have the heavyweight champion of the world defending his title against the best available contender, an undefeated fighter with an offense-minded style. As a bonus, both happen to be Olympic gold medalists.

In another day and age, the earth would have temporarily stopped rotating on its axis for a fight like that; think Joe Frazier vs. George Foreman, which fits the above description precisely and commanded the attention of the entire sporting world.

But in our current day and age, once you insert the names, the luster comes off – or at least gets a “lack” in front of it. Wladimir Klitschko vs. Alexander Povetkin is on tap for Sept. 18 following a winning purse bid of $8.3-million by K2 Promotions last week, and there should be enormous excitement over such a championship fight. But for a variety of reasons, there isn’t.

One of those reasons is that Klitschko’s safety-first approach has eroded American interest in him, to the point that HBO has no desire to televise this fight.



Another reason is that Povetkin’s name means nothing to mainstream sports fans, and even hardcore boxing fans have had limited exposure to him.

And yet another reason is that Povetkin’s trainer, Teddy Atlas, has gone on record saying he’d rather wait a bit longer to make this fight, furthering the public’s impression that Povetkin isn’t up to the challenge and we’re in store for another in a seemingly endless line of one-sided Klitschko exhibitions.

Naturally, nobody on Team Povetkin views this as a fight they can’t win. They just seem to view as a fight that they’d be more likely to win if it was happening in 2011.

“If I can’t say something that’s the truth, I won’t say anything,” Atlas told RingTV.com. “I know if I’m a promoter, I’m not supposed to say this, but as a trainer, to me, time is an asset. It’s valuable. You have a good pupil, you have a kid that’s a great, great kid. What do you want as a teacher? You want more time. If I don’t say that, then I’m not being responsible and I’m not being honest.

“Right now, if this is going to be the fight, then I will do everything in my power to prepare my guy to have the best chance possible to win. We started a job. I would like to have time to finish that job the right way, but do you always get that? No. If I had more time, I’d feel better. Do I feel that we’ve made progress? Yes, I do. We’ve had about a year to work together, and I’ve seen the development. But it’s all relative.”

Being ready to defeat a Klitschko is always relative. It takes a fairly specific skill set to make it possible and, for most challengers, that needs to be coupled with near perfect execution. It can be done, of course – the brothers have five losses between them, and the three suffered by Wladimir were all clear-cut stoppage defeats – but it’s a tall task, quite literally.

Atlas, boxing broadcasting’s best Xs-and-Os man, explained what it’s going to take to pull it off.

“You have to be aware of what not to do,” Atlas emphasized. “You can’t stand in front and allow them to control distance. You can’t be at their mercy, where at 6-6, 6-7, they control you. You can’t charge at them like a mad bull and get caught on the way in either. Part of the idea is to not get caught waiting in front, to attack from the proper positions, to be consistent in those things. You need to understand your game plan and you need to have a certain amount of skill to impose that game plan, but the most important thing is the attitude and the professionalism to do those things under those conditions.

“These guys we’ve seen against the Klitschkos the last few years, they freeze like deer in headlights and just wait to be taken out eventually. I’m sure they had some sort of plan with their trainers that was better than what we saw, but they didn’t impose that plan, they didn’t implement that plan, they didn’t carry that plan out. Why? Part of it is mental and emotional reasons. Getting ready for the Klitschkos mentally is more important than getting ready physically.”

Physically, Povetkin is more or less where he needs to be, according to Atlas. There’s nothing new Atlas still wants to teach him. The problem is that Povetkin hasn’t had ample time to fully master every technique he’s been taught. Atlas used the word “solidifying.” Povetkin knows what to do, but he needs more experience to make every move instinctive and automatic.

It’s somewhat of a sad state of affairs when we wonder so much whether a prospective heavyweight title challenger is ready but at the same time we can’t find anybody more deserving of the opportunity. Look at THE RING ratings. Wladimir is the champ. Vitali is the No. 1 contender, and we know that fight is never happening. The No. 2 contender is David Haye, whose only remaining move in ducking the Klitschkos is to demand Olympic-style drug testing.

And Povetkin is ranked third. He’s the best available challenger for either Klitschko brother.

Wladimir Klitschko vs. Alexander Povetkin is a perfectly legitimate heavyweight title fight. In bygone eras, a fight between the champ and his undefeated challenger, both Olympic gold medalists, would sell out the Polo Grounds or garner a million pay-per-view buys. But in this particular case, it’s huge in Germany, Russia and the Ukraine, and elsewhere it will get all the hype of a late-season baseball game between the Pirates and Diamondbacks.

American fight fans will probably get to see it – Showtime is reportedly interested in stepping in – but that doesn’t change the fact that Klitschko-Povetkin matters to the American public about 1/100th as much as Foreman-Frazier did.

For Atlas and Povetkin, however, it doesn’t matter how many eyeballs are watching. What matters is whether Povetkin is adequately prepared to win when he enters the ring with Klitschko.

And if Atlas is right that the mental element is the most important aspect of having a chance against Klitschko, then just by accepting the fight, Povetkin has already proven himself more of a live underdog than Haye would have been.

RASKIN’S RANTS

ÔÇó The outspoken Atlas had some pointed comments for the executives at HBO Sports, who passed on Klitschko-Povetkin just like they passed on the vacant RING title fight in June ’09 between Wladimir and Ruslan Chagaev. “Their behavior, with the fights that they choose and the pattern that they use to choose them, has been consistently confusing to me,” Atlas said. “Some of the fights they choose at heavyweight, or in any division, sometimes I wonder what the real reasons for choosing them were. I wonder if it’s coming from reasons other than just what we get in the ring. Look, I’ll be the first to say that the Klitschkos don’t make the prettiest fights to watch sometimes. I understand that. But I haven’t seen that stop HBO from buying other fights that weren’t exactly Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. You have to look at who’s making those decisions and why they make them.”

ÔÇó Maybe this isn’t a great era for heavyweights. But with the rise of Joseph Elegele, it may develop into a great era for fighters with palindrome surnames. Too bad we can’t time travel and make possible an all-palindrome showdown between Elegele and Willie Pep.

ÔÇó It’s been a really slow week in boxing. Read the above paragraph again if you don’t believe me.

ÔÇó Check back on Wednesday night/Thursday morning for a new episode of Ring Theory. Want to know whether Pacquiao vs. Mayweather is going to happen? You’ll have to listen to Ring Theory! (For the record, I can’t promise that those two sentences are in any way related.)

Eric Raskin can be reached at [email protected] You can read his articles each month in THE RING magazine and follow him on Twitter @EricRaskin.

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