By Frank Della Femina
It’s been nearly seven years since he last fought in the United States, but Saturday at New York’s Madison Square Garden, the longest-reigning heavyweight champion in boxing history makes his return to the ring.
“I had stadiums, big pay-per-view fights over there, it’s been exciting times,” Klitschko said of his fights overseas. “But you know what? Here I am standing at Madison Square Garden. And it reminds me of my memories 15 years ago.”
While not his first appearance on US soil, that April 2000 undercard match-up against American David Bostice – a second-round TKO victory – improved the Ukrainian’s record to 33-1 and thrilled a New York audience.
However, his 2008 fight at MSG, a 12-round unanimous-decision snoozer versus Sultan Ibragimov, left Klitschko apologizing to fans for the lackluster result during his post-fight interview with Max Kellerman.
“You’re as good as your last performance,” Klitschko said of that night. “I had some great fights in the past, I’ve had some boring fights in the past, boring for the audience. But to tango, you need two.”
Kubrat Pulev was the last to pencil his name onto Klitschko’s dance card this past November, an outing that sent him down to the canvas four times as the reigning champ secured a five-round TKO victory. The home-away-from-home crowd in Hamburg, Germany showed their elation for Klitschko, but he believes the man across from him is due just as much credit.
“He came to fight and he made the fight,” Klitschko said of Pulev. “It’s not just me, that’s him. He made the fight the way it was. My experience and my capability of delivering punches and winning the fights, I have it there. But I need that person to tango with.”
“You have to have someone that gives you that good fight,” he added. “Not just running around and not trying to get hit and someone who comes and wants to win. That makes the whole energy of the fight different, and the look of the fight too.”
So is Bryant Jennings, the man Klitschko has dubbed “Rocky Balboa” – if only for his Philadelphia roots –that guy?
“You never know until you see the person in the ring. There’s a lot of things that a boxer needs to handle before the big fight. It’s a lot of pressure – mental pressure, pressure on all sides of it. He’s going to face the best man in the heavyweight division and it’s going to be challenging and we’ll see how things go on fight night. Maybe he’ll give that exciting fight, maybe he won’t. My prediction is he will.”
Klitschko and Jennings face off Saturday at 10 PM ET/PT on HBO World Championship Boxing.