Wladimir Klitschko is the most dominant heavyweight in decades, a six-foot-six tactician who hasn’t been rattled since winning boxing’s WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO championships. His older brother Vitali has become the mayor of Kiev, and his fianceé Hayden Panettiere recently gave birth to their first child. Still, when we caught up with him a week and a half before Saturday’s title defense against the undefeated Bryant Jennings (10 p.m. ET/PT on HBO), he quickly expressed his disappointment.
“Unfortunately, training camp is almost over,” he says as the conversation begins. Training camp? “I eat, I sleep, I exercise on schedule, and it’s amazing. Otherwise, when I’m out of training camp, I live a life that’s unpredictable.”
This is true. Besides winning an Olympic gold medal and 63 professional fights, Klitschko has curated the Ukrainian pavilion at the Venice Biennale and earned a doctorate in sports science. Our interview is brief, but he approaches it with the careful intelligence of someone who has once defended a dissertation. Even when he claims that no one can stop him, the 39-year-old champ doesn’t seem to be bragging – he’s simply examined the results and come to the same conclusion as everyone but his next opponent.
You’ve easily defeated every top heavyweight from the last 10 years. Do you ever wish for better competition?
Believe it or not, even when my fights looked kind of one-sided, they were all good and great. I just do not let the other fighters open up and do not let them be monsters in the ring. If I’m well prepared, there’s nothing that can stop me. Do I wish for more challenges and more competition? I’m getting it. It’s not something that I’m missing. I’m getting challenges all the time, and if I allowed them to do what they want to do, then those fights would have been really tough. But before they get anything, before they bite me, I better knock those teeth out – and it’s gonna be painful. [Pauses] That was a sarcastic way of saying it.
What has been your toughest fight since you became champion?
I’m always expecting that my next fight is gonna be my toughest fight. I’m always expecting that my challengers are going to be better than they are, and they are usually better because it’s their last chance and they’re very motivated. But it’s not about somebody giving me the toughest time. There’s only one person that can give me the toughest time, and that’s myself. If I’m not getting along with myself, if I have to struggle with myself and am not in agreement with myself, that is the toughest opponent that I have ever faced in my life. I think that people who have taken on challengers will understand what I’m talking about.
If you could go back and join a different era of heavyweights, which would you pick?
Maybe to watch the fights, but not to compete. I don’t like this question because I know it is leading to, “If you were in the times of Joe Louis, would you like to fight with him?” The attitude of every champion is, “I’m going to destroy any person that is across from me, standing in the ring,” and this attitude hasn’t changed in the history of boxing. Every person was the best in their times, and they wouldn’t want to travel anywhere else. That is going to be unfair to compare myself to Rocky Marciano and try to beat his unbeaten record. I’m not going to compare myself to any Joe Louis, Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson or Rocky Marciano. They were great in their times, and I know their attitude was the same that I have right now: This is my time and I will destroy any opponent that is standing across from me in the ring.
What would you say to people who are critical of the quality of today’s heavyweights…
I would say, “Thank you very, very much for all the critiques that you’ve been giving.” I’ve been criticized a lot, and these critics were making me better. Some of it was right, and I had to be honest to myself and say, “I think this is right.” If some other critics were wrong, then I know it’s not the real truth, but I can understand and disagree.
This is your first fight in the U.S. since 2008. Is boxing perceived differently here, as opposed to the Ukraine?
Boxing is pretty much the same at any time in any country: It’s a ring with four corners with a referee between two fighters. I know that in the past year boxing was not as popular in the United States as, for example, mixed martial arts, but I’m thankful that the demand for boxing is so strong currently – it’s bouncing boxing. Meanwhile, in the past seven years, boxing in Europe was huge, and the fights were at huge arenas and stadiums filled out with 60,000 people and the TV ratings were high as the sky.
Also, this mega-huge fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, with this ridiculous amount of money [laughs]. It’s exciting and it’s good, because now boxing is on the map and people want to see it. This is great for the sport of boxing, that such an event is happening with this magnitude on the financial side and the side of attention. No other sport so far has done it, so I’m happy that it’s happening in boxing.
Who do you think is going to win that one?
I think on the boxing side, slight advantage for Mayweather – 51 percent for Mayweather and 49 percent for Pacquiao. As a person, I like Pacquiao better than Mayweather, but from a boxing standpoint, I think that Mayweather has a better chance to win this fight.