By Jake Donovan
You can never look past the opponent standing directly in front of you. With that in mind, Wladimir Klitschko remains focused on the task at hand, which is the next defense of his lineal heavyweight championship against Marius Wach on Saturday evening in Hamburg, Germany.
Still, it’s impossible to talk about the fight without discussing the passing of legendary Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward.
As much was proven during a media conference call on Wednesday afternoon, in which nearly all of the questions asked were about Klitschko’s time spent with the trainer of the course of the past 8 ½ years. Few questions were about Wach, which perhaps speaks volumes of the chance of an upset being given to the unbeaten – albeit largely untested – challenger.
Klitschko (58-3, 51KO) pays full respect to all of his opponents. He never talks trash about them, takes every challenge seriously and takes it personal when any of his promotions carry any sort of negative vibe.
But in the time leading up to this weekend’s bout, the long reigning heavyweight king instead views this challenge as his own final tribute to his time spent under Steward’s wing.
“I believe in my coach and he believed in his boxer. That made Emanuel a very, very special man,” Klitschko said of Steward, who passed away on October 25 at age 68. “Emanuel Steward is a genius in the ring and that made me feel very privileged to work for many years with such a legend and a genius.”
Saturday night marks the first time in more than eight years in which Klitschko will be without Steward’s service. Long time stablemate Johnathon Banks makes his debut as chief cornerman for this bout, which airs live on EPIX as well as its online feed at EpixHD.com (4PM ET/1PM PT).
Discussion took place of what changes – if any – would be made once it was clear that Steward could no longer physically serve in the corner. By having Banks – a heavyweight contender who has his own major fight coming up next Saturday against unbeaten Seth Mitchell – in his corner, the theory is that the Kronk vibe forever remains in his camp.
“I can show the spirit of Emanuel Stewart. He will carry us,” Klitschko believes, thankful that he has a fight rather than Steward’s death come during downtime. “I’m actually glad that we have this fight to look forward to. We can stay focused on this fight and finish what he’s been doing. It’s just better than sitting around doing nothing. Everybody has a job and we’re very excited.”
No matter the outcome of Saturday’s fight, however, reality will set in. Steward’s presence will always remain in the ring, and perhaps to a degree beyond the ropes. Gone are the opportunities to sit and talk shop with one of the true geniuses of the sport, as there are no more life lessons to be learned first-hand.
Instead, Klitschko remains for the time spent, as well as having one last chance to speak with his mentor during the 12th round of Steward’s ailment battle.
“The last time I talked to Emanuel was 2 ½ weeks ago,” Klitscho revealed. “The words I got were, “Hello, hello, how are you doing?” Unfortunately, it was the last words I would get. His voice was very strong and his wife Marie held the phone. He wasn’t able to speak too much but that was the last line I heard from Emanuel – a strong, happy and clear sounding voice.”
The impression he left behind remains iron clad. Trainers can always be replaced, for better or for worse. But one thing’s for certain – his absence will forever be noted in Klitschko’s life.
“I’m missing a friend,” Klitschko humbly states.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox