- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Wladimir Klitschko was once widely regarded as the future king of the heavyweight division. With his size and power, the 1996 Olympic super heavyweight gold medalist was one of the scariest offensive machines in the sport.
But after suffering knockout losses in two of his last five fights both on high profile HBO cards and being knocked down in his last bout, Klitschko's stock has fallen faster than Enron's, and he is struggling to put his career back together.
He'll continue the reclamation project Saturday night (HBO, same-day tape, 9:45 ET/PT) in Dortmund, Germany, in a 10-round bout against unheralded Eliseo Castillo (18-0-1, 14 KOs) of Cuba.
Trainer Emanuel Steward bluntly called Saturday's match a must-win after Klitschko's recent disastrous run.
"It's very, very important and crucial to his career [to win] because he has not had an impressive victory in about two years," Steward said. "Wladimir realizes it's a very crucial fight and that people will make a final judgment on his career based on this fight."
Adding to the pressure is the fact that Klitschko's biggest fan will be absent just when he needs all the support he can get.
Klitschko (43-3, 39 KOs) will enter a fight for the first time in his career without big brother Vitali the 33-year-old heavyweight champion working in his corner.
Vitali Klitschko underwent successful back surgery Tuesday in Los Angeles. A bone spur was removed from his spine, and doctors don't want him to fly for three weeks, meaning he'll miss the fight Saturday. Wladimir has never missed one of Vitali's fights, either.
"It's something unusual for me that Vitali will not be in my corner for the fight," Wladimir, 29, said this week from Germany. "I think that physically he won't be with me, but mentally, he will be with me like he has all of my life. I will get through it. I think mentally it is much more important than physically, anyway."
Vitali's absence won't impact the fight, Steward said.
"When Vitali works the corner, I notice he supports his brother but he does not do a lot of talking," Steward said. "The fights that he has worked with me, I do not think I have ever heard him say anything. He just stands there, supports and listens to the instructions and sits down.
"We are talking to him on a regular basis and he is very much aware of everything that is going on. But when you get to be successful on the level that these brothers have attained, sooner or later it is inevitable that someone is going to have a fight maybe that conflicts or an injury. They are two extremely successful men right now. I think a lot has been played on this which is something that you should kind of expect at this stage of their lives right now."
Around the ring
Tyson still sells: Although Mike Tyson is coming off a knockout loss and set to fight journeyman Kevin McBride, the former heavyweight champ still can sell tickets. The promotion, dubbed "Capitol Punishment," grossed about $650,000 by selling nearly 6,000 of the 17,500 tickets available in the first three hours that tickets went on sale for the June 11 fight at the MCI Center in Washington.
Couple of pros: Hot middleweight contender Jermain Taylor isn't the only pro athlete in his house anymore. Taylor's wife, Erica Smith-Taylor, was picked in the second-round (19th overall) by the Washington Mystics in the April 16 WNBA draft. Although the 5-foot-10 guard from Louisiana Tech missed the first half of the season while pregnant with their first child daughter Nia Jay Taylor was born Dec. 14 she returned to practice five weeks later. Despite missing half the season, Smith-Taylor averaged 11.2 points and 4.1 rebounds per game in 16 games to solidify her draft status.
Jump in class: Welterweight prospect Paul Williams (25-0, 19 KOs) steps up significantly in competition against 1996 U.S. Olympic bronze medalist Terrance Cauthen (26-2, 7 KOs), a slick southpaw who is hard to look good against, on Friday night in the ShoBox main event (Showtime, 11 ET/PT) at the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez, Calif.
"He is not the most exciting fighter, but his upper body movement is so devastating," Williams said of Cauthen. "That makes him hard to hit. I am looking to bang with him. I have got to run and gun. This guy has the potential to make me look bad. But we are working on some things and should not have a problem if we fight our game plan."
Big British battle: Frank Warren, the dominant promoter in the United Kingdom, has announced one of the biggest British heavyweight showdowns in years when Matt Skelton (16-0, 15 KOs) defends the British title against Tyson-conqueror Danny Williams (32-4, 27 KOs) on a July date to be announced.
"Skelton is the powerful raw puncher who has stopped all but one of his opponents and is stepping up to the plate," Warren said in making the announcement. "Danny is the man who finally destroyed Mike Tyson's myth once and for all, and remember, Tyson did not want a rematch with him. Both men can punch, and it could be a case of who lands first can win."
Williams surprised the world with a knockout of Tyson last July. The win earned him a shot at world champ Vitali Klitschko, but he was stopped in eight one-sided rounds in December.
Quick hits: HBO is holding Sept. 10 for an Erik Morales fight. Morales, of course, is coming off of a March decision over Manny Pacquiao in what is, so far, the fight of the year. Jose Luis Valbuena (24-3-1, 14 KOs) of Venezuela will face Celestino Caballero (21-2, 15 KOs) of Panama in a junior featherweight eliminator on promoter Oscar De La Hoya's May 5 HBO Latino card at the Desert Diamond Casino in Tucson, Ariz. The winner earns the right to face titlist Israel Vazquez. Valbuena has had two previous title shots, losing a decision to then 122-pound champ Marco Antonio Barrera in 2000 and on a 12th-round TKO to Vazquez for the vacant belt 13 months ago. Caballero is coming off an upset win in February, when he beat previously undefeated hot prospect Daniel Ponce De Leon. Also on the card: middleweight David Lopez (23-13, 14 KOs) faces Danny Perez (31-4, 17 KOs). Although not part of HBO's broadcast, a pair of heavyweight bouts involving four fighters hoping to get into the title picture have been added to the April 30 undercard of John Ruiz's heavyweight title defense against James Toney at Madison Square Garden. DaVarryl Williamson (21-3, 17 KOs), who knocked down Wladimir Klitschko in their October fight only to lose a technical decision and then defeated former champ Oliver McCall in November, faces Derrick Jefferson (28-3, 21 KOs). Also, Larry Donald (42-3-2, 24 KOs), coming off a November domination of Evander Holyfield, faces Ray Austin (22-3-2, 15 KOs). In a result that flew under the radar for most, former heavyweight champ McCall (43-8, 31 KOs) won an eight-round decision against Cornelius Ellis on April 16 in Winston-Salem, N.C. Manager Jimmy Adams, who also handles former champ Riddick Bowe, said McCall will next fight May 10. Junior bantamweight champ Martin Castillo, who easily and impressively outpointed former flyweight champ Eric Morel on the Morales-Pacquiao undercard in March, is headed to Japan for his second title defense. He'll give Hideyasu Ishihara a rematch on June 26. Castillo stopped Ishihara in the 11th round in a May 2004 title eliminator.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.
9hEric D. Williams