Wladimir Klitschko says he’s “obsessed” with reclaiming world champion status and the key to satisfying that obsession may lie in his feet rather than his hands.
At 41, he’ll have to defy an age-gap of 14 years if he’s to better IBF title-holder Anthony Joshua on April 29 at Wembley, yet ironically, it’s footwork and not power that’s likely to be his ally in bidding to cause an upset.
Although both Dillian Whyte and Dominic Breazeale sustained several of them before hitting the deck, Joshua’s fabled straight right is a punch that has most of the heavyweight boxing world wincing. It’s a shot Klitschko will want to avoid as much as possible.
Lest we forget, the Ukrainian was stopped by Ross Puritty, Corrie Sanders and Lamont Brewster before his 11-year reign as the division’s king began. Tyson Fury ended it in November 2015 through guile rather than force, but some question whether Klitschko’s chin can stand up to Joshua.
Fury is an important element in the discussion. He outmanoeuvred ‘Dr Steelhammer’ that famous night in Dusseldorf, but while there’s no doubt that Klitschko is not as nimble as a decade ago, to claim Joshua will be the slicker mover is to short-change Fury.
His physique now makes it easy to forget Fury was then one of the most blessed of heavyweight champions when it comes to footwork. There is old footage available of him body-sparring cousin Hughie Fury and he nips around remarkably swiftly, much like an enlarged middleweight.
Therefore, to be outshone by superior movement and lose on points to Fury is the opposite of disgrace and is no signal of worrying sluggishness. Klitschko was unable to take up positions that would allow him to launch his money-making backhand, the shot that contributed the majority of his 53 knockouts.
Against Joshua, Klitschko is likely to be the hunted rather than be the hunter. Unlike his frustrating and fruitless 36-minute pursuit of Fury, exchanges will be readily on offer. Joshua may surprise everyone and opt to box, but it would be to fly in the face of everything his career has stood for up to this point.
Needless to say, the champion will have more respect for this challenger than was afforded any of his previous foes, so a round or two of the cliched ‘feeling out’ process is pretty much a certainty. Once Joshua has loosened, though, the fight will begin in earnest when he begins to throw with full purpose.
That is when we’ll know whether Klitschko remains the master or whether Joshua will keep his crown and add a bundle of feathers to his nest on the top level. Some say the Londoner is already the king, but that seems premature given Klitschko presents a first proven world-class opponent.
Whether Joshua overwhelms Klitschko with his youth, power and ever-improving accuracy, footwork is not yet the champion’s forte and if his veteran challenger is able to dictate range using his feet and score consistently, it will become truly intriguing to watch.
Of course, Klitschko has knockout power of his own and it would be no surprise if a victory came suddenly, but his best chance of silencing Wembley may be to try and turn it into a dance floor rather than allow it to become an abattoir.
Ambitious, perhaps, but it’s not ridiculous to suggest Klitschko could do far worse than to adopt the very blueprint Fury used to relieve him of these straps in the first instance.