WLADIMIR KLITSCHKO’S resume is outstanding. Unbeaten since 2004, victorious in 19 consecutive world title fights, the division’s longest reigning ruler since Joe Louis himself, he is universally regarded as the world’s pre-eminent heavyweight. He is only missing one thing – the WBC title.
The belt was once held by his brother, Vitali, meaning the Klitschko family held all the major titles at the same time during their glorious reign. Wladimir would never have boxed Vitali. Now he can fight for that final belt, except there’s another factor standing in his way, one that is probably trickier to solve than the 18 challengers he’s seen off since 2006 – the politics of the sport.
Deontay Wilder won the WBC heavyweight title from Bermane Stiverne. He’s expected to defend it in January before facing his mandatory challenger, Alexander Povetkin. Unifying all the heavyweight crowns is tantalisingly close for Wladimir, it’s a real possibility, yet the 39 year old might simply be running out of time.
Boxing might need a unified heavyweight champion, but Klitschko declined to reveal how much he craves this last accolade.
“If I’m going to get this unification with whoever the champion is, that would be great, I never had it,” he said. “On the other hand if it’s going to be too complicated, and boxing politics are involved so there’s a lot of things involved. Trust me, it’s complicated enough to stand in the ring for many years and defend your titles, but it’s so complicated to find out who is the next mandatory, who is going to be the next challenger. We have a lot of sanctioning bodies. I cannot complain, it’s worked out well with all the sanctioning bodies but it’s a lot of work for my lawyer, for my team to handle. Everyone’s screaming, ‘We’re in the line.’”
Typically Klitschko does not allow himself to dwell on factors beyond his control. Rather than focusing on the one last title that has, so far, eluded him, his drive comes from within. “It sounds selfish, but it’s all about me. I have a very big ego. It’s not about somebody else. It’s about my satisfaction and ego that needs to be satisfied. This ego’s big and that moves me forward in motivation,” he says.
The champion maintains that he’ll only lose again if he allows “somebody to beat me”. “But will I allow that?” he continued. “No. Because of my ego… I think that’s the core of any successful person – ego.”
“I’m very conservative with myself and I care about my family and myself. Like with the question: how do you want people to see you in the public eye? I understand the marketing, I understand the brand, I understand all of this. But it’s secondary to me. It’s important to me that in the morning, in the evening or each time I look in the mirror, I look at a person I actually like. I love myself. I look at the person reflected in the mirror and think, ‘You’re a cool dude, you’ve done well,’” he continued. “I live in a small world. My world. It’s important to me the qualities that I deliver to my world, my family, my friends and the reflection in their eyes as well.
“You need to love yourself, to love others. So you need to start from yourself.”
To be the heavyweight champion of the world you have to be larger than life. It comes with the job. The Klitschko brothers are assuming historic roles, for achievements with the sport and Vitali has gone beyond that, getting involved in the ferment of Ukrainian politics as the mayor of Kiev, a fraught arena that over the last two years has seen a democratic movement on the streets of Kiev and war overtake the east of the country.
Addressing their political influence Wladimir said, “I think this combination where one is in politics and one is not is a healthy combination. As not a politician, I can mention whatever I think is right and I think as a politician, it’s a little bit more complicated… Your party, diplomacy, there are a lot of things. I think my hands are free to do what I want to do, to mention what I think is important, especially to make statements I think are right,” he said. “To be in politics it doesn’t really mean you need to be a politician. So you can do a lot as a person that is out there, especially in the public eye, which helps a lot.
“I think in this case I’m actually more flexible, as not a politician, to talk about politics. I understand the decisions that need to be made in parliament and the president has a lot of power, the prime minister and everybody else. But otherwise – you’re not a politician but I’ve been involved previously with all the democratic movements of the Ukrainian people and with Maidan or the Orange Revolution in 2004 and those statements are well heard outside, not just inside the country.”
There is a dignity to the office of heavyweight champ, there is a dignity to the way Klitschko conducts himself. But Saturday’s challenger Tyson Fury has given no indication that he’ll stand on ceremony and pay the champion too much respect.
“He thinks he’s the king of the world,” Klitschko said of Fury. “That’s the stage he’s at… It’s immaturity, absolutely.”
But Fury is unbeaten. So far in his professional all Tyson knows is winning and Wladimir had to admit, “Everyone is right to judge from his experience.”
Klitschko doesn’t know what to expect from Tyson, reflecting, “I have learned the closer you’re going to get to a fence, you’re judging from far away and you think this fence, you can step over it to get to the other side. The closer you’re getting, the taller the fence and suddenly you realise it’s five metres tall, I can’t get over it. Another example, you think it’s tall but you’re getting closer to the fence and actually you can step over and be on the other side. With a fight it’s the same thing. You don’t know. Let’s see. Because there are a lot of things that are going to happening this night. A lot of pressure, a lot of things Tyson needs to handle and also myself without exception. I don’t know, let’s see.”
He does though want to end this particular feud his own way. “What could be better than a spectacular finish? It’s what it’s all about,” Klitschko said. “The clear win is the best win you can have in boxing. Because if it’s controversial points, ‘I think it was the wrong judgement’, maybe rematches and maybe this and that. I think if it’s pretty obvious and clear, we don’t want comments like [Kubrat] Pulev said after his fight, ‘Klitschko’s lucky’. If I had won that fight on points [he knocked Pulev out], he would have said more ridiculous things. So that’s why I want a definitive finish.
“But the win is a win.”
Klitschko v Fury is live on Sky Sports Box Office this Saturday. Buy now at skysports.com/klitschkofury