Q&A: Wladimir Klitschko
Undisputed heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko steps inside the ring for the 67th occasion on Saturday, fighting in America for the first time in over seven years, when he meets Bryant Jennings at Madison Square Garden in New York. The fight will be broadcast on HBO’s “World Championship Boxing” starting at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT.
Only Joe Louis reigned longer and had more heavyweight title fights than Klitschko (Klitschko will equal Louis’ mark of 27 heavyweight title fights versus Jennings) but despite the success, the giant Ukrainian is driven by his past failure against Lamon Brewster.
“I take criticism as a motivation,” Klitschko told RingTV.com. “I’ve been highly criticized 11 years ago when I lost against Lamon Brewster. I’m thankful because it’s a way I can show the opposite of what people were thinking.”
Klitschko (63-3, 53 knockouts) rebounded from the Brewster debacle to win the IBF strap four fights later in April 2006, stopping Chris Byrd. Since then, he’s added the WBO, WBA and RING belts to his collection, making 17 defenses so far.
We all know about “Dr Steelhammer’s” boxing career; however, we don’t know much about the man away from boxing and his personal life.
“Boxing is my life but boxing is not only my life.” he said.
Ahead of this week’s fight against Jennings (19-0, 10 KOs), Klitschko opened up and talked about his life away from boxing, how he deals with the criticism leveled at him and his thoughts on the heavyweight division both now and in bygone eras.
Anson Wainwright – What are your thoughts on fighting Jennings?
Wladimir Klitschko – I’m prepared for Bryant Jennings. I’m not going to underestimate him by no means. I’m not going to overestimate him by no means.
Bryant Jennings is pretty much at home. He’s going to have a lot of support in the arena and he’s highly motivated. He’s very energetic; he’s a little hyper-type of fighter and he’s moves a lot. He’s very athletic but hopefully he’s not going to move around too much. He’s going to come to fight the same way as [Kubrat] Pulev did. He didn’t move around much. He just came in and was throwing punches and being aggressive. So I’m hoping and expecting that Bryant Jennings is going to give me a fight where he’s going to be aggressive.
That’s why in this small ring, the smallest in boxing, there’s not much space to move around and it’s a small ring with two fighters that are going to cover a lot of space of that ring because of the weight and the size. It’s heavyweights and were going to bring a lot of excitement on this fight night.
AW – What made you decide to come back to the States after so many years of not fighting here?
WK – Well, it’s not just my own decision; it’s the demand. The demand was so strong – thankful the demand was so strong from public. We can see it in ticket sales; Madison Square Garden arena wants to see a Klitschko fight and that was supported by the fans because of ticket sales. I’m sure we’re going to be sold out the day of the fight. Also, from television – in this case, HBO – the demand is so big that it made me, forced me to come here and fight in the States.
On the other hand, I’m really happy about it because the demand in Europe was so strong. For the past years, I’ve been fighting at soccer stadiums filled out with over 60,000 people and it’s a question of demand as well. And I’m really, really happy about it, that boxing kicks in eventually and is unbelievably popular right now in the States. You really can see it and hear it on the radio and a lot of different channels with all the fight nights and it’s a great time. I think it’s the right time, right place and the right opponent to make it.
AW – You’ve been a world champion for nine years; you’re still a fair way from Joe Louis’ mark of 11 years, seven months. Do you look at that and his record, 25 consecutive defenses, as something you’d like to break?
WK – I’m so far from that record, 11 years and seven months is a long way to go [almost three years], so, honestly, I don’t think about it. I’ve heard about it. I’ve never thought about it. I don’t have the desire to think about it because it’s so far away. I’m enjoying myself.
I don’t know how long I’m going to stay in the sport, one fight, a couple more fights, one year, a couple more years, depends on my health. That, you usually cannot control and the motivation, which you cannot control. Motivation and health are two major points that need to be out there for me to continue my career. But, as for now, I’m highly motivated and, knock on wood, I can do my job.
AW – You’ve been criticized throughout your career. Can you share your thoughts on that?
WK – I’ve been criticized a lot. I had to fight [Alexander] Povetkin; that was mandatory. [Alex] Leapai was mandatory as well. Pulev was mandatory; I haven’t chosen Pulev. It’s someone I had to fight. I have it’s a lot of [mandatory] obligations and they’re a pain in the butt but I have to follow the rules.
I understand the criticism and I understand here and there I could have done a better job but I’m continuing my career and I will keep on punching and defending these titles and being successful. I’ve kind of got used to it. It’s like you get used to certain weather if you live in a certain area, the desert or Siberia. It’s just something you have to live with and I think it’s good that it exists.
AW – You and your brother, Vitali, are obviously very close. Tell us a little about the relationship the two of you share.
WK – I was born 39 years ago. Vitali was in my life; I don’t know my life without my brother. We’re very close; we’re a close family and I hope Vitali makes it to the [Jennings] fight to work the corner. It depends on his job. We have terrible times in Ukraine right now. There is a lot of things going on. It’s a very close relationship that we care about. The older we’re getting, the more close we’re getting.
AW – With Vitali being in Ukraine and you training in Miami and Austria, do you get time to speak often?
WK – We speak every day and I do with my mother.
