By Jake Donovan
The final press conference in Hamburg, Germany was in stark contrast to the buildup leading up to this Saturday’s heavyweight championship between Wladimir Klitschko and challenger Mariusz Wach.
Both camps were respectful towards one another during the session, which aired live on the Klitschkos’ Google+ online channel. It is hardly uncommon for the younger Klitschko (58-3, 51KO) to show respect towards his opponent, as the defending heavyweight king has exuded class and regality during his reign.
However, the Wach camp wisely changed its tune in recent weeks. The challenger – born in Poland but now based out of Northern New Jersey – and his handlers showed its classless side in taking shots at the compromised health status of trainer Emanuel Steward last month. The Hall of Fame trainer passed away last week at the age of 68, with this fight marking the first fight in more than eight years in which Klitschko will be forever be without his services.
There was a point when Wach’s trainer, Juan De Leon, suggested that Steward’s declining health would result in Klitschko pulling out of the November 10 fight. At Monday’s press session, the cornerman instead paid respect to the defending champion while predicting an upset win for his own fighter.
“I was there (in past camps) and see how hard they work. I know what they are capable of inside the ring. But I have a great kid,” insisted De Leon while speaking to the media. “He is hungry and young and has a lot to prove.
On November, 10 I believe there will be a new champion. (Klitschko) is going to face a hungry fighter. I believe Wach will be the new champion.”
The bout marks the first shot at any title for Wach (27-0, 15KO), who has been brought along soft and takes a major leap in competition. Still, he brings to the table two things not reflective in recent Klitschko opposition – an unbeaten record and a rare height advantage.
“On Saturday, you will see a different Mariusz Wach, a Mariusz Wach who will take the belts from Klitschko,” said the challenger in his native Polish tongue, translated in German to the assembled media on hand. “You will remember that fight not just for the hours afterward, but for days and months to come.”
Wach bore a conservative look, dressed in a three-piece suit for the first big fight of his career. Klitschko, meanwhile, held court like a man who has been here before. The defending heavyweight king was wearing his trademark red sweatsuit, speaking calmly and respectfully to the media and to his challenger.
“It is a tremendous blow to everyone,” Klitschko said – in German - of the absence of his late trainer. “Emanuel Steward was like a father. I will go into this fight without Emanuel Steward in my corner, but I will still go into the ring with his presence to defend the titles we won together.”
Manning Klitschko’s corner will be longtime assistant James Ali Bashir and longtime stablemate Johnathon Banks, an aspiring heavyweight contender who faces unbeaten Seth Mitchell one week later in Atlantic City.
Banks will be the principle voice heard in corner on fight night, an assignment he accepts with great pride.
“It’s a pleasure to be here in Hamburg for this heavyweight showdown,” said Banks, in English and translated in German to the media. “We respect the opponent 100%. We showed our respect by going to camp and training hard as we always do.”
Wach represents the first undefeated opponent Klitschko has faced since defeating Ruslan Chagaev for the vacant crown in 2009. At 6’7½“, Wach is also the first ever opponent with a height advantage over the 6’6” Klitschko.
All advantages considered, the Klitschko camp is most certainly up to the task.
“It’s always exciting to fight an undefeated guy because he’s always pushing. He’s always determined to remain undefeated. He only knows how to win,” Banks stated. “That’s where big fight experience comes in. We have 51 knockouts and a lot of experience on the big stage. We live on the big stage, we breathe on the big stage, we sleep on the big stage. We are here to fight on the big stage.
“We will come in on November 10 as champion and will leave the ring as champion.”
Klitschko makes the sixth defense of his lineal championship, as well as the 13th defense of the alphabet title he first won from Chris Byrd in their April ’06 rematch. Klitschko’s first title reign also began with a win over Byrd, soundly outpointing the American in Oct. ’00 to avenge the first career loss dealt to older brother Vitali earlier in the year.
The younger Klitschko reigned for 2 ½ years before suffering an upset knockout loss to Corrie Sanders in March ’03. He joined forces with Emanuel Steward a year later, though their first fight together began with a loss, punching himself into exhaustion against Lamon Brewster in their April ’04 vacant title fight.
Klitschko has since won 16 straight, including a revenge win over Brewster – albeit a badly faded version – in July ’07. Saturday’s bout – which airs live in the US on EPIX, as well as EpixHD.com and on the Times Square Jumbotron in New York City – marks his third of 2012, having scored knockout wins over Jean-Marc Mormeck and Tony Thompson earlier this year.
As he enters the ring this Saturday, Klitschko channels his inner Steward in measuring up the latest challenge in his Hall-of-Fame bound career.
“He is skilled, he can (fight for 12 rounds),” Klitschko observes of Wach. “He moves well for his height. But I will say one line that Emanuel used to say – ‘Welcome to big-time boxing.’"
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox