- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko knew he would eventually have to make the decision and he finally did this week, replacing his longtime trainer, Hall of Famer Emanuel Steward, with pro heavyweight and longtime sparring partner Johnathon Banks.
Steward is very ill and unable to train Klitschko for his 13th title defense against Mariusz Wach (27-0, 15 KOs). They meet on Nov. 10 (Epix and EpixHD.com) in Hamburg, Germany.
Banks, an aspiring trainer, is a Steward disciple and been a part of Klitschko's training camps since he began working with Steward in 2004.
Klitschko has been training for the fight in Austria for several weeks, but Steward typically would not arrