From his training camp deep in the heart of the Austrian Tyrol, Wladimir Klitschko reveals how long he spent reflecting on his bizarre performance in the defeat by Tyson Fury.
He was a ghost of himself that night in November 2015, his first loss after 19 world-title victories in succession. Was it down to Fury’s style? Or age catching up with Klitschko? No, more likely it was simply an off-night for the champion, it seems. But after an 18-month absence from the ring, it matters not now. All he is thinking about is Anthony Joshua unravelling before him.
The Ukrainian, who turned 41 last month, faces 27-year-old Joshua, undefeated in 18 fights, in just over a fortnight. The deposed champion is attempting to win a world heavyweight belt for the third time. The fighter who reigned undefeated for 9½ years, albeit without thrilling fans, made a strong case for himself to prevail in front of 90,000 spectators at Wembley Stadium on April 29.
“Klitschko reloaded” is how the Soviet-schooled boxer sees his 69th contest and 29th title fight.
Klitschko is a creature of habit. Since 2003, he has prepared here at the Stanglwirt spa resort, and it is here where he sparred for 60 minutes with the young Briton two summers ago. Klitschko remembers him well: astute, keen to learn, and like Joshua’s host – the man known as Dr Steelhammer – an ambitious boxer who had joined the professional ranks having won Olympic gold.
Failure is an experience, Klitschko says, and Joshua is a fresh challenge. Perhaps the last. “It was never boring because there were new challenges, new challengers, new fighters, representing different countries in different standings, backgrounds, ages, sizes, weights, colours,” Klitschko says. “You name it. The most amazing thing is I’ve still got it. Because I’m standing and facing the challenge on April 29.
“It’s pretty incredible to me, because I’ve been there. I’ve lost fights, I’ve got back up. I’ve won the titles back. I lost again, I got back up, I got more respect, I lost again. Some of the guys at my age maybe think about something different, but I’m still in it. I’m still on this hamster wheel, turning it, spinning it at my own pace.”
Klitschko sparred 20 rounds with Joshua. He believes it benefitted both fighters. “It’s an advantage on both sides. We have sparred and we have been in the ring together. He got a chance to look and be in the background of my training team, my camp and got to know a lot.
“I got to know him in the ring. He was one of many sparring partners. Some of them I don’t remember.” But Joshua stood out. “Yes, I do remember him. He impressed me with his attitude. He was very raw. He carried himself well. He was very athletic and he could box. I was there in the arena in London when he won Olympic gold. Every medallist in the heavyweight and super-heavyweight divisions at the Olympics has to be considered successful. Look back in history.” Indeed. From Muhammad Ali to George Foreman and Joe Frazier, through Lennox Lewis, Klitschko and now Joshua.
“I gave him a lot of credit,” recalled Klitschko. “He has a lot of potential and so far he has done good. Look, 18 fights, he’s a champion and he is fighting the biggest stage in his career. Even in my career I haven’t fought in a 90,000 stadium. He started young and he’s had success.
“I’ve had Olympic champions in my camp and former world champions. I liked A J’s attitude. He was not trying to impress anybody. He backed off, was sitting on the side, not talking too much. He was watching, learning, asking questions. He was very polite. He was different than others at this stage of experience and achievements in sport. You can’t see everything. There’s so much involved in it. But he got pretty much where I train, how I train, the rules. He got the vibe.”
Klitschko appears to have rationalised, mentally and emotionally, the defeat by Fury. “I lost but I don’t feel beaten. I lost, I didn’t do enough to win. I was thinking about it for a year, trying to get this rematch. And then when it all went downhill... [Fury pulled out, citing mental-health issues.] I don’t care about it anymore.
“I’m not a destroyed man. The rematch is not going to happen. It’s a done deal, and I just look forward. The past doesn’t bother me at all. The man destroyed himself. I won’t have a chance to fight him again. It’s like a book: you close the book, put it on the shelf, read another one.”
Klitschko compared beating him to climbing Mount Everest. “It’s the highest mountain in the world. It’s there. It’s been there for a long time and will be there for a long time. You can climb it during a certain period of time – during two weeks in April, I believe. You can get to the top and say, ‘I conquered Everest’. Then you’ve got to run down because it’s going to take you down if you miss the time. After you’re down, a lot of people died there. Some made it, not many, but some made it back.
“Is Mount Everest defeated? It’s still there. It was 27 years ago when I started, and I am still here. I have guys who have conquered me in certain periods of time out of the 68 fights. Four of them have made it out of a 21-year professional career. The rest didn’t. But most didn’t and the most amazing thing is I’m still here, they’re not. I’m Klitschko reloaded, and that’s what you’re going to see.”
Sky Sports Box Office will show Joshua v Klitschko exclusively live on April 29. To book go to www.skysports.com/joshua