As Michael Buffer stood at the centre of the ring in Wembley on Saturday night April 29th, preparing to introduce Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko to the world ahead of their massive heavyweight showdown, there was apparently a silent, psychological battle going on around him.
Two huge men stared at each other across the squared circle, one attempting to intimidate, the other trying to show that he could not be intimidated. Nothing unusual in these situations, of course. Except on this occasion, the stare-down did not involve both combatants, but rather one and his opponent’s brother.
Earlier in the evening, Sky had cut to a shot of Joshua having his hands wrapped in the locker room. Standing above him was the towering figure of Wladimir’s older brother Vitali, the retired former WBC heavyweight champion and the current Mayor of Kiev. Before a fight, each camp is allowed to send a representative into the opposing locker room to keep an eye on the hand-wrapping process. It wasn’t the first time that Wladimir had sent Vitali to carry out this inspection, but it was a clear attempt at last-minute mind games from the Ukrainian.
— Chamatkar Sandhu (@SandhuMMA) April 29, 2017
Wladimir’s former trainer, the late Hall of Famer Emanuel Steward, once called the 6 foot 7 inch Vitali one of the most intimidating heavyweights of all time. Indeed, the iron-chinned ‘Dr. Iron Fist’, who scored 41 stoppages in 45 wins and only lost twice, both times because of injury, has an aura that his younger and more athletically gifted sibling just can’t match. But he lends that aura to Wladimir in the lead-up to fights, staring down his brother’s opponents at every opportunity.
Vitali’s apparent attempts to unnerve Joshua carried forward from the locker room and into the ring. According to A.J’s promoter Eddie Hearn, Vitali glared at Joshua throughout the introductions. The Englishman just glared back, a fact that didn’t necessarily please Hearn.
“He [Joshua] will learn [from the fight]. There were little things, in the ring before the fight Vitali was staring at him, then he started staring at Vitali and all that’s designed to do is use up energy. You’re just using up emotions and he’ll learn from that,” the Matchroom Sports Managing Director recently told Boxing News.
After the titanic battle, A.J and Wladimir were very respectful towards one another, but it sounds as though Joshua wasn’t so quick to become buddies with Vitali.
“Once he’s in that mode, he’s a nasty, horrible man in that ring,” Hearn said of his charge. “Outside the ring, one of the nicest guys you could meet, inside it – horrible. He and Vitali nearly came to blows after the fight. He went over to Wladimir and thanked him and Josh was tired and he went on and on, ‘seriously man,’ talking about the fight, and Vitali was like ‘alright, alright’ [Hearn stretches his arm across as if pushing someone away] and Josh was like ‘f*** you.’”
“But Vitali can handle himself, he’s not exactly a pushover,” added the promoter.
— Ben Robinson (@TheRobinson1982) April 30, 2017
Vitali Klitschko hasn’t fought since September of 2012, when he stopped Manuel Charr in Moscow. Maybe Joshua’s slight will stir something up inside the 45-year-old and he will take a break from politics to return to pugilism for one last big showdown.