W. Klitschko won't soft-pedal Mormeck
Heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko tried his best. So, too, did Emanuel Steward, Klitschko's Hall of Fame trainer.
Their mission, which they accepted, was to try to convince even the most skeptical that some way, somehow Klitschko's 11th title defense -- against France's undersized, over-aged and inactive Jean-Marc Mormeck -- will be interesting, or at least competitive in the early going.
"He's definitely underestimated," Klitschko said. "There is more pressure on me than on Mormeck. He has nothing to lose, only to gain -- all the belts."
"I think the biggest obstacle in Wladimir's upcoming title defense is the fact that we're fighting a fighter with a style unlike any that Wladimir has had to fight," Steward said.
I always have this image of history when big stars like Tyson lose. Lewis and Rahman was such a mismatch in 2001 that nobody would think Lennox would lose the fight in South Africa. Lennox was too strong, too powerful, too experienced, and we know exactly what happened.” -- Heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko on the notion that his fight against Jean-Marc Mormeck on Saturday should be a walkover
Klitschko and Mormeck meet for the recognized world heavyweight championship on Saturday (4:30 p.m. ET, Epix and EpixHD.com) at Espirit Arena -- where a sold-out crowd of about 50,000 is expected -- in Düsseldorf, Germany, in a fight that was rescheduled from December because of Klitschko's bout with kidney stones a week before the fight.
Few give Mormeck, France's most popular current fighter, much of a shot -- which, given how many tickets were sold, is a testament to Klitschko's popularity in Germany.
Klitschko, 35, is a physical machine, a chiseled 6-foot-6, 245 pounds with the biggest right hand in boxing and a left jab that is as hard as a power punch for many heavyweights.
Then there is Mormeck, the former cruiserweight champion. He is 39, stands a squat 5-11 and has never weighed more than 216 pounds in his three-fight heavyweight career, which began in late 2009 following a two-year retirement.
And in his return, Mormeck struggled in each of those three bouts, winning decisions against club fighter Vinny Maddalone, long-faded contender Fres Oquendo (a fight many thought Oquendo won) and one-time fringe contender Timur Ibragimov (a split verdict that many thought Ibragimov had won).
In his final cruiserweight fight in 2007, Mormeck dropped David Haye but lost the title via seventh-round knockout. Haye later moved up to heavyweight and won a belt, which he lost last summer in a blowout decision loss to Klitschko.
Mormeck (36-4, 22 KOs) also hasn't fought in 15 months. On paper, it's a recipe for slaughter, though Mormeck rejected the notion.
"I have an iron will and will break Wladimir Klitschko mentally," he said. "I am not afraid of anybody and I am sure that I will beat Klitschko and take his belts."
Klitschko (56-3, 49 KOs), of Ukraine, tried his best to sell the fight.
"He's in tremendous physical shape. I saw his workout," Klitschko said. "I watched with Emanuel, and his style is like a copy of Mike Tyson's. He does a tremendous job of copying Mike Tyson. Mormeck is super-hyped up and motivated for this fight. He got more time to prepare when it was postponed, which is an advantage to him.
"It's going to be a challenge in the first few rounds because he will put a lot of pressure on me. He's obviously a fan of Mike's. He will go out there and try everything and anything he can. I see [it] in his attitude. He's very calm. He's smart, very self-confident. I think it's going to be, especially the beginning of the fight, a really good and tough challenge."
We've heard that refrain in each of Klitschko's previous 10 defenses only to watch him steamroll through one opponent after another as he and his older brother, fellow heavyweight titleholder Vitali Klitschko, have wiped out virtually the entire top 10. Along the way, Wladimir Klitschko has collected three of the four major sanctioning organization titles, claimed the lineal title and scored eight knockouts while barely losing any rounds.
"Everyone says it's a total mismatch, but styles make fights," Steward said. "And in fighting Mormeck, we're fighting a guy with a bob-and-weave-type style that's something that Wladimir has not fought. And as he and I were just speaking about, it's the most difficult style for tall fighters.
"I know most of the guys I've trained -- from Tommy Hearns, Lennox Lewis and even myself when I fought -- we were all tall fighters, and I know the biggest problem was all these guys with their heads down, bobbing and weaving, because you don't have much of a target and you're always in danger of breaking your hands. And so it's not the type of a fight that he can come out like everyone thinks and just blow the guy away. It's so frustrating."
Klitschko has been as dominant during his second title reign as any heavyweight in history. But he and Steward, each haunted by shocking losses years ago in fights in which they were massive favorites, insisted they aren't overlooking Mormeck.
They know Klitschko is in a no-win situation. If he drills Mormeck early, he did just what he was expected to do. If Mormeck wins, it would go down as one of heavyweight history's most massive upsets. Even if Mormeck merely lasts deep into the fight, it will look bad for Klitschko.
"We can't underestimate this guy," Steward said of Mormeck. "He's a professional fighter, a heavyweight fight against a guy who has been a world champion. So he has a mindset of being a winner, and one punch can turn everything around. In my personal experience -- in the back of my mind -- is still a one-punch knockout from Hasim Rahman with Lennox Lewis. So based on those memories, we've taken this fight, still, very seriously."
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Although Klitschko has been untouchable of late, he always has his losses -- each by knockout -- in the back of his mind. In 1998, he ran out of gas and was stopped by journeyman Ross Puritty in the 11th round. Klitschko was then knocked out twice in a four-fight span in 2003 and 2004, a stunning second-round knockout by Corrie Sanders and a fifth-round knockout against Lamon Brewster.
"I always have this image of history when big stars like Tyson lose," Klitschko said. "Lewis and Rahman was such a mismatch in 2001 that nobody would think Lennox would lose the fight in South Africa. Lennox was too strong, too powerful, too experienced, and we know exactly what happened.
"There's me and Corrie Sanders. I remember how sloppy my team was, my promoter and I were, before this fight. It wasn't supposed to be a challenge. I was going to knock this guy out, I'm the rising star. We know the result. So I'm preparing myself for the future, the next fight. That is always the one that is supposed to be the most challenging."
Finally, Klitschko and Steward backed off some of their talking points about the challenge Mormeck poses.
"With Mormeck, just remember my words -- the beginning of the fight will be very challenging," Klitschko said, before adding, "I basically have to break the man before I knock I him out."
Said Steward: "I just think it's going to be very difficult for the first two or three rounds. [Wladimir's] going to have to make adjustments. That's the problem. But other than that, I think most everything favors Wladimir."
Dan Rafael is a boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.
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