Wladimir Klitschko Faces his Demons… Again By Gabriel Montoya, MaxBoxing (Sept 10, 2010) Special to Doghouse Boxing
Over the past year or so, IBF and WBO heavyweight champ Wladimir Klitschko , 54-3 (48), expected any fight but the one he is getting on Saturday night at the Commerzbank-Arena in Frankfurt, Germany. Fellow beltholder David Haye kept his name in the title mix with both Wladimir and his brother Vitali only to disappear time and again from negotiations. Then mandatory challenger Alexander Povetkin, who held the number one contender spot, finally stepped up to challenge Klitschko only to skip out on the first press conference without a word. Days later, Povetkin backed out of the fight at the last minute. In this day and age, generally, it’s the cash cow fighter with the name and drawing power who will sometimes play it safe. In Haye’s case, he seemed to want to look the part of great challenger while avoiding both brothers after getting his publicity. In Povetkin’s case, it came down to his trainer, Teddy Atlas, and those on Povetkin’s team deciding he was simply not ready. In all the years Wladimir has been fighting, 57 professional fights and a stellar amateur career that saw him take Olympic gold back in 1996, the one thing Wladimir Klitschko has never had a problem with is getting a fight. So it was a little more than surprising to have two fighters step up and back away so quickly.
“I’ve never faced anything like that in 57 fights,” Klitschko said on a recent conference call. “I never had an issue where a fighter is getting paid 2,000,000 dollars and everything is set. Just come over and show up; if you can’t come over, then someone from management, matchmaker, coach, someone from the camp should show up at the press conference and say, ‘OK, we were participating in the purse bid and the fighter- I don’t know- lost his luggage, missed his flight; I don’t know. But at least just show that the fight won’t happen. But instead, they were like, ‘No, No, No. We’re going to fight.’ Then the promoters were telling me about contracts, health issues; then Povetkin’s coach said he is not ready. So there was a lot of different explanations why Povetkin didn’t show up. I never faced anything like that.”
Whether or not Povetkin is ready is up to Povetkin, Klitschko believes. Being a fighter who has gone through many trials by fire, Klitschko feels only the fighter himself can make that decision as to when he is ready to face a champion.
“This was actually second time with Povetkin in last two years,” said Klitschko. “So I think that Alexander has to open up his own mind and listen to his heart and make final decision and not listen to everyone.”
So now that the smoke has cleared on the missed opportunities of fighters who did not want to take a fight available to them for the heavyweight titles Wlad holds, the rescue of Klitschko’s fight date has been rescued by an unlikely source: Sam “The Nigerian Nightmare” Peter, 34-3 (27). For many boxing fans who have not been considering Peter as a serious contender since his loss to Eddie Chambers back in March 2009, the rematch of Klitschko/Peter, five years in the making, is not what they wanted. For Klitschko, he is just glad an opponent is actually stepping up to the plate for a fight he and trainer Emanuel Steward feel is much more interesting and dangerous than any person they fought in the last five years since that first bout. An added bonus is that ESPN3.com has picked up where HBO, who did not want to televise any Klitschko fight that didn’t have David Haye in it, left off. Fight fans all over the world now get to see a fight that this writer agrees is much more intriguing than you think.
“I think it is interesting to the fight fans to see the second fight between Samuel Peter and me,” said Wlad. “It’s great that it is going to be shown on ESPN3.com because a lot of boxing fans will see this fight in U.S. I am glad we have Samuel Peter showing up to the press conference. The man is determined. He wants to fight; he wants to become a champion. That’s the word ‘challenge’ is what I like to see while in camp and preparing. I love a challenge because that keeps me motivated to give the preparation and eventually to stand in front of all of those 45,000 people in the arena watching me performing. That makes me very excited.”
Five years ago, Wladimir Klitschko was man sinking alone on an island of quicksand. A KO loss to Corrie Sanders had exposed what many feel is a glass chin back in 2003 but Wlad fought back into the title scene only to be taken out again in his first fight with Steward against Lamon Brewster in mid-2004 in a fight that featured an amazing turnaround. Wlad was leading on all cards and dominating Brewster when in the fifth round, he came undone and tired out, leaving himself open to a left hook assault from Brewster. Wlad dropped at the end of five, exhausted and disoriented. He would rise but not in any condition to fight on and the fight was waved.
