Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko stare down ()Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko stare down () © Copyright

Klitschko talks AJ, Tyson Fury and retirement

Wladimir Klitschko tells FS the full story behind the fight of the year.

The day before Anthony Joshua’s 11th birthday – five years before AJ had even thought about boxing – Wladimir Klitschko won the WBO heavyweight title. It was his third title, and his 36th professional fight. He went eleven years and five months undefeated.

That Klitschko is still boxing aged 41 is impressive enough, but he is still seen as a giant of the ring. Prior to his defeat to Tyson Fury in November 2015, the Ukrainian had been unbeaten for more than a decade, taking in 22 fights. His style has come under question from various corners – Joshua included – but there is no doubting his effectiveness.

Having lost his title in surprising circumstances, though, many expected Klitschko to retire. Again, the man turned 41 last month. The defeat to Fury, though, turned him back from champion to challenger, and that status has given the Ukrainian a renewed motivation that’s set to be tested to the max when he faces Joshua in front of 90,000 at Wembley.

Klitschko has been here before, when he took on and defeated the explosive, younger British heavyweight David Haye in 2011. Haye may have been highly thought of but Klitschko dominated his challenger. That was six years ago. AJ is the favourite, but Klitschko is surely where the real intrigue lies. Is the end in sight for the Ukrainian? And what’s the real driving force behind him going to war again? FS spoke to him to find out…

Wladimir Klitschko training ()

 

You’re already considered one of the finest heavyweight champs in history, so why are you continuing to fight?

Why not? I love the challenge. I’m going to face the biggest challenge of my  career, and on the biggest stage. To fight at Wembley Stadium in a sold-out arena with 90,000 people… Joshua’s an Olympic and world champion, I’m an Olympic champion and former world champion – so it’s pretty equal.

Joshua isn’t going to get this crowd without me, and I’m not going to get the same crowd without Joshua. After losing, you usually get in a line and you will try to come back. After the fight that I had where I lost the titles [to Fury in November 2015], I definitely gained interest. It’s very motivational and once again, why not? It’s something that many dream about, and I can do right now.

But why not quit while you’re ahead, and with the legacy intact, particularly when boxing can be so dangerous?

I understand the legacy part, but I’m not done yet. When I’m done with boxing, I can think about my legacy. Right now, I’m totally obsessed with demolishing the person in front of me. We have a very peaceful relationship and remain friends. But whatever is going to happen from the first bell to the last, is going to be the opposite. Trust me – in some countries your job as a journalist is more dangerous than mine in the ring. It’s all relative. 

Wladimir Klitschko fighting Tyson Fury ()

 

How much did the defeat by Tyson Fury hurt you?

Sadly, I’m afraid Fury got hurt more than it hurt me just losing the titles. Where he’s ended up, what he looks like, and what he’s done, it’s just beyond sadness. It’s sad that whatever was said by him, and wherever he is right now – and who knows where he’s going to be? – the most painful part was to hand the titles into his hands.

I’d been defending those titles for a very long time. And please don’t call me crazy, but I’m enjoying being a challenger. When you’ve been defending your titles for so many years, it’s a gift to have a different view,
a different attitude, and motivation.

Believe it or not, to be undefeated, it’s a tough situation, because there are a lot of unknowns and insecurities. Having this experience, knowing the opposite side, is playing a major role in why I’m so obsessed with my next fight. It was probably not bad that I didn’t win: it’s all playing into my hands.

Is there any chance this could be your last fight?

In the past ten years, I’ve been going from fight to fight. When I was 20, I thought after winning Olympic gold [at Atlanta in 1996], ‘That’s it, there are no more challenges and I’m probably not going to remain in the sport.” Then I thought of 30 as the limit. So now I’m 41, and I’m just enjoying the moment, being an active athlete, because I’m not going to do it forever.

Whatever the result, I’m not going to say it’s the last or it’s not, as I didn’t in the past and it worked out for me. I just want to be on the winner’s side, and not the other side. Trust me, it’s not that pleasant!

Wladimir Klitschko training ()

 

As you’ve got older, how have you had to adapt your training to suit your body? Particularly with the injuries you’ve recently had.

Injuries in sport are something that are very common. The efficiency of the preparation can only be adjusted by yourself. That’s exactly what I’ve been doing, trying all these different programmes of preparation. I have trained myself for the past ten years, so I have my own agenda. Even with [the late, respected] Emanuel Steward, it was under my agenda, but with his expertise in strategy and technique, of course.

With older age, it’s all about quality. At a younger age, it’s automatically about quantity, because you don’t know your body. Then you have a coach here, or a specialist there, in conditioning, in boxing – all these experts can’t feel you as you do yourself. So I understand all of this, and tell the team what we’re going to do, and when.

Wladimir Klitschko and Anthony Joshua press conference ()

 

How are you going to go about defeating Joshua? Would you prefer to do it early, or because he’s never gone beyond seven rounds, take him into the later stages and see how he manages to cope with a longer fight?

It doesn’t really matter – the end result is important. There are so many different ways. I know Joshua has good conditioning to be able to do the longer rounds; I don’t know about his mental condition yet, but we’ll figure that out if it goes longer. But I’ll need to be ready for 12 rounds. If it goes earlier, good. If it goes later, I’m ready for it as well.

Regardless of this fight’s outcome, can you see Joshua succeeding you as the world’s leading heavyweight, and maybe creating a legacy like yours?

AJ is a good successor, absolutely. And I told him, if he’s going to win I’ll congratulate him, and when he’s going to lose, I’ll help him to come back. He’s definitely going to make it back to the top. He has the talent, the capability, and the desire. And he’s well-behaved: that tells you his family background. He was probably well raised by his parents, which is a compliment for them.

How he carries himself in public, what is coming out of his mouth, puts boxing in a better light. He just fits well into the role. He might [create a similar legacy to mine], he has the qualities but needs to develop them. But we don’t know. Maybe a year down the line, he’s going to decide to stop and do something else. I don’t know. He has the qualities and the foundation, though – the rest needs to be drawn. 

Photos: Getty Images

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