NO ONE has observed Wladimir Klitschko’s career as closely, or for as long, as cutman Jacob “Stitch” Duran. Stitch has been in the heavyweight champion’s corner for 21 fights over the last 10 years, affording him a unique, insider viewpoint. To this day he remains singularly impressed with how Klitschko has developed into such a commanding champion.
“There’s a formula he has step by step by step. Nothing has changed in the 21 fights that I’ve worked with Wladimir. His conditioning factor is always top of the line, his discipline is unchangeable,” Stitch tells Boxing News.
Duran is normally a quiet, diligent presence in the corner, though occasionally he has made an intervention. In the David Haye fight, Emanuel Steward left Wladimir on his stool in a break between rounds to remonstrate with the referee. “I normally work on the outside but I saw at that moment that Emanuel wasn’t there so I stepped in, I started working on him. I said, ‘Look man, don’t worry about it, you’re doing fine, just continue doing what you’re doing.’ So I gave him a little titbit of information. But he brought that up last night, how important it was for me to go in at that moment and I have to be very selective as a cutman because my job is not to give instructions. But at that point through my experience and being the veteran, I went in there and I took charge at that moment and that’s a story that he fondly remembers.”
After the sad death of Emanuel Steward, Stitch has also seen Johnathon Banks step into the role as trainer. “Johnathon had been with Emanuel since he was a little kid but once again it’s that formula that Emanuel developed that Johnathon is familiar with. They keep that same formula working. With Wladimir being the leader that he is and knowing what he wants to do and knowing what he’s doing and then you have Johnathon that still has that same mentality as a fighter and knows what he’s doing and they all work under that same Emanuel Steward umbrella. It’s Emanuel Steward-pseudo Johnathon Banks so it’s the same formula that Emanuel had,” Duran explains.
Normally a trainer is a kind of father-figure, the older man issuing instructions. In this corner Stitch has a paternal role, looking after the fighter during the contest, while the trainer Banks is younger than his charge, in fact a former sparring partner of Wladimir’s. In this team Klitschko is very much the leader. “Johnathon will give him all the advice but Wladimir is a computer. He analyses everything and will absorb the good things and the practical things that Johnathon brings in but he also has his own mind skills that he uses for the fight. But it seems to work out fine,” Stitch said.
Klitschko has proved that it’s good for a fighter not just to obey instructions but to take a leadership role himself. “Wladimir is a horse of a different colour. He is so astute in everything that he does and he’s so perfect in everything that he does and he analyses everything,” Duran continued. “Wladimir knows what he wants to do and it’s just a matter of having somebody, not pulling the chains, but kind of guiding him and supporting him as he really travels that road to the fights that he does. But he’s a leader. He was born a leader.”
That has evolved to an even greater degree over the year. “Just through his age and his mentality, he’s taken the bull by the horns and he’s become more of a leader. Not that he wasn’t,” Stitch says.
With his older brother Vitali moving out of boxing to become a political figure himself, it has allowed Wladimir to step forward to become the lone leading figure in heavyweight boxing. Duran continued, “His goal is obviously to get the WBC belt, the one that Vitali gave up. I think he wants to close his career with all the belts. If he gets by Tyson Fury, then that is the next goal, Deontay Wilder. Is it possible? It’s highly possible and I hope he does it just for his legacy.
“It’s a respect factor. You’ve got to give them credit for what they do but you also have to respect the art. Wladimir and Vitali, they’ve respected the art as well as anybody out there.”