Klitschko would have two more fights after that, against DaVarryl Williamson who dropped and cut Wlad to a point the fight had to go to the cards where Wlad won a technical decision after five rounds. After that, overmatched Eliseo Castillo was next. Neither fight did anything to build up the public’s trust in the younger Klitschko.
Heading into the Peter fight, everyone rightly saw Wladimir as possibly damaged goods. As someone who would never quite reach the prodigious bar he had set as an amateur and early, pre-knocked out contender/beltholder. While Wlad was an incredibly offensive machine at that point, his defense and toughness were very much in question not just by fans but by his team as well.
“The first fight with Sam Peter was probably one of the most crucial events in Wladimir Klitschko’s career and he has had nearly 60 fights which is very unusual in that he has been very active,” explained Steward. “I got involved with [Wlad] in the first fight with Lamon Brewster. We did two more fights and even the fight right before [the first Peter fight] with Williamson, [Wlad] had been knocked down and cut very badly even though we won a technical decision on points. We were having a private conversation while we were wrapping hands. I think in his last three or four fights prior to the Brewster fight, he had been knocked down like five or six times, in addition to the cuts with Williamson and the Brewster knockdowns. So it was a very emotional state in his life and career. Most everybody had given up on him.”
A fight with Peter, who was undefeated at the time, was going to be yet another trial by fire. The difference this time was that this one was asked for.
“It was Wladimir himself who said, ‘Who is the most famous and most credible opponent I can fight?’ said Steward. “And Sam Peter came up and [Wlad] said, ‘That’s the guy who said ‘Who Next? Who Next?’ And he could’ve taken an easier route and taken a fight or two. But he said, ‘No. I want to go directly to the best’ because to be honest with you, everybody around [Wlad] except for me and him had pretty much given up on him. So Wladimir said for the first time no one can come to the camp. He got rid of everyone. It was just basically me and him. And we started a whole ‘nother routine. We went to the Poconos.”
The first Peter fight was like a race Steward helped Klitschko finish on top. Klitschko dominated throughout except for three small glitches: Wlad got dropped twice in the fifth round and once in the tenth. Despite the knockdowns and everything he was facing in Sam Peter, it all seemed a necessary part of winning that night. Wlad was facing down not just Sam Peter that night. He was facing the Ghosts of Knockout Losses Passed and the whispers that go along with that.
“We were watching the fight last night and during that fight you could see the trauma that [Wlad] was going through,” explained Steward. “If you notice the knockdowns -and two of them were not even clean knockdowns- but you could see the expression on [Wlad’s] face where he was going through a lot of emotional drama whether to get up after eight, or whether he was embarrassed where he was thinking ‘Maybe I am finished.’ There was just a lot he went through in that fight. And [Klitschko] survived it all and came out and hit Sam Peter with a left hook that hurt him. I think that was the turning point in his life. It was more than just a fight for this man’s career who had been gold medal winner in the Olympics and been a superstar since he was 14. The most gifted, talented fighter and for the first time in his life he was not believed in. So I think the first time was more than just a fight. It was turning point in his life.”
Though a bit shaky and too clinch willing in the first Peter fight, Klitschko escaped with the win and began to go on a tear that has seen him clean out the division in short order. It was major moment for Klitschko and he has not looked back since.
To Klitschko, this fight, five years later, is a perfect measuring stick for where he stands at age of 34.
“The difference with the first fight and the preparation for Sam,” Klitschko explained, “it was interesting to see Wladimir five years ago, how he moves, what he does, because I remember Wladimir five years ago, the strategy and things like that. These days, later in my career, I understand that boxing is all about a mental and physical game; essentially a chess game. Boxing to me is a chess game. And eventually, you have to make checkmate. Earlier or later but it’s important to make it. No, anything else but checkmate, a knockout. You can actually plan it and with a strategy, it works so good. Definitely the guy we were fighting five years ago didn’t have the knowledge that we have today. So that is probably one of the differences we can mention.”
After the Peter fight in September of 2005, Wlad Klitschko went on to take out nine opponents with eight stoppage wins and become known as the man to beat- not named Vitali- in the division. The fans have embraced him in Europe and begrudgingly here while Wlad’s confidence is at an all-time high.
Sam Peter, on the other hand, has had his own ups and downs himself. After Wlad, Peter would go to war with James Toney twice, then a war he nearly lost while being dropped multiple times against Jameel McCline and finally heavyweight gold in Oleg Maskaev’s WBC belt via TKO in six. Peter lost his belt and his waistline in his next fight against Vitali Klitschko who beat him so thoroughly the quit finally went out of him. After that, he ballooned up to 265 and wasted a title shot position by dropping a decision to Eddie Chambers. But now, he has hired veteran trainer Abel Sanchez to take the reins and in their fights together, Peter is 4-0 (4). He has melted down into the 230s and appears ready to go. In Steward’s estimation, this is not the Sam Peter we have seen before.
“Since that fight, Sam Peter has had a lot of ups and downs,” said Steward. “But I give him a lot of credit for the Jameel McCline fight. He is a very different fighter in his last few fights. We acknowledge that. He is a different fighter. The fighter who fought Vitali Klitschko is not the fighter we are going to fight. The fighter we are going to fight is much more determined fighter. He is 20 some pounds lighter, focused, training up in Big Bear with a very good trainer Abel Sanchez. So we are not fighting the same fighter that Vitali fought.”
For Klitschko, this fight is not just a rematch. It’s taking him back to a time when the world was against him, when there were whispers that he should go model or do something else. Now he has come full circle; a warrior king heading back to claim his throne once more but with confidence.
“One of the things in this fight is comparing where [Wlad] is today and where is Sam Peter is today in their careers,” said Klitschko. “But most of the people are looking at Sam Peter from the Eddie Chambers and Vitali Klitschko fights and Jameel McCline. But we are not fighting that same fighter. We think it is going to be a much more different fighter. Much sharper and crisper with a whole different environment. We are taking him very seriously because we know what one punch can do.”
Preparing for a rematch of a fight you won five years can be tough to get up for. But Klitschko, a consummate pro, believes both he and Steward have forged the kind of bond that keeps him interested and alert to whatever may come.
“I am very motivated for every fight because I enjoy the art of boxing,” said Klitschko. “It is always enjoyable to me with Emanuel. I never had a relationship like I have with Emanuel. Most coaches are like owner of a dog. So he can command and the dog can accomplish what the command was. With Emanuel, he is so creative. He has experience outside the ring and in, tremendous experience. I have my experience in the ring and he respects me for it and I respect him. It is just a symbiosis that enables us to do the good artwork that we do. With every fighter, I am always excited, always excited to get the strategy and everything we look forward to in the ring. But with Sam Peter, it is a little extra motivation.”
Felix Trinidad once said to an opponent who had declared he would knock him out, “It is one thing to call out the devil. It’s another to face him.”
Saturday night, Wladimir Klitschko not only steps into the ring with the man he once faced down en route to proving to himself he was worthy of being a champion. He steps into the ring with a man doing exactly what he had to five years ago. Between that motivation, a new trainer and new conditioning regimen to go with a brand new focus, Sam Peter is the worst kind of demon Klitschko could face. He is more dangerous than that devil Trinidad spoke of. Why, you ask? Because Sam Peter has nothing to lose and everything to gain. He is a demon Klitschko will have to beat one more time to prove himself and one that will stop at nothing to get the job done. But for a man like Klitschko, who went from blue-chip prospect to champion in one of the hardest ways possible, the excitement before a fight is what it is all about.
“It is such a game that brings this tension,” continued Klitschko. “I am extra motivated. I am extra excited. And that’s great because he is tough opponent and I respect that. I expect the best Sam Peter ever. As champion, I have learned that every single challenger, they are having extra motivation because this is their day; this is their chance and they usually bring much more in the ring with them than any other fight because they have extra motivation.”
Time will tell what five years has done to both men, if Sam Peter is truly reborn and if Wladimir Klitschko can face down a puncher one more time and get away with it. Huge fights loom and millions of dollars hang in the balance. Now all that is left is facing down the demon Klitschko has to fight one more time.