Commentary

Fight week for Klitschko-Gomez ensues

Updated: March 21, 2009, 7:17 PM ET
By Brian Doogan | Special to ESPN.com

Saturday, 7:15 p.m. ET: RTL commentator Tobias Drews made it through the fight and so did his wife, Susan, who is expecting their first child on Monday. After he rounds up the broadcast in 30 minutes or so, Tobias will be driving on the Autobahn back to Munich, home in time for the birth. A real pro. Well done, Susan!

Saturday, 7:11 p.m. ET: Vitali Klitschko has left for his dressing room but brother Wladimir is still in the arena, mingling with fans and posing for pictures. He is clearly elated. "I am more nervous when my brother fights than when I am fighting myself. It's strange but true," he said. "This was a big win for Vitali." Finally, he is leaving for the sanctuary of the dressing room to join the victory party.

Saturday, 7:06 p.m. ET: Once Klitschko established his rhythm -- awkward as he might be -- and found his range, Gomez was subjected to a systematic beating. He was brave and he had his moments but Klitschko was too big and too powerful and the fight could have been stopped in the seventh round when Gomez was down and in loads of trouble. A brave stand by the challenger but he was hopelessly outgunned. Klitschko might try to seek a fight with Nikolai Valuev if he can bypass a second mandatory defense against Oleg Maskaev.

As for Wladimir, it looks like "little" brother will defend against David Haye on June 20 at the O2 Arena in Berlin.

Saturday, 6:55 p.m. ET: For German speakers, Vitali Klitschko is divulging his thoughts in a live interview for RTL. If he breaks out suddenly in English -- or even Irish -- I'll let you know.

Saturday, 6:52 p.m. ET: The official time is 1:49 of Round 9.

Saturday, 6:50 p.m. ET: So the fight is over and we are waiting for the official time. Vitali Klitschko has made the first successful defense of his second reign as heavyweight titleholder and the crowd acclaim their champion. Both Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko are big heroes in Germany, having come here to start their pro careers in 1996.

Saturday, 6:45 p.m. ET: Vitali Klitschko is penalized one point by referee Daniel Van de Wiele for a head butt but when the action resumes he lands a fierce right cross and left hook which floor Juan Carlos Gomez again. Courageously, the challenger climbs back to his feet but another right hand to the jaw straightens him and he was floundering and taking punishment when the referee dived in to rescue Gomez.

Saturday, 6:42 p.m. ET: Juan Carlos Gomez is badly shaken. He showed real bravery to survive Round 7 and Klitschko was ineffective through much of the eighth but he hurt Gomez with a combination near the end of the round and Gomez turned his back. He looked really hurt at the bell.

Brian Doogan scores Round 8: 10-9, Klitschko

Saturday, 6:39 p.m. ET: Big round for Vitali Klitschko as he floored Gomez with a right hook and followed it with a left as Juan Carlos Gomez crumpled. Gomez was floored by another big right but the referee did not call it as Klitschko fell as well. Gomez reeled around ring and bell came to his rescue.

Brian Doogan scores Round 7: 10-7, Klitschko

Saturday, 6:35 p.m. ET: The crowd have been chanting, "Klitsch-ko, Klitsch-ko," throughout and he is pulling away from Juan Carlos Gomez, who fell to the canvas but it was only a slip. A straight right by Klitschko was answered back by a Gomez left but Klitschko kept getting through with jabs and also a short left hook. Klitschko is bleeding from the forehead after a clash of heads but the blood is not running into his right eye.

Brian Doogan scores Round 6: 10-9, Klitschko

Saturday, 6:30 p.m. ET: Juan Carlos Gomez is cut on the corner of his right eye and Vitali Klitschko is banging in hard shots. A powerful straight right landed flush on Gomez's face and he stuck out his tongue at his assailant. Klitschko landed a left toward the end of the round and Gomez is paying for taking too many chances, though he landed a left hook himself before the bell.

Brian Doogan scores Round 5: 10-9 , Klitschko

Saturday, 6:25 p.m. ET:

Juan Carlos Gomez's pace has slowed discernibly, a consequence of feeling Vitali Klitschko's heavy hands perhaps.

Klitschko landed two rights to Gomez's face during the round. The judges have Klitschko ahead by 39-37 twice and 40-36.

Brian Doogan scores Round 4: 10-9 , Klitschko

Saturday, 6:21 p.m. ET: Round 3 is a better round for Vitali Klitschko, who began to get his range with the jab and his right hand, one of which landed flush but it didn't faze Juan Carlos Gomez. Two stiff jabs by Klitschko at the start of the round set the tone and a right hook to the jaw meant that he ended it well too.

Brian Doogan scores Round 3: 10-9, Klitschko

Saturday, 6:17 p.m. ET: Juan Carlos Gomez is really forcing a fast pace and I'm not sure Vitali Klitschko will enjoy this all night long. Klitschko landed a hard lead right about midway through the round but more blows were landed by Gomez again, particularly a good left hook and another left at the bell.

Brian Doogan scores Round 2: 10-9, Gomez.

Saturday, 6:13 p.m. ET: A positive start by the challenger. Vitali Klitschko did not have any rhythm and Gomez beat him to the punch, throwing a left-right-left combination out of his southpaw stance at the bell and blocking and slipping Klitschko's shots throughout the round. Gomez landed a couple of lefts, including a left inside to Klitschko's face. First round has to go to Gomez.

Brian Doogan scores Round 1: 10-9, Gomez.

Saturday, 6:08 p.m. ET: One day Vitali Klitschko should appear in a Clint Eastwood western -- he just has that look about him.

Let's get ready to rumble!

Saturday, 6:07 p.m. ET: Vitali Klitschko comes to the ring to the tune of ACDC's "Hell's Bells," as usual with a steely expression. The Cuban national anthem is being played. I wonder if old Fidel is watching?

Saturday, 6:02 p.m. ET: Juan Carlos Gomez is wearing a white 10-gallon Stetson and a huge smile as he enters the ring, though his expression appeared to be stone cold as he walked down the aisle.

Saturday, 6 p.m. ET: "Let's get this party started," Michael Buffer has just announced. "Coming to the ring, the challenger, Juan Carlos Gomez."

Saturday, 5:58 p.m. ET: Great! They've just turned the lights back on! We're inching closer to the fight …

Saturday, 5:57 p.m. ET: We're watching footage of Klitschko at his Austrian training camp, chopping wood and ploughing almost knee-deep through the snow, Rocky-style. It's like being in a movie theater: the crowd is totally hushed; we could be sitting here watching Rocky IV. Klitschko's training footage has the audience that mesmerized.

Saturday, 5:53 p.m. ET: The arena is in semi-darkness while a Vitali Klitschko interview is played on the giant monitors. This makes for a great atmosphere but it's no good when you can't see the keys on your laptop!

Saturday, 5:47 p.m. ET: Hanns-Martin-Schleyer-Halle is full to its capacity and German sports legends Franz Beckenbauer -- the only man to lift the (soccer) World Cup as a player and coach -- and Boris Becker -- who won the Wimbledon tennis title three times, the US Open once and nine Grand Slam championships in total -- have taken their seats at ringside. The atmosphere is building and the crowd (so well-behaved that the people here could have come from the opera) is ready for the main event.

Alexander Ustinov, the heavyweight from Minsk, Belarus, made short work of Kansas City's Byron Polley, flooring him once in the first round and again in the second with hard, fast combinations before Polley was counted out at 1:39 of Round 2.

Saturday, 5:15 p.m. ET: Middleweight titleholder Arthur Abraham can sniff an upset in the air. "Juan Carlos Gomez has a big chance against Vitali Klitschko," Abraham said at ringside. "Klitschko's record is the best and everybody knows that he will try to keep Gomez at a distance but Gomez is a very good fighter; he will take the fight to Klitschko and he will beat him up. I really think he will put all the power he has into his effort but, ultimately, the smarter guy will win. It won't surprise me if this is Gomez."

Abraham, who has won each of his 29 fights, 23 inside the distance, is by far the greatest threat to world middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik and the German-based Armenian wants the chance to settle who is the best. "That is my wish," said Abraham. "I want to fight Kelly Pavlik and I don't know why he says, 'No.' I will fight anyone any time and any place and it's up to Pavlik to say 'Yes,' to this challenge."

Saturday, 5:07 p.m. ET: Nate James just secured the easiest win of his career, however long it lasts and however far he goes. The 27-year-old from Boston, Mass., didn't even have to land a punch as Taras Varva from Cologne, Germany, reeled back in absolute agony after throwing a right hand and took a knee in James's corner just seconds into the bout. The arm injury he sustained -- perhaps his shoulder popped out -- prevented him from continuing and the referee stopped the bout on the doctor's advice. James is now 2-0 (1 KO) and he must think that boxing is a nice way to make a living.

Saturday, 4:55 p.m. ET: Tony Thompson used his 5½-inch height advantage to score with impunity against Adnan Serin, dominating the action with his southpaw jab and firing over punishing lefts. In the fifth round he stepped up his assault, trapping Serin in his corner before the Turk's trainer threw in the towel and the referee stopped the fight at the 2:00 mark.

Saturday, 4:31 p.m. ET: Former title challenger Tony Thompson is having it pretty much all his own way against 5-foot-11 heavyweight Adnan Serin and at ringside Orlando Cuellar reports that Juan Carlos Gomez is in his dressing room listening to reggaeton. "He's relaxed and in an hour or so I'll start warming him up," the trainer said. "The better man will win but our preparation has been great and we can't wait to get it on."

Saturday, 4:03 p.m. ET: This is why I like fights in Germany: they always put on a show. We have just been treated on the large monitors during an interlude to a clip of Wladimir Klitschko working with children in Brazil and Africa in his role with Laureus Sport For Good Foundation, with an inspiring voiceover by former South African president Nelson Mandela.

"Sport has the power to unite people and change the world," Mandela said. "It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope. It is more powerful than government."

Even on a TV screen, Mandela's appearance and voice makes the hairs on the back of my head stand on end. As a 16-year-old, I watched Mandela walk free after his 27-year imprisonment on Robben Island, taking in the moment live on TV at home in Northern Ireland. I grew up in a conflict situation and that image had a powerful resonance. Years later I was in Croke Park, Dublin, for the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics as U2 sang Pride (In The Name Of Love) and Bono walked onto the stage hand-in-hand with Mandela. The atmosphere was electric; I can feel the energy of that night still.

Saturday, 3:47 p.m. ET: Norwegian female fighter Kira Schuerer outpointed Germany's Mariel Faber over four rounds at featherweight, improving her record to 10-0-2 (1 KOs). The crowd gave here a nice round of applause. They like their female fighters here.

Saturday, 3:41 p.m. ET: Europe's one-time premier female fighter, the retired Regina Halmich, a flyweight version of Laila Ali, has just been accorded a rapturous reception by the crowd as she was introduced at ringside.

Halmich was once challenged by German comedian and talk show host Stefan Raab to a boxing match. She readily agreed and Raab finished the fight with a broken nose. Overnight women's boxing was taken seriously in Germany, with more than 8 million viewers tuning in to the ProSieben network to watch Raab get beaten.

In total, Halmich had 54 wins in her career, 16 by stoppage, winning titles at light flyweight, flyweight and super flyweight. For her final fight, the TV audience watching the broadcast on Germany's public service network, ZDF, peaked at 10.2 million, a record for women's boxing and a remarkable 38.3 percent share of the national viewership.

Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET: Chris Byrd looks stronger as a cruiserweight than he did last time out as a light heavy, that's for sure. Against an opponent with Mathias Sandow's record, however, it is hard to say what he can achieve at the weight. Byrd bossed the first three rounds which featured mostly jabs and the odd left cross by both southpaws before Sandow unloaded in Byrd's corner in the fourth. The crowd responded with a spontaneous outburst of applause, even though Byrd managed to slip and block the majority of punches in Sandow's sustained assault.

Sandow quickly paid the price. Byrd marched him over to his own corner and punished the German with hooks and uppercuts before the referee intervened at 1:30 of Round 4.

Byrd's record is now 41-5-1 (22 KOs) and he is eager to secure a title shot quickly. "I don't need a chain of fights to build up my confidence," he said. "Tomasz Adamek is the man at cruiserweight and I want to fight him as soon as we can get it on."

Saturday, 3:10 p.m. ET: The arena is filling up and Fatjon Murati has won the second bout of the night, a light heavyweight contest against Germany's Steve Kroekel by split decision over six rounds. The Albanian improved his record to 5-0-2 (0 KOs). A competitive fight. Now Chris Byrd is on his way to the ring. His opponent, Mathias Sandow from Brandenburg, Germany, is waiting for him with a record of 4-3 (3 KOs).

Saturday, 3 p.m. ET: Fight fans that take a wrong turn tonight could end up at the opera. Il Divo, who were brought together by American Idol's Simon Cowell and took the world by storm with their virtuoso blend of operatic technique and romantic, popular songs, accumulating 22 million album sales worldwide, are appearing at the Porsche Arena -- adjacent to Hanns-Martin-Schleyer-Halle.

Saturday, 2:39 p.m. ET: Gabor Veto improved his record to 2-0 (2 KOs) by winning the first bout of the night, a second round stoppage of Perparim Hajdini. A solitary hand clap from press row was the only acknowledgement as the fighters were introduced in an almost empty arena, but people are beginning to come in now and the Hungarian Veto got a few more claps as he left the ring.

Saturday, 2:14 p.m. ET: Vitali Klitschko's trainer, Fritz Sdunek, believes that Juan Carlos Gomez was at his best as a cruiserweight and he will be no match for the heavyweight titleholder tonight.

"When they sparred years ago in Hamburg, this was the best time for Gomez because he was still a cruiserweight, a very good cruiserweight," Sdunek said on his way to his room at the Hilton Garden Inn. "But that was a long time ago."

A decade later, the Klitschko camp believes that the imposing size and strong mentality of the two-time heavyweight titleholder will prove too formidable for the transplanted Cuban.

Klitschko-Gomez

Graham Houston, Kieran Mulvaney, Darius Ortiz and Dan Rafael weigh in with predictions for Saturday's Vitali Klitschko-Juan Carlos Gomez fight in Stuttgart, Germany (ESPN Classic live at 6 p.m. ET / taped replay on ESPN2 at 7 p.m. ET):

Predictions
Klitschko should win, perhaps on a stoppage after the seventh round -- he looks simply too big, too durable and too heavy-hitting -- but Gomez can make things difficult with his southpaw skills and speed. -- Graham Houston, ESPN.com contributor
Gomez can fight -- or at least he can box -- and I see this being a tricky encounter for Klitschko, particularly in the early rounds. Klitschko will eventually begin to find his range and his right hands will start landing en route to a decision win or late TKO. -- Kieran Mulvaney, ESPN.com contributor
Klitschko is susceptible to the left hand (see the first round of his fight with Corrie Sanders) but Gomez doesn't punch with the kind of authority that will trouble Klitschko. I'll take Dr. Ironfist by knockout in Round 6. -- Darius Ortiz, ESPN.com boxing-MMA editor
Klitschko is way bigger, way stronger and has a better chin than Gomez. Klitschko by mid-rounds stoppage. -- Dan Rafael, ESPN.com's boxing writer
For a complete breakdown of the fight, check out 12 Rounds.

"Vitali will be better tonight than he was last time against Samuel Peter," Sdunek said. "He has had no problems with his back, no problems with his knees and he is very good psychologically. His long stance, leverage and power will be too much for Gomez and Vitali will win in six to eight rounds. I'm very confident."

Saturday, 2:08 p.m. ET: Well, the fight is still on! Ahmet Íner, the promoter of Juan Carlos Gomez, threatened to pull his fighter out of today's fight when it was discovered that the ring set up inside Hanns-Martin-Schleyer Halle was too small -- by almost 4 feet, according to WBC rules.

"Team Klitschko is either very stupid or very nervous," Íner said. "They have been talking a lot about using the smallest ring possible but, obviously, they never even checked the rules. They have been unprofessional and refused credentials for my closest office staff and parts of Gomez's team."

The ring has been rebuilt and Tom Loeffler of K2 Promotions just confirmed in the lobby of the Hilton Garden Inn adjacent to the arena that everybody is happy -- apart from Íner perhaps.

"The WBC supervisor and BDB (German Boxing Commission) have both approved the changes that we have made, though Ahmet Íner was still complaining that the ring apron does not comply by about this much," Loeffler said, holding his thumb and index finger just centimeters apart. "Maybe he is looking for more credentials, I don't know. What I do know is that the relevant bodies are satisfied and the fight is on, there's no doubt about that."

Friday, 5:17 p.m. ET: Despite the difficult economic times, K2 Promotions reports that only several hundred tickets remain to be sold for tomorrow's fight at Hanns-Martin-Schleyer-Halle. "There are around 500 tickets left at the box office," said hard-working Klaus-Peter Dittrich, a spokesman for K2 Promotions. "The arena is set up for 13,000 spectators."

Action will get under way at 7.30 p.m. local time in Stuttgart (2:30 p.m. ET) with the main event scheduled for 11 p.m. (6 p.m. ET).

Friday, 4:06 p.m. ET: Quote of the day from Juan Carlos Gomez: "I'll toy with 'Dr. Wimp' [Vitali Klitschko] in such a way and I'll outbox him that there won't be two opinions about the outcome. The Black Panther will be world champion again."

Friday, 4:05 p.m. ET: Quote of the day from Vitali Klitschko: "I like Juan [Carlos Gomez] a lot. He's a real nice guy and a good buddy of mine. It's a real pity that I now have to beat him up."

Friday, 4:02 p.m. ET: Tracy Byrd is the Queen of the card games at the Kongresshotel in Stuttgart.

Tracy, the wife and manager of Chris Byrd, emerged victorious from a card school which comprised Tony Thompson and his trainer, Charles Mooney, as well as her husband on Thursday night. They were playing Phase 10, a variation of rummy.

"The game lasted three hours and Tracy blew us all off," Chris said. "We're probably not going to play tonight -- we've told her that we need our rest but really that's an excuse. We just can't allow Tracy to win again."

Friday, 4 p.m. ET: Juan Carlos Gomez, like titleholder Vitali Klitschko, has been to the movies this week. He watched "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans" at the Cinemax complex across the street from the Millennium Hotel where he is staying.

Friday, 3:54 p.m. ET: Tony Thompson will hope to re-establish himself as a contender when he meets Germany's Adnan Serin on the undercard, eight months after being stopped by Wladimir Klitschko in a heavyweight title challenge in Hamburg.

[+] EnlargeVitali Klitschko and Juan Carlos Gomez
Torsten Silz/AFP/Getty ImagesJuan Carlos Gomez, right, was the first to budge during Friday's staredown with Vitali Klitschko.

The 32-year-old southpaw from Silver Spring, Maryland, went into the Klitschko bout with a meniscus cartilage tear in his right knee which required surgery afterwards. "The tear was probably caused by running and constantly working out," Thompson suggested at the Kongresshotel Europe, where he is staying. "But I'm ready to jump back into the frying pan."

Thompson sparred 35 to 40 rounds with Vitali Klitschko in training camp in Going, Austria, and he anticipates that the 6-foot-7½ titleholder will dominate the 6-foot-3½ challenger, Juan Carlos Gomez. "Klitschko is tall -- a monster, and just too powerful. I think he will overwhelm Gomez in three or four rounds," Thompson said. "He controls distance so well and he spars the same way that he fights. I saw some great work from him in the ring."

Friday, 3:06 p.m. ET: Most people will recall Orlando Cuellar's involvement in the Glen Johnson-Roy Jones upset in 2004 but Cuellar also trained Lou Del Valle when the Honey Boy from Long Island, New York drew with Frenchman Bruno Girard in 2001 in Marseille.

"When they give you a draw against a [French promoter] Michel Acaries fighter in France we all know who won the fight," Cuellar said. "We went back, Lou won 11 of the 12 rounds in the rematch and they gave the decision to Girard. The politics stinks sometimes but the point is that upsets can and do happen and that's what we'll have again on Saturday. But it won't be no upset to me."

Cuellar pointed out that when Klitschko forced Samuel Peter to quit on his stool to win the heavyweight title in October, Peter was a compliant victim. "He didn't move, the guy was a stationary target," Cuellar insisted. "Klitschko just picked the right guy. Peter was slow, stationary and had no defense. Klitschko wasn't in a fire-fight that night but he will be in one tomorrow. He'll have to fight tooth and nail and dig way down. People say he's tough because he fought hard with Lennox Lewis but they had one arm in a lock and they punched with the other arm the whole night …. It wasn't a strategic fight like this fight will be. I'm bringing in a panther who is mobile, fast and has two reserves of gas. I'm ready to unleash him, I'm excited about it and so is he."

Friday, 2:53 p.m. ET: Juan Carlos Gomez has been sleeping on a bed of nails -- figuratively speaking, we think.

Colorful and experienced trainer Orlando Cuellar has been describing the work that Gomez has been doing to prepare for his heavyweight title challenge and, in his words, Gomez is ready to face both Klitschko brothers, not just Vitali. "Gomez will win this fight convincingly," he said. "He could fight Vitali and Wladimir one after the other, that's the kind of shape he's in. Some people sleep on a bed of goose feathers; well Gomez has been sleeping on a bed of nails and that's the way he's been training, with intensity, with focus and with fire. The Klitschkos can think what they want but after this we'll be looking for King Tut's tomb -- we will want Wladimir and all the money. My guy has the fastest feet and fastest hands in heavyweight boxing and Klitschko doesn't have a reach advantage in this fight. His reach is 80 inches and Gomez's reach is 80½, so the idea that he will dominate the fight from range is just not the way I see it. Juan Carlos Gomez will win the fight on the inside, in the middle and on the outside. Long, close or in between, we have the fight pinned down. They think we're showing up for the payday. They couldn't be more wrong."

Friday, 12:11 p.m. ET: Vitali Klitschko's conviction that he will retain his heavyweight title at Hanns-Martin-Schleyer Halle was strengthened by Juan Carlos Gomez's behavior at today's weigh-in.

[+] EnlargeWladimir Klitschko & Chris Byrd
Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty ImagesThere's something to be said about Vitali Klitschko when Chris Byrd would rather share the ring with little brother Wladimir, left, than Dr. Ironfist.

The Cuban challenger held Klitschko's gaze during the traditional stare-down but brought the ritual to an end with a shove, some onlookers speculating that he betrayed anxiety and weakness with this gesture.

"All I will say is that we have no doubt about the fight not going the distance," Wladimir Klitschko, Vitali's younger brother, declared. "I don't care which round it happens, but Vitali will win before the end of the 12th round, for sure."

Friday, 11:02 a.m. ET: Chris Byrd sparred 30 rounds with Vitali Klitschko during three weeks at training camp in Going, Austria. Byrd has always maintained that he would rather share the ring with Wladimir (which he has done twice, losing on points in 2000 before being stopped in the seventh round in 2006) than Vitali.

[+] EnlargeWladimir Klitschko & Chris Byrd
Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty ImagesThere's something to be said about Vitali Klitschko when Chris Byrd would rather share the ring with little brother Wladimir, left, than Dr. Ironfist.

"They are the two best heavyweights in the world, and Emanuel Steward has done a great job with Wladimir, developing a kind of Kronk Gym style, but Vitali is just so awkward," Byrd said. "He has that kickboxing background and he's very smart. He thinks a lot in the ring, he's not the robot some people think he is. He also has that big brother mentality; when he's coming to get you, watch out. The guy is huge, 250 pounds, and he adjusts to everything you do in the ring. He did 10 strong rounds with me, Tony Thompson and Nate Jones, a young heavyweight from Boston who will be making his debut tomorrow night, and Vitali adjusted to each of us and could have done several more rounds."

Byrd's prediction?

"I think he'll [Klitschko] just put too much pressure on Gomez and eventually he'll stop him. I was very impressed working with Vitali, and being able to hold my own against him in sparring gave me a whole lot of confidence that at a strong 190 pounds I can hold my own against any cruiserweight in the world."

Friday, 10:55 a.m. ET: In seven fights, Matthias Sandow is 4-3, which is about all Chris Byrd knows of his opponent on Saturday's undercard.

Chris Byrd
Torsten Silz/AFP/Getty ImagesNew look, old feeling: Chris Byrd says he'll turn back time against Matthias Sandow.

Byrd's career appeared to be over when the former heavyweight titleholder was stopped in the ninth round by Shaun George at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas in May. Byrd, 38, weighed 174 pounds for that fight and by his own admission looked "gross … I took off 45 pounds in five, six weeks."

Still, Byrd believes he will be strong again at cruiserweight and wants to secure a title shot at Tomasz Adamek before the end of the year.

"Steve Cunningham is a good friend of mine and he's one of the reasons that I skipped cruiserweight when I decided to move down from heavyweight and went all the way down to light heavy," Byrd explained. "I didn't want to end up fighting a friend again [Byrd fought Jameel McCline in November 2004]. Steve sparred with me for my last fight and he told me afterwards that he couldn't hit me because I looked so fragile. He wanted to tell me before the fight, but he didn't. He knew it would be disaster for me, the fight with Shaun George. Everybody did, but nobody told me. Now I feel strong and healthy, and I have my confidence back after three weeks in training camp and sparring with Vitali Klitschko."

Juan Carlos Gomez
AP Photo/Daniel MaurerSome believe Juan Carlos Gomez is carrying a bit too much weight into the ring against Vitali Klitschko.

Friday, 9:18 a.m. ET: Chris Byrd, the former heavyweight titleholder who will box German cruiserweight Matthias Sandow on Saturday's undercard, weighed in with his thoughts on Vitali Klitschko's fight with Juan Carlos Gomez.

"Gomez should have come in at about 205 pounds," Sandow said. "He's carrying too much weight around his middle. He's a natural cruiserweight. I can understand him having come in at the weight he has, but believe me, some of that is just dead weight, doing nothing for him at all. I should know, given all of my experience moving up and down in weight over the years."

Friday, 9:05 a.m. ET: Wladimir Klitschko dismissed the notion that Gomez's speed will be the determining factor against his big brother.

Vitali Klitschko & Herbie Hide
Getty ImagesHerbie Hide was finished before he could even get started against Vitali Klitschko. Will Juan Carlos Gomez fare any better?

"You remember the fight 10 years ago between Vitali and Herbie Hide in London? Of course. Look, Gomez is a very experienced fighter. He comes from the Cuban amateur school, which is very good. He is the former WBC cruiserweight champion and he has a lot of experience. Vitali is not taking him lightly. Gomez is fast and he has certain boxing potential, but Vitali knows how to handle this. Herbie Hide was the same, but Gomez is slower than Herbie Hide. Put these fights together in your mind because the outcome will be very similar."

Klitschko knocked Hide down twice in the second round before the fight was stopped at the 1:14 mark.

Friday, 8:55 a.m. ET: Orlando Cuellar, the trainer of Juan Carlos Gomez, is very happy with his fighter's weight. "I said to you last night to look for Gomez to come in at around 229 pounds," Cuellar said. "This is a good weight for my fighter. You know, fighters make the mistake of trying to match the weight of big men. Why? Klitschko will be a bigger target for us tomorrow night. He won't be fast, he will be slow. You need to box at the weight at which you are most effective and have the most energy. Gomez has no excess weight and he will be able to fight the full 12 rounds. He will outmaneuver and outbox the big, slow, right-hand-clubbing Vitali Klitschko tomorrow night."

Vitali Klitschko & Juan Carlo Gomez
Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty ImagesBoys will be boys: Vitali Klitschko, left, and Juan Carlos Gomez scuffled during Friday's weigh-in.

Friday, 8:45 a.m. ET: Vitali Klitschko weighed in at 249¼ pounds, Juan Carlos Gomez weighed in at 230½. The weights were officially announced in kilograms: Klitschko, 113 kg; Gomez, 104.5 kg, so I had to do the conversions myself. The fighters performed the obligatory stare-down and it lasted for close to 30 seconds before Gomez pushed Klitschko back. The respective camps intervened and there was no trouble. In the end, close to 700 people assembled in Karstadt for the official weigh-in.

Friday, 8 a.m. ET: Almost 300 people have congregated in the heart of Stuttgart's shopping area to watch the weigh-in, with Vitali Klitschko and Juan Carlos Gomez due to arrive within the next half hour. The main event fighters will weigh in on the ground floor of Karstadt, the biggest sports accessories store in Stuttgart.

Hamburg
AP Photo/Murad SezerJuan Carlos Gomez's favorite team, Hamburg, emerged victorious over Galatasaray on Thursday. Signs of things to come?

Thursday, 5:52 p.m. ET: Juan Carlos Gomez will rest easy tonight after watching his favorite soccer team, Hamburg, rally from two goals behind to beat Turkish side Galatasaray 3-2 in the Ali Sami Yen Stadium to reach the quarterfinals of the UEFA Cup, European soccer's second-tier continental competition.

Thursday, 5:46 p.m. ET: Outside of the biggest fights, boxing struggles for column inches in newspapers throughout America and the United Kingdom, so the fact that Stuttgarter Nachrichten has devoted front-page coverage to Klitschko-Gomez gives an indication of just how significant an event this is in Stuttgart. A color picture of Klitschko from yesterday's public workout accompanies the headline "Lord Of The Ring." The titleholder is quoted in the story as saying, "I don't want to talk about the fight any more, I just want to let my fists beat on Gomez on Saturday." The challenger's response is similarly dismissive. "I'm going to embarrass Vitali Klitschko so that he will have to quit professional boxing," Gomez said.

[+] EnlargeVitali Klitschko
Alexander Hassenstein/Getty ImagesMan of action: Vitali Klitschko prefers to let his fists do the talking.

RTL commentator Tobias Drews suggested to me that the buzz around the city over Saturday's fight is "not Las Vegas-like" but there are plenty of people in bars talking about the fight. "It's a big event in Stuttgart," said John Crouch, the manager of The Dubliner pub on Plieninger Strasse in Stuttgart International Centrum. "This is more of a place for live music but we will definitely be showing the fight here on Saturday night."

Thursday, 3:46 p.m. ET: Orlando Cuellar, who first trained Juan Carlos Gomez for his fight against Vladimir Virchis in September, has been hanging out in his own room at the Millennium Hotel through most of today. Cuellar did spend time with Gomez over breakfast and early in the afternoon when they walked around the city. "Psychologically, physically, emotionally, he is in a great place," Cuellar said. "His mood is very relaxed and he was cracking jokes during most of the time I spent with him. Speak to him and he will tell you, 'I am a connoisseur of Spanish jokes.' He can tell jokes and funny stories all day. He is a very witty guy. I would relate some of them to you but, unfortunately, I can never recall a punch line. But the mood all day has been very light. Juan Carlos is in a really good place right now."

Thursday, 3:40 p.m. ET: Tobias Drews, the blow-by-blow commentator for German TV network RTL who will broadcast Saturday's action from Hanns-Martin-Schleyer-Halle in Stuttgart, will also be keeping a close eye on the action at home.

Drews' wife, Susan, is expecting their first child and the due date is Monday. "Everything is calm now and I am hoping that the baby will arrive next week," Drews told me. "I could be forced to leave for Munich on Saturday and come back, if the baby arrives early, or I may even have to pull out of the fight." If so, Andreas von Thien will call the action alongside former heavyweight title challenger Luan Krasniqi.

We wish Tobias and Susan all the best.

Thursday, 3:15 p.m. ET: Juan Carlos Gomez rose at 6 a.m. today. He ate oatmeal and fruit for breakfast and caught up with the latest news on TV, including the trial of Josef Fritzl, who is being accused of a string of unsolved murders in nearby Austria.

Gomez then went back to bed for a nap and finally left his suite at the Millennium Hotel at 1 p.m. to meet up with his team in the lobby. They went for a 40-minute walk around the city, which has hills and valleys -- unusual for a German city, especially one with an industrial reputation as "the cradle of the automobile." The temperature today has been cold, 6 degrees Celsius (about 43 degrees Fahrenheit) and cloudy, but Gomez shrugged it off. "I like the cold," he said. "It makes me walk faster."

Gomez is currently back in his suite, watching a soccer game.

Thursday, 1:11 p.m. ET: Reader Marcusshapiro, in response to your inquiry about what Mike Tyson is doing nowadays, I saw him three months ago in Tony Rila's gym in Las Vegas. Tyson was watching Manny Pacquiao work out two days before his bout with Oscar De La Hoya. Gene Kilroy, who ran Muhammad Ali's camp at Big Bear, brought him to Rila's gym.

Mike Tyson
Bob Thomas/Getty ImagesA prime Mike Tyson knew all the tricks of the trade -- except how to behave himself.

Tyson looked sad and has put on weight. (Haven't we all!) He kind of kept to himself in the background as a crowd of people gathered to watch Pacquiao. He became animated only during a conversation with Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, in which he began to crouch, dip, bob and weave and demonstrate to Pacquiao what he should be doing once the bell rang.

Of course, Pacquiao and Roach already knew exactly what to do.

Watch for the Tyson documentary that was released recently. I watched it in London's Leicester Square. It's self-serving for the most part, but in other places it's fascinating.

Thursday, 12:56 p.m. ET: I hope to speak to trainer Orlando Cuellar soon to get an update on Juan Carlos Gomez.

This is a quiet day for the fighters, with no public appearances scheduled, but in a recent interview, Gomez made an interesting admission. "I didn't choose boxing," he said. "They chose it for me in Cuba. I wanted to become a baseball player. That was always my dream. But, you know, in Cuba you are not allowed to make your own decisions."

My friend and ESPN.com colleague Robert Cassidy visited Cuba recently and wrote an excellent piece on Cuban boxing that is well worth reading. Cassidy also worked on a documentary while in Cuba.

Thursday, 12:30 p.m. ET: One of my most memorable trips to Germany was in December 2005 when Nikolai Valuev won a heavyweight title fight against John Ruiz in Berlin. Laila Ali fought on the undercard, and The Greatest was in the building.

Midway through the third round of Laila's bout against Aasa Sandell, her mother, Veronica, who was seated at ringside, moved forward, gently motioned me over and shared my seat, which was almost touching the ring apron. So there was Muhammad Ali on one side of the ring, Ali's daughter in the ring and Ali's ex-wife sharing my seat. Geez, I wish I had a picture.

Thursday, 12:05 p.m. ET: The first fight I saw in Germany was another heavyweight title encounter, the June 1996 showdown between Michael Moorer and Axel Schulz outdoors at Dortmund's Westfalonstadion.

Michael Moorer & Axel Schulz
AP Photo/Christof StacheLet's hope Vitali Klitschko and Juan Carlos Gomez do more to excite Saturday's crowd than Axel Schulz, left, and Michael Moorer did in 1996.

Westfalonstadion is the home ground of soccer club Borussia Dortmund, which Martin O'Neill, the manager of English Premier League soccer club Aston Villa, believes is Europe's premier stadium. The Germans always put on a show, so on that night we got a live link-up to a Tina Turner concert before Moorer and Schulz came to the ring. The fight itself wasn't "Simply The Best," but it wasn't bad, with Moorer winning the vacant title on a split decision.

Thursday, 11:52 a.m. ET: Cinema-goers in Stuttgart should keep an eye out for Vitali Klitschko at one of today's showings of the movie "Milk," for which Sean Penn picked up the best actor award at the Oscars.

A keen movie buff, Klitschko has already watched the action thriller "The International" this week with brother Wladimir. Maintaining a more sophisticated eye, the brothers -- who have both earned Ph.D. degrees from Kiev University -- have also visited some of Stuttgart's many fine museums.

[+] EnlargeSamuel Peter
AP Photo/Herbert KnosowskiHungry man: Sam Peter sure ate a lot of leather against Vitali Klitschko.

Thursday, 11:10 a.m. ET: News of Samuel Peter, from whom Vitali Klitschko won his heavyweight title in October, has hit the media center. Peter is scheduled to face Eddie Chambers on March 27 at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles.

"Peter is still the hardest puncher in the heavyweight class … and is ready to prove to the world that he is the best," announced his promoter, Dino Duva. "He is a hungry lion looking for whom to devour."

Shame that Peter resembled Yogi Bear after devouring one too many picnic baskets when he lost his belt to Klitschko.

Thursday, 10:39 a.m. ET: Let's begin today with the most recent reports of another possible encounter between a heavyweight titleholder and a former cruiserweight titleholder.

[+] EnlargeDavid Haye
Paul Gilham/Getty ImagesTake a stand: It's time for David Haye to announce whether he'll fight Wladimir Klitschko.

Germany's Bild newspaper reported Wednesday that Bernd Boente, the manger of Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko, said a deal was close for Wladimir to fight David Haye in June, but then Haye's management made more demands. The report indicated that either Nikolai Valuev or Chris Arreola could still be Klitschko the Younger's next opponent, even though they are more or less committed to bouts against Ruslan Chagaev and Jameel McCline, respectively.

"The contract is not signed yet, but I hope it will happen," Wladimir told ESPN.com of the prospective Haye bout. "I'm relying on David Haye backing up his talk and showing that he wants to fight, because otherwise I would not have stayed out of the ring for so long. I want to stay active, and six months out is too long. I had three fights last year, so I'm not happy at all with the negotiations and the length of time that they have taken. If I knew it was shaky like it is right now, I would not have spent so much time on this, and I would have been fighting sometime in March or April. Obviously, we are busy with Vitali's event right now, but at the beginning of next week either we put together a David Haye fight or we move on."

Wednesday, 6:13 p.m. ET: Ueltman's observations may surprise Frank Maloney, the onetime manager of former world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis.

"I always say that the heavyweight champion has to be American, British or Irish because we are passionate about our sport," Maloney told me recently. "We have the Klitschko brothers as heavyweight titleholders now, and no one gets too excited. I don't mean to upset my brothers in Europe, but they're not passionate about their sport. They will just sit there and clap. There is no excitement, no love, no passion."

Wednesday, 5:49 p.m. ET: I had an interesting conversation Wednesday evening with RTL reporter Klaus Ueltman, who watched Wednesday's public workouts and suggested that, as these events go, it was "very normal." But Klaus is of the opinion that in Germany, Vitali Klitschko is more popular than his brother, Wladimir.

"Vitali wins in a more exciting way," Ueltman said. "He is more of a fighter than his brother, and he is loved more by German boxing fans because he is a KO fighter."

Wednesday, 5:33 p.m. ET: It has been more than seven years since Juan Carlos Gomez vacated the WBC cruiserweight title, which he won from Argentina's Marcelo Fabian Dominguez in 1998 and successfully defended in 10 consecutive fights before moving up to the heavyweight division.

Gomez managed to overcome a first-round knockout defeat against fellow Cuban exile Yanqui Diaz in 2004 in Laredo, Texas, but it still makes for uncomfortable viewing. Diaz went on to lose to Samuel Peter, Kirk Johnson, Damian Wills and Oliver McCall.

"But I was not in shape for that fight, and this is what can happen in heavyweight boxing when you are not prepared," Gomez said. "I took the fight on a couple of weeks' notice, and I have not made the same mistake again." Interestingly, in a piece for thesweetscience.com, writer Ronan Keenan quoted respected trainer Freddie Roach: "As long as [Gomez] is disciplined, he can become heavyweight champion of the world."

Wednesday, 5:10 p.m. ET: I was actually in the Millennium Hotel's Hudson Theatre that day for the Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson announcement, and the excitement was electric. It remains one of the most bizarre events I have ever covered.

Tyson was so irate when he directed his X-rated invective at Scoop Malinowski, who suggested that Tyson should be put in a straitjacket, that he was literally spitting the words out of his mouth. How do I know? I was standing directly in front of Malinowski and had to wipe some of Tyson's spittle off my face! Of course, this seemed like nothing after he had chewed a lump out of Lewis' leg. I'm not expecting anything similar in Stuttgart!

Wednesday, 4:59 p.m. ET: Vitali Klitschko is staying at the Hilton Park Hotel in Stuttgart, Germany, which is practically next door to Hanns-Martin-Schleyer Halle. He could walk to the arena from his hotel in 2-3 minutes, but he will be driven there Saturday night.

He has been walking around the city, however, with his brother, Wladimir, and any sightings will be noted. The challenger for the heavyweight title, Juan Carlos Gomez, is staying at the Millennium Hotel in Stuttgart, which reminds me of another heavyweight title fight: Lennox Lewis versus Mike Tyson.

The news conference to announce the Lewis-Tyson bout was held at the Millennium Hotel in Manhattan -- and about five minutes later the fight was off. Tyson threw a punch at Lewis' bodyguard, and all hell broke loose inside the Hudson Theater. Those were the days!

Wednesday, 4:50 p.m. ET: Wladimir Klitschko shed some light on the sparring sessions that took place between elder brother Vitali and Juan Carlos Gomez some years ago, when they all were part of the same stable at Universum Box Promotions.

"Gomez didn't like to spar with Vitali because Vitali was tough for him, and I'm not blowing smoke here," said Wladimir. "Gomez was the cruiserweight champion then, so neither Vitali nor I had any difficulty with him, because of our size. I sparred with him, too, and there was never any competition in the ring."

Wednesday, 12:32 p.m. ET: Vitali Klitschko arrived for today's public workout at the Mercedes Centre in Stuttgart driving a Mercedes GL. He looked fit, strong and healthy as "Hell's Bells" by AC/DC reverberated around the large hall in which as many as 250 people were present.

Klitschko's workout was composed of skipping rope, shadowboxing and punching the mitts, and lasted for approximately 20 minutes. Not much was revealed, though some might regard his taste in cars more highly than his taste in music.

Wednesday, 11:13 a.m. ET: The phony war that is fight week began Monday when Vitali Klitschko and Juan Carlos Gomez came together for a news conference at which Klitschko listened to Gomez's confident prediction of victory and dismissed it as "a dream."

"He says he has had the hardest training camp of his career, which is good because I can promise him the hardest fight of his life," Klitschko declared. "I think he is a very good boxer, with technical skill, and he showed it all in the cruiserweight division. But heavyweight is something else, I will show him. It will be a lesson, but it won't last long."

Both fighters had media workouts today, and I'll be bringing you up to date throughout the day. Later, I'll speak to Wladimir Klitschko, Vitali's brother, and to other reporters on the ground for their sense of the big heavyweight title fight in Stuttgart, Germany.