By Jake Donovan
Amidst a massive fumbling of the snap among the media, the current status of famed trainer Emanuel Steward remains in question. Unconfirmed rumors of his passing continue to swirl, as it unclear whether he will live to see the end of the day, never mind the end of the month.
What can be confirmed is that for the first time in more than eight years, Steward will not physically serve in the corner of reigning World heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko’s next fight.
Plans have already been made for Klitschko’s lineal title defense against unbeaten Mariusz Wach, which takes place November 10 in Hamburg, Germany. The game plan will be the same as always, even if orders are coming from someone other than the voice he’s heard for every fight since April ’04.
“I’m training and getting ready. It’s all the same but the one thing that is different is that we don’t have Emanuel Steward on our team,” Klitschko (58-3, 50KO) confessed during a media day session at his training camp. “We’re all missing Emanuel Steward but his spirit is always here. I can always hear his voice while I spar or do things, whispering in my ear. So his spirit is always here.”
Replacing Steward in the corner for the Nov. 10 bout – which airs live on EPIX and online at EpixHD.com – will be plenty of familiar faces.
Longtime assistant trainer James Ali Bashir will step up in place of Steward on fight night. Also joining Bashir in the corner will be Klitschko’s chief sparring partner and current heavyweight contender Johnathan Banks, who faces Seth Mitchell one week later in Atlantic City.
The choice to keep it in house was a no-brainer to Klitschko. There existed the possibility of outsourcing for a more notable chief second, but the long-reigning heavyweight king felt no need to rock the boat.
“The existing team is still here,” Klitschko stated. “There (have)been conversations to work with other coaches. But I prefer to work with [the] existing team. James Ali Bashir and Johnathan Banks will take the lead. Johnathan Banks will work as a cornerman during the fight. Both of the guys know exactly how I train. It is not as simple to work with me as any person can imagine.
“I need fine tuning and I need adjustments in strategy and technique, which was always well done by Emanuel. We will continue to do that. My main sparring partner – my man, Johnathan Banks… and James Ali Bashir knows how to put adjustments in strategy. We’re still missing Emanuel but we’re handling things well. The famous saying, “The show must go on” – we’re handling it.”
At 6’7½”, Wach is the only opponent the 6’6” Klitschko will literally have to look up to throughout his 16-year career. In addition to a size advantage, Wach is also unbeaten as a pro (27-0, 15KO) and four years younger.
All of it adds up to just the type of challenge the defending champion has long embraced.
“We respect Mariusz Wach. Yes, he’s a big challenge because he’s a big guy. Yes he has a longer reach and everyone says he’s undefeated. I prefer to fight the guy that is undefeated than the guy who has defeats. The guy who has defeats is more dangerous. I am not going to underestimate Wach and his wonderful coach. I like the challenge of fighting an undefeated guy.”
There is also the challenging of being without the trainer credited with resurrecting the Ukrainian’s once flailing career. Ironically, their first dance together resulted in Klitschko’s last loss – a fifth round stoppage after punching himself into exhaustion against Lamon Brewster in April ’04.
The loss was later avenged – albeit against a badly faded version of Brewster – as part of Klitschko’s current 16-fight win-streak. Included along the ride was the claiming of three separate alphabet titles as well as distinction as lineal heavyweight king following a 9th round stoppage of Ruslan Chagaev in June ’09.
Naturally, Klitschko would prefer to have his longtime trainer by his side for the showdown with Wach. Absent of that, the knowledge he’s retained over the past eight years should be enough to serve as a tribute to one of the best cornermen in boxing history.
Some believe otherwise, as unconfirmed rumors of Steward’s passing were met with classless quips of how Klitschko’s reign will soon come to an end.
Klitschko usually ignores any comments regarding his own career, but takes issue with those who use Steward’s declining health as a launching pad for such insults.
“It’s not about myself, it’s about the health of a man – a legendary man, the Hall of Fame coach,” Klitschko insists. “Emanuel Steward is not there (in his corner) anymore, so his career is done and mathematically Klitschko’s career is done as well.
“Every time, it’s different opponents, different coaches, different promises. Different garbage (trash talk) is thrown at press conferences. I will not throw the same trash back. I let my fists talk.”
It’s not the absence of Steward in his corner that will dictate Klitschko’s performance, but rather the years of lessons learned that will carry him through the day.
“I look forward to the challenge on November 10,” Klitschko concludes on the subject. “Anything else is going to be said in the ring with my fists.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox