Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
Eventually, they all end up defeated, their strength and will either beaten rapidly or bludgeoned steadily out of them. It has been that way with all of Wladimir Klitschko’s challengers over the last 11 years, ever since a shock loss to Lamon Brewster that seemed at the time to portend the effective end of a promising career but in fact kick-started the development of Klitschko 2.0. That new, improved fighter – now with better defense and greater confidence – has been generally acclaimed as the best heavyweight in the world for a number of years now, and at Friday’s weigh-in for Saturday’s HBO World Championship Boxing title defense against Philadelphia’s Bryant Jennings, there was evidence that it is not only those who confront him inside the ring who end up as mere shells of their previous selves.
For months, Shannon Briggs (whose come-from-behind stoppage win over Sergei Liakohovich in 2006 was arguably the last great heavyweight title fight) has chased and taunted Klitschko: gatecrashing his press conferences, confronting him over lunch and even using a boat’s wake to knock him off a paddleboard, desperate to goad the Ukrainian into offering him a title shot. But Klitschko remained unmoved and largely impassive in the face of such insults, and on Friday (and indeed at Tuesday’s press conference), Briggs stood meekly on the other side of a rope line, unleashing the occasional “Let’s Go, Champ!” but otherwise seeming to recognize that his efforts had failed, that he had nothing left to offer bar a caricature of his recent act. Indeed, after Klitschko and Jennings had weighed in, Briggs offered, not a challenge, but encouragement. “Face off,” he cried at the two combatants, and they duly obliged, staring unflinchingly into each other’s eyes for what felt like a good minute and was certainly long enough for even the assembled spectators to start to feel uncomfortable.
His willingness to lock the champion’s gaze for as long as possible suggests – as his respectful but confident utterances during the fight’s build-up also suggest – that Jennings has not yet acquiesced to the inferiority complex that Klitschko is so effective at instilling. And indeed, there are many reasons why he should not: he is young, athletic, and undefeated, and possesses good hand speed and a strong punch.
But Jennings began boxing only six years ago, after Klitschko’s second world title reign was already three years old. His nineteen pro fights pale into insignificance when set against Klitschko’s ledger of 66 paid contests and a solid amateur career. And while Jennings may be big and strong, he is – unusually for 6’3”, 227 pound man – at a distinct size disadvantage against the champion. Klitschko, an imposing physical specimen, stands 6’6” tall, and on Friday outweighed Jennings by close to 15 pounds.
Klitschko is bigger, more experienced, and frankly better. This is the heavyweight division, where one punch can change anything; and Klitschko can be beaten, as Brewster was the last one to show. Klitschko is far from dismissive of his challenger, hyping him up as “a real life Rocky Balboa from Philadelphia.”
But Rocky lost his first shot at Apollo Creed, and the likelihood is that, by the time all is said and done on Saturday, Jennings too will be licking his wounds and joining a mass of antecedents forced to acknowledge their fealty to Klitscho’s reign.
Wladimir Klitschko 241. 6 lbs
Bryant Jennings 226.8
Sadam Ali 146.8 lbs
Francisco Santana 146.4