AW – For several years, you worked with Emanuel Steward. His untimely passing was two-and-a-half years ago. What would you say about Emanuel?
WK – I’m happy that, in my life, I got to meet Emanuel Steward and work with him. It was something that I needed and I’m definitely a late bloomer, so there’s a lot of things Emanuel wanted to see but it takes some time to develop. He’s absolute genius in boxing and I’m glad that we worked almost nine years together and he got as much from me as possible.
We’re carrying it over; whatever Emanuel taught us, Johnathon [Banks] and I, we’re carrying it over. Of course Johnathon can not be Emanuel but we’re trying to improve ourselves and build on the foundation. The knowledge Emanuel shared, he’s highly missed and it was very difficult to fight and prepare for the fight while Emanuel was dying in hospital. During the preparations, talking to him and actually experiencing the death two weeks before the fight, I was lost. It was really challenging and I said Emanuel is always with us in our hearts and he’s part of the success what we have. It’s never enough but I got to work with him in the last stage of his life. I’m really pleased with that.
AW – When you look at the heavyweight division, what are your thoughts?
WK – Well, I had the same conversation with Emanuel; he said, “Wladimir, listen to me. Don’t worry about anything. You need to worry about one thing: Just keep winning. Keep knocking people out. Keep going. All the big fights, all the recognition and everything else is going to come eventually and it happens always like that.”
If you think of Joe Louis, he had the “Bum of the Month.” In different generations, they had different times and different challenges. Of course, the pick of the heavyweights were in the ’70s when Muhammad Ali, Ken Norton, Joe Frazier and George Foreman were all out there fighting each other. The decade was absolutely amazing. That’s why Muhammad Ali is the greatest because he had to challenge all those guys. Not everyone is lucky with the challengers that Muhammad Ali had but, as I said, it’s never the same. It’s always up and down; no generation is the same. There’s always ups and downs in the division for the past century.
AW – The current crop doesn’t stack up with the ’70s, or more recently, but do you see future challenges?
WK – Absolutely not with the ’70s but I wouldn’t say my generation is weaker [than others] because the names are not well-known but the guys are tough. They are trying to win; they all have different plans and different challenges and I understand if one champion is so dominant, it looks lopsided but I think the challengers are there every time. They’re all different; they’re not well known but they’re absolutely good. Someone [that] was known but didn’t deliver the competition like David Haye, the hype was so high but unfortunately he didn’t deliver what he promised and there are some other guys who were giving really good challengers but they were not-so-great performers [at generating interest] as David Haye, for example.
AW – Do you feel underappreciated by your peers, whether it be media or fellow boxers?
WK – You know what? I do complain but I’m happy with all what I do and all how I do it. I’m not really appreciated by fans either in the States or in Europe. I think the longer I stay as champ, the more recognition I’m getting, the more appreciation I’m getting. It’s good when you have someone against you. That’s the controversy that you need because some of the guys you’re fighting say you’re strong and good. Others say you’re nothing.
As I said, it’s opinions and criticisms; it doesn’t matter what you do. I’m totally happy and satisfied. First of all, I’m in the sport to challenge myself and take a challenge and I’m challenging myself all the time in every preparation.
I’m thankful to Lamon Brewster and the loss to Lamon Brewster 10 years ago, that’s still my motivation, to be honest with you. I don’t know if I had won that fight if being a champion like my brother a little earlier, I probably wouldn’t have learned a lesson and become who I am today. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That’s what happened when I lost during the year, two big fights, one against Corrie Sanders, one against Lamon Brewster, 2003, 2004.
AW – We know a lot about you as a fighter. However, we don’t know quite as much about you personally. Tell us about your hobbies, interests and activities outside boxing.
WK – Well, there is, in life, you literally can do anything you want. Boxing is my life but boxing is not only my life. I have different challenges from different fields of life. I’m sharing my experiences with people and trying to put it altogether, a healthy lifestyle and great exercises. Also with the Klitschko Foundation in Ukraine, over a half-a-million kids went through the program. We made charity fundraisers that went well. Unfortunately the last one we couldn’t get done because of the administration in the country now. We’re still doing our projects; we’re still doing our summer camps. There were 16 amateur junior champions, Class A in Ukraine. There was a Klitschko tournament, so there is a lot of fields we have to cover.
Understand also, my brother’s political activities, he stays in Ukraine. It’s very tough. I’m not shy to make statements about this and that because I’m not politcian. I can allow myself to say whatever I think. I don’t need to be careful in these areas. Something has gone wrong or right, I stand for my rights. I want to protect my rights. As Bob Marley was singing, “Get up; stand up. Stand up for your rights,” so it’s exactly what people have to fight for their rights.
I have to tell you, I play golf and kite surfing. That’s all fun. If you talk about soccer, we all love soccer. I’m European and World Cup fan and, of course, champions league final. Bayern Munich has been my team since I first got to Germany since 1996. I got to know the guys from Bayern Munich; 18 years, I have been a fan of this team. It’s amazing to see how this team is developing. Today we have the German national team; we have these guys from Bayern Munich playing. It’s fantastic; it shows Bayern Munich is one of the strongest teams in the sport of soccer. It shows also with the winning of the World Cup for Germany.