Photos by Sumio Yamada
WLADIMIR KLITSCHKO vs RAY AUSTIN
SATURDAY UPDATE: Heavyweight champ Wladimir Klitschko and Ray Austin both looked in fine, muscular shape at Fridays weigh-in and with a dispute over gloves settled the fight goes ahead today (TV coverage on HBO).
The fight looked in some jeopardy yesterday. Austin wanted to wear the Reyes punchers gloves but the Klitschko side insisted that both men wear Grant gloves, and local German commission rules supported the champion's position. The issue was settled, at the suggestion of Austin's promoter, Don King, with a coin toss. Klitschko won, both boxers will wear Grant gloves, and the fight goes on.
It could be an interesting fight, too. Austin, 35, matches Klitschko for height at 6ft 6ins, and at 247 pounds hes a half-pound heavier than the champion. It seems that Austin has had his best-ever training camp, under the direction of Stacy McKinley, who played a key role in Samuel Peters improved conditioning and sharper boxing for the return bout with James Toney.
Klitschko, 30, is the big favourite but his punch-resistance is always going to be questioned. He even looked vulnerable in the early rounds against Calvin Brock seemingly a bit tired, cut over the eye before his perfectly timed right hand ended the fight spectacularly in the seventh round.
The knockdowns Klitschko has suffered, the three losses inside the distance, suggest that a big, strong, heavy-hitting challenger such as Austin must have a chance.
There seems a huge gap in class here, however. True, Austin has not lost in nearly six years and he did well to fight a draw with Sultan Ibragimov in his last fight surviving a knockdown to floor the Russian southpaw later in the bout but this is a fighter who could only draw with journeyman Zuri Lawrence and barely eked out a split decision over ordinary Owen Beck.
Austin had a good night against Ibragimov in a fight where he was a clear underdog, but he was in with a much smaller man. Although I was unable to speak with Klitschkos trainer, Emanuel Steward, this week, he has told the media in Germany that once Austin gets in the ring with Klitschko, and sees just how big, talented and powerful the Ukrainian is, he will soon realise he is out of his league.
I think Austin deserves respect for getting as far as he has done in his career, but the big man from Cleveland has always been on the slow side and sometimes seems to have trouble with his balance. When I saw him get stopped in the ninth round by once-promising Attila Levin on a Cedric Kushner Heavyweight Explosion promotion in Las Vegas in July 2001 I would never have dreamed that Austin would one day be fighting for a heavyweight title. He actually seemed close to pulling off a sensational upset that night when he floored Levin with a big right hand in the first round, but he was never in the fight after that and took punishment in every round thereafter.
Austin can be dangerous from either side, right hand or left hook (it was a hook that dumped Ibragimov on the canvas), and I think Klitschko will start out being quite cautious, using the jab and making sure his footwork keeps him safe when the rather ponderous challenger tries to bring the fight to him.
Initially, I think that Klitschko will be looking to land quick, crisp punches rather than really opening up.
It could develop into a breaking-down type of fight by Klitschko as he keeps prodding and chipping away, seeking to get Austin discouraged and a bit disorientated before the champion gambles on stepping to his man with the big right hands.
Austin has the proverbial punchers chance people in boxing tell me this translates to: He has to get lucky. I do not think the vastly more experienced Klitschko will give him the opportunity. I visualise Klitschko getting the right hand on target with fight-finishing power some time around the ninth.