Klitschko does good while doing well
Heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko has been rampaging through the division for years. Since winning a title in bloody fashion from Chris Byrd in 2006, Klitschko has smashed and bashed his way through nine challengers (knocking out eight of them) and has barely lost a round along the way.
He has unified two alphabet belts, collected the lineal title and more or less cleaned out the division of contenders -- except for those fighters his older brother, fellow heavyweight titleholder Vitali Klitschko, destroyed first.
Klitschko is virtually out of notable opponents, especially with titleholder David Haye doing everything he can to avoid the brothers.
But Klitschko is not about to stop fighting just because there are no big names. He's only 34 years old and continues to perform at an extraordinarily high level -- not to mention that he loves what he does, makes millions upon millions whenever he steps into the ring and uses that fame and money to help those less fortunate.
"I never enjoyed boxing as much as I do now," Klitschko said. "It's a joy, a love for the sport, and I am really thankful for it for the experiences and for the people I have met, and the chances I have had in my life."
Klitschko, however, must do his best to convince people not to underestimate his next foe, unheralded British bad boy Dereck Chisora. They meet at the SAP Arena in Mannheim, Germany, on Saturday as Klitschko -- one of the longest-reigning active titleholders in boxing -- looks to break a tie with Mike Tyson for number of title defenses. ESPN3.com will have live coverage of Saturday's bout beginning at 5 p.m. ET, with a taped replay airing at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN.
When told that his nine defenses had equaled the number made by Tyson -- elected Tuesday to the International Boxing Hall of Fame, where Klitschko figures to someday be enshrined -- during his glorious first title reign, Klitschko seemed genuinely stunned.
"Wow, I'm surprised to hear that," Klitschko said. "I don't really pay attention to the numbers, but that is nice to hear. It's quite a surprise."
Klitschko (55-3, 49 KOs) is a good bet to notch defense No. 10 against Chisora (14-0, 9 KOs), an opponent who didn't even turn pro until 2007 -- after Klitschko's title reign was under way. But Klitschko is doing his best to make a case for Chisora to be taken seriously.
"He's only got 14 fights, which is not a lot, but I never, ever faced a fighter as busy as Chisora," Klitschko said. "For a heavyweight, he fights like a lightweight -- with the amount of punches he's throwing and he's not getting tired. He is very durable, and he has a lot of power."
Chisora, 26, owns the British and Commonwealth titles, and the two biggest names on his thin record are countrymen Sam Sexton (whom he has beaten twice, including a ninth-round knockout in September that caught Klitschko's eye) and former title challenger Danny Williams (second-round knockout in May). Vitali Klitschko destroyed Williams in a 2004 title bout, one fight after Williams knocked out the faded Tyson.
Chisora has also had his problems in and out of the ring. In one infamous example, he bit an opponent during a fight.
"I think people don't give credit, and he is underestimated," Klitschko said. "But can he take a punch, and what is he gonna do when he gets punched heavily? Will he bite on my leg because he can't reach my ear?"
Chisora was also found guilty of assaulting an ex-girlfriend in May, and it was not his first conviction. He received a three-month sentence for the attack on the woman, which was suspended, allowing him to fight Klitschko.
"He is a better fighter than people think," Klitschko said. "I never met a guy who is so confident in himself. We asked him to fight me and an hour later we got confirmation. He signed a contract, and the fight was done in three days. He got the chance and he took it. I met him at press conferences in Germany and England. He is pretty bold, and it shows that you have to have an attitude if you want to be a champion, and that's what he has.
"So I expect a challenge. He is not psychologically stable, though. He bit the ear twice and he beat up his girlfriend. The guy is totally out of control, and he doesn't care. I have to give him a lesson. I am looking forward to it. Everyone has a plan until they get hit, as Mike Tyson said."
Emanuel Steward, Klitschko's Hall of Fame trainer, said when he was first told about the fight he thought it was a joke. But now?
"I take this guy very serious," Steward said. "I know it's crazy. The other guys Wladimir has been fighting are older guys or were intimidated or were in it for the money. This guy has a little different mindset. When the fight was made, I thought it was a joke, but I've been doing my homework and I think it's a very tough fight.
"He has an aggressiveness that was different than some of the guys Wladimir has fought. Aggression means maybe Wladimir might have to fight at a faster, meaner pace than usual."
Klitschko, of course, would rather be fighting Haye, a titleholder from England who has disparaged the Klitschko brothers repeatedly. He once signed to challenge Wladimir and then withdrew on short notice. Then he agreed to fight Vitali but instead signed to fight Nikolai Valuev, narrowly outpointing him to win a belt.
Klitschko has made several overtures to get Haye into the ring but has been consistently rebuffed, even after offering a generous 50-50 split.
"I'm getting tired of this Haye bull----," Klitschko said. "We've been talking so much. He signed the contract and he didn't show up at the fight. You can't really take any of what he says seriously. I'd like to fight Haye to shut him up, but I don't really need him. He needs us more than we need him. He hasn't accomplished anything in the heavyweight division, but he is putting himself in a corner with a lot of talk and no real action. If the fight comes, it comes. Right now I am excited about Chisora. I want people focused on that fight. I believe Chisora is stronger and better than David Haye."
Chisora, for his part, relishes the idea of getting to Klitschko before Haye.
"I'm going into the Klitschko fight a big underdog, but I promise you now that I'll throw more than one punch and put up more of a fight than he did," Chisora said, slamming England's Audley Harrison for his non-effort in a title shot against Haye in November. "I've got a big challenge ahead of me, but I'm going out there to give it my best shot because winning the title means more to me than the money. I'm confident that I call pull of a massive shock and bring the title back to Britain, and I'm ruining Haye's dreams of beating the Klitschkos because I'm going to do it first."
Besides enjoying boxing, especially the training, Klitschko said he remains motivated despite the lack of name opponents because being a champion helps him raise money for charitable causes.
He has his Klitschko Foundation and is also involved with Power Child Cares, an organization that raises awareness and helps victims of child sexual abuse.
For this fight, Klitschko said two people combined to pay more than $500,000 to be able to carry his belts into the ring, with the money going to the charity.
"This is such a simple thing, but such a cool thing," Klitschko said. "These people are so excited about it, and I can help so many people. This keeps me motivated. I can do some good stuff. It's time to give back. It's very enjoyable.
"You see the results, you see the money [for charity], you see the positive emotions of people, the excitement. I'm receiving a lot of wealth, so it's time to give back. That's my motivation and what gets me in the ring."
Steward, who has grown close to Klitschko in their five years together, said he sometimes can't get over how much Klitschko does with so little fanfare.
"Of all of the fighters I have known, I have never known anyone other than him and his brother where their mission seems to be helping less fortunate people," Steward said. "Wladimir never brags about it. He's really serious about it. He and his brother have fully educated people from Kenya. I have seen checks he's written. He's done it in Brazil. He seems to feel like that is his calling on this planet -- to help the less fortunate. That's where a lot of his money goes.
"He's helped set up schools. He fully financed the whole thing. He raises a lot of money, he puts up a lot of his own money out of his own pocket. He's a good person and he doesn't like to brag about it. You don't see him flaunting what he's doing. I think he's a great role model for people, a great role model for the young fighters."
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.
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