Wladimir Klitschko must hope his 'obsession' does not tarnish his reputation against Anthony Joshua

Steve Bunce
Klitschko has his fair share of doubters heading into this fight: Getty

King Wlad is back.

His severed head was hanging from David Haye's fist, the blood dripping from the gruesome wound and the image on the tacky t-shirt upset Wladimir Klitschko enough for him to demand a fight.

In 2011 Klitschko won his 17th world title fight when he danced, held, jabbed and left Haye sore, humiliated and clutching a swollen toe like a silent extra in a grey Charlie Chaplin movie.

The t-shirt that so infuriated Klitschko (Getty )

"He was not wearing the t-shirt after the fight," said Klitschko, the tiniest of contempt in his voice. Klitschko has won 25 of his 28 world title fights and has fought a total of 68 times. There will never be a world champion at heavyweight with a record that comes even close.

Klitschko is not an angry man, has seldom raised his voice in the vicinity of a boxing ring and in the months of the gradual selling of Saturday's fight at Wembley he has been courteous and complimentary to Anthony Joshua at every meeting. There is none of boxing's weary trickery in this fight, no jostling hype of fake outrage.

Joshua shrugs at suggestions the fight is light on hate and heavy on love. "I can't suddenly make out I want to hit him with a table," he said last week, a reference to a conference last year when a table was thrown.

There have been fights when big Wlad was fuming angry, fights involving his beloved brother when he had to be held back as he tried to get involved and finish the job. In 2003 when Lennox Lewis sliced open Vitali Klitschko's face, leaving the repairs to a team of expert plastic surgeons, it was Wladimir in the ring at the bloody end trying to get to Lewis.

Vitali was having his face swathed in ice, a desperate measure to freeze the wounds, and even he had to cool down his kid brother. "I beat one, but the other one wanted it," Lewis joked.

There was also the raw emotion, an enemy of all boxers, in the days before the 2012 fight against the towering and mostly silent Mariusz Wach. The fight was the first since Klitschko's long-time trainer, mentor and friend Manny Steward had died.

Klitschko roughed Wach up for a full 12 rounds (Getty )

It should have been a respectful build-up, the quiet Polish fighter and his retinue playing tribute to Steward's passing, which was just a few weeks before the fight. However, Wach's trainer Juan DeLeon appeared to cross the dignity line with some comments. Klitschko was furious and beat Wach unmercifully for 12 rounds. It is never wise to underestimate the nastiness lurking behind the bilingual greetings of the former heavyweight champion.

The fight will be Klitschko's 29th world title fight, a list that started back in 2000, was interrupted with a loss in 2003, stalled with another shattering defeat in 2004 and finally started down a long and impressive road in 2006.

He has crushed and broken so many men that he has too often stood accused of being boring and repetitive. He has never been accused of being a brilliant heavyweight, but that grand sobriquet will be his in the years to come; Lewis has become a living heavyweight legend since he threw his last punches. It will be the same with Wladimir.

The debate now is whether his obsession with regaining some of the many belts he once held will damage his reputation once he does vanish. His corner, a small team remaining from Steward's days, will never let his legacy suffer from physical ruin and he will be snatched from conflict sooner rather than later if it turns truly nasty on Saturday night.

The problem is his ego, his desire to get back something he does not need and something his ageing body might just be incapable of delivering. Fights are not won at this level by the repetition of handy mantras and at 41 it is slightly odd to see Klitschko so devoted to banging on about his "obsession".

"My heart is so hard, so tough," Klitschko told me in 2009. "I have been knocked down, hurt and beaten and I have always come back. I know punching is an art, there is more to punching than just being a heavyweight."

Klitschko's run was ended in shocking fashion by Tyson Fury (Getty )

He was talking to me before the first cancelled fight with Haye, a fight that was meant to be his last, his final defence. Klitschko was too old, too vulnerable and Haye was fancied to end it all. It never happened.

Klitschko's world title run did end one odd night in Düsseldorf in November 2015. In the ring he looked sad as Tyson Fury jabbed his head, patted his arse and put on a masterclass to dumbfound the champion. There has never been an excuse or an explanation for the loss, and perhaps there is not one.

It might simply be the end, which is something Klitschko refuses to accept. "I'm not done, not finished yet," he said at the start of April.

Everybody in the Klitschko business is praying there is one big fight left and everybody in the Joshua business is desperately hoping that there is not. "They have got everything wrong," said Klitschko. It would not, it has to be said, be the first time.

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