By Jake Donovan
The present may not look very promising in regards to finding a formidable challenger for standout heavyweight brothers act Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko. Case in point: younger brother Wladimir is a whopping 80-1 favorite to successfully defend his lineal World heavyweight championship against Jean-Marc Mormeck.
The bout comes two weeks after older brother Vitali found himself in the midst of an entertaining alphabet title defense against Dereck Chisora, but only after suffering an injury in the first round. The fight ending scores suggested a more lopsided affair than what actually took place, but hardly with the belief that a rematch would be any more competitive.
Rare has been the moment when either has found themselves in the midst of a competitive fight in the past several years – Wladimir since his first fight with then-unbeaten Samuel Peter in Sept. ’05 while Vitali not enduring a stiff challenge since his return to the ring more than three years ago.
Yet as grim as the present looks, they turn to the past as proof that hope exists in the future.
“If I will take a look in the future, you have good upcoming heavyweights,” the younger Klitschko (56-3, 49KO). “There’s Seth Mitchell, who comes from American football and who looked great in his knockout of Timur Ibragimov. There’s also Chris Arreola. Those heavyweights are coming up.
“Nobody believed years ago that Mike Tyson, that 20-year old man would become the youngest champ in history. It’s always been like that in the past and will be like that in the future.”
None of this is to suggest that he looks past this weekend’s title defense, as he faces former cruiserweight king Mormeck at the ESPRIT Arena in Dusseldorf, Germany. Despite the suggestion of a mismatch, the venue is expected to bring in 50,000 fans, speaking volumes of Klitschko’s drawing power in Europe.
The trouble is convincing the masses in the United States, particularly in the media who hold his brother and him to exceedingly high expectations. By his own admission, even Hall-of-Fame trainer Emanuel Steward struggles to find ways to remain optimistic of the immediate future.
“From my perspective, it is frustrating,” confesses Steward, who has been instrumental in the reconstruction of Klitschko. “There are no challengers in America (right now). All they can do is beat what’s out there. Joe Louis had it so bad they were calling it “Bum of the Month,” fighting ex-bartenders and what not. Larry Holmes had a similar situation. He had two fights but suffered through a lot of the same things. All we can do is keep knocking out what they have.
In the meantime, all they can do is enjoy each other’s company, which is precisely the case the moment training camp begins. Whereas most fighters have to mentally prepare for the grind that lies ahead, Klitschko genuinely looks forward to the time spent preparing for a heavyweight fight.
“Each training camp he loves learning a new style and it makes it fun,” Steward reveals. “We have to do the best we can. It’s frustrating to see the talent and not having someone to go after. We enjoy the training camp. Last night he was watching Dexter, other times he’s watching gangster movies. It’s like a holiday from the normal corporate life he lives between fights or whatever he does. All I know is that he calls me seven times from seven different cities. When he comes to camp he gets to rest.”
Though always in good spirits, Klitschko is intelligent enough to recognize what is said about the state of the division he has ruled for years. At the same time, he finds the lack of a challenge as its own test, of the belief that what he possesses is enticing enough to bring the best out of his opponents.
“The issue with the heavyweight division especially from the US – ‘It’s bad’ is the opinion they have. On one hand I agree. But in Europe we don’t have a lot of promotion to do because our fights are almost always sold out. Fans are going to soccer stadiums not to watch soccer matches but to watch our fights. Guys have the highlight of their career by fighting us because if they win they get all of the titles. Jean-Marc Mormeck has everything to win and nothing to lose because of all those belts.”
While fans demand a challenge, it’s Klitschko’s job to win – though with that also a responsibility to look good doing so. Steward has been vocal in the past about his fighter settling for a one-sided fight that never changes gears as opposed to going out of his way to give the fans something to talk about. Therein lies his own test, to make sure the finished product is an entertaining one – at least until a formidable contender comes along to arouse interest outside of his home base.
“It’s not as exciting as preparing for a big challenger,” Steward says of having to make lemonade out of lemons. “Sooner or later, a challenger will come up out of nowhere. As long as you keep the titles, all roads lead to a Klitschko, so something will come up.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]