Vladimir Klitschko’s confession is frank: “I had become cocksure but now I am learning again.”
Up in the Austrian Alps at the most unlikely and picturesque training camp in boxing, Klitschko has been analysing himself. The Ukrainian has examined how he succumbed to a surprise defeat by Tyson Fury 18 months ago, ending a run of 22 straight victories.
He insists that at 41, he has wiped out all traces of complacency and that could spell trouble for Anthony Joshua when they meet in a world heavyweight title bout at Wembley on April 29.
“Failure is an experience,” says Klitschko. “I definitely learned more about myself and about boxing through that defeat. If you want to destroy a person, give him a year of success.
Or five years. Or 10 years. I got into this mode of solely defending my titles… defending, defending, defending, defending.
“Somewhere this defending got into my mind and I was getting cocksure. It was unusual to have that feeling of failure again. I hadn’t had it for a long time. I had forgotten it.
“But now what you will see is Klitschko re-loaded. The lesson of failure is a good one before I face this athletic, strong, young and ambitious man.
“The way it is now, coming after a defeat, I have a totally different attitude, desire and obsession. Yes, I am obsessed. You may all become tired of me using that word. But I am obsessed about getting back the title.”
Failure is an experience. If you want to destroy a person, give him a year of success.
There will be 90,000 people at Wembley when Joshua’s IBF title and the vacant WBA Super and IBO heavyweight belts will be on the line.
It will be an extraordinary occasion for Joshua (right), the 27-year-old 2012 Olympic champion from Watford, in his 18th professional fight. Such is the magnitude of the event, it will be a new experience, too, for Klitschko in his 69th contest.
“Even in my career with eight stadium fights, I have not fought before 90,000,” says Klitschko. “Look at AJ — 18 fights and he is on the biggest stage. He’s still young and has had success.
“I was in the Olympic arena in London when he won the gold. And I remember when he came to spar at my camp in 2014.
“He impressed me with his attitude. He was very raw. But he was the Olympic champion and he carried himself well. He was in the background and he was learning. He was observing everything. He was very athletic and could box.
“AJ was not trying to impress anybody. He backed off and was sitting on the side, not talking too much.
“He was watching, learning, asking questions. He was very polite. He was different from others at that stage of experience and achievement in sport. He had a lot of potential and, so far, he has done good.
“But I totally get Anthony Joshua now. I see how he breathes, how he sees things and what are his instincts. If he wins, I will congratulate him. But when I win, I will help him to come back. I will be his mentor. He will be learning from an experienced man.”
If AJ wins, I’ll congratulate him. But when I win, I will help him to come back. I will be his mentor
If Klitschko has reinvigorated his mindset amid the peaks and the pine forests, he has not changed his backing operation or his cool, methodical physical routine.
The wooden-built Stanglwirt resort here where the team operates could not be further removed from a gritty backstreet boxing gym.
Log fires crackle in the public lounges. Steam rises into the cold air from outdoor hydrotherapy pools. In a huge arena just across from the tennis hall where Klitschko spars, the elegant white Lipizzaner horses of the Spanish riding school of Vienna are trained.
Klitschko says: “I have been training here since 2003 and it is my home away from home. I didn’t change things. And losing makes you stronger in and out of the ring. I’ve lost fights — four in all — but I won the titles back. I lost again and I got back up again.
“Four guys have conquered me in certain periods of time out of a 21-year professional career. And the most amazing thing is that I’m still here and they’re not.”
Source: John Dillon