Various boxers describe their unique experiences of boxing a Klitschko brother...
Ray Austin: "He’s an all around athlete. A great athlete, a better athlete than what I had anticipated when I got in there with him. He’s got everything a heavyweight is supposed to have – he’s strong, he’s got mobility, movement, good jab. But the key thing was for me to go in there and take it to him and make him fight and don’t let him box and get in his comfort zone. That was the plan – to break his rhythm."
Austin says it wasn’t his night. "Basically, in that situation, my mind wasn’t even there. Wasn’t nothing coming together for me that night. Nothing. And it ain’t no certain excuse. It happens like that sometimes. Some nights is your’s, some nights it’s not. That was the wrong night for me not to click in [laughs]."
Klitschko surprised Austin with his athleticism. "He was kind of fast on his feet. His mobile movement from the right to the left was better than I anticipated. Cause when I first went in there, I cut the left off immediately and he darted back the other way. And he did it so swiftly and fast. Like, this is what he do, he didn’t have no problem. When a guy is used to going a certain way – like you got a guy who you push and he’s not used to going backwards, he’s kind of clumsy when you push him back. You go, Uh oh, I kinda found something. But when I cut the left off, he did it like that’s how he was practicing. He just moved with no problems, like this is what I do. I said, Oh okay, this guy isn’t gonna stand still. He came to fight [laughs]. Because I watched the Sam Peter fight and Sam seemed like he caught up with him a little more. Even though he boxed Sam pretty good, Sam was able to catch up with him and land a couple of punches. And that’s what I was looking to do."
When asked if he thought Wladimir, in his current form, was an "all-time great," Austin agreed, "Yeah, I think he’s one of the greatest so far. He hasn’t really truly been tested, he’s been in a couple of wars, he won a few, lost a few but he still got to prove himself. Long time to come to prove himself. But so far, out here right now, he’s probably one of the best."
Phil Jackson: "The experience that I got from Wladimir – he’s a tough cookie. He had those losses, I don’t know what happened to him. To me, Wladimir – he’s a good fighter. Something went wrong, somewhere down the line. To me, I knew he could still be the champ because he has that power. He has that power."
That’s not the only asset Klitschko owns, says Jackson, who sparred with both brothers in Atlantic City before Wladimir boxed Ray Mercer in 2002. "He has an excellent jab. He’s not a mover like his brother – his brother moves extremely well. He wears you down with that power, man." Jackson, who lost a world title bid to Lennox Lewis by KO 8 in 2004, says Klitschko hit harder than Lewis. "Klitschko had more power, most definitely. In both hands. You could feel it. Put it this way – if it would have been Wladimir in there when his brother fought Lennox Lewis, I think he would have dropped Lennox Lewis. I honestly do. I think he would have dropped Lennox Lewis." Jackson sees a difference in Klitschko’s style now compared to 1999. "Back then, he just don’t give a damn. He just came forward. He just throw ‘em at you. Now he boxes more, he boxes smarter now and waits for the right time to use the power."
Chris Byrd: "Wladimir beat me the first time, I just didn’t feel right. The second fight, I can be very honest – I was never in the fight. He fought a great fight. He made some changes to his style. He got my respect for beating Sam Peter. I got hit with all kinds of punches. It wasn’t the fight we trained for in sparring. Everything felt great going in but when you get out there and start getting hit and certain things don’t work for you…I thank the Lord I had the chance to have a rematch with Wladimir Klitschko. He’s such a big, strong, good boxer. I take nothing away from him." Employing an ill-conceived strategy in the rematch let Byrd down. "It was knuckle-headed of me to think I was bigger and stronger than him," said Byrd. "He’s 241 pounds of muscle and I was 212 pounds of bulked up muscle, not even for real muscle. So I felt I had to go in there and push him around. And it didn’t work out. It was a horrid showing, getting hit with all kinds of punches. I was pretty sharp in sparring, I was pretty aggressive, but Wladimir Klitschko is a big, strong guy, he’s talented. He knows how to box."
When asked what type of style could offset and possibly defeat Klitschko, Byrd replied, "I would say be a big, strong guy and press him forward. But you gotta move the head. I didn’t move my head. You gotta give him angles because he’s so tall and shooting down and he’s taking that half-step back and he’s getting his punches off. It’s hard to fight him."
Lamon Brewster defeated Wladimir in 2004 and lost to him in 2007. The American cited an improved left jab as the difference maker. "He was able to maintain the jab, whereas the last time I knew his jab would be busy but I was able to get past it. In the second fight his jab was better, he had an awesome jab and I tried to get past it but I couldn’t. So then he was accumulating punches. I knew, at some point, I couldn’t keep getting hit like that. I felt I was the same, relentless Lamon Brewster in both fights but sometimes, somebody has the better night. Unlike crying wolf or saying poison, you just admit when someone’s better than you that night. He was better that night. And I might be better the next night."
Stacey McKinley, trainer of Samuel Peter: "Vitali Klitschko is probably the best thinking fighter heavyweight since Muhammad Ali. He’s a very smart, intelligent fighter. Very smart. He can box, he can throw punches from all angles. He can move. He can take a punch. He’s tall. He’s busy. He’s very hard to hit. Good thinker. Oh, he’s a helluva thinker."
"That’s what I said when I fought him with Samuel Peter. I said, Don’t try to think with this guy. Don’t try to out-box or out-think this guy. Get in there and fight this guy. But he want to sit back and try to out-think him. You can't do it. It was no contest. He quit. I told him, He’s probably the smartest heavyweight I’ve seen in the ring since Muhammad Ali. And I’ve seen a lot of good fighters. Larry Holmes and all them were good fighters but they weren’t good thinkers. This guy Vitali is a great thinker. It seems like he knows what you’re gonna do before you start to do it. So he’s very, very, very cagey. I don’t think nobody can beat him."
When asked which fight or fights of Vitali made him a believer, McKinley answered, "Well, the Lennox Lewis fight. The left-hander he fought that beat his brother (Corrie Sanders). All these guys he fought. He’s just so smart. He moves good. A real intelligent fighter."
McKinley rates Vitali as an all-time great heavyweight champion. "One of the greats and that’s what I said. I told him. I haven’t seen one that smart since Muhammad Ali. I told him after the fight with Peter, post press conference. Smartest I’ve seen as far as thinking. Most of the guys can’t think that well. He’s just great, man, a great thinker. Since Muhammad Ali. He’s that smart."
Chris Arreola: "Brains. That’s what makes Vitali so tough. His brains. He has such ring generalship, he is so smart in the ring and he knows how to use his size. That’s what it is."
"What I learned from the fight with Vitali is that I can take a punch! Because he hit me with some solid punches. And he’s a veteran. You've got a seasoned veteran. You get what you put in. When I thought I figured him out he switched it up. At the beginning he kept circling me, I believe, to the left. In the seventh, eighth round I was figuring it out and all the sudden he started circling to my right. And then instead of throwing the jab and he almost like smacked my hand down and tried to start with the right hand. Smart, smart moves man."
"And you know what else I learned? You have to have a great left jab. But my left jab is good. Because if you throw the jab, you’re gonna land. I have to have a better left jab against Vitali."
(Note: This feature is being developed into a book about Facing The Klitschkos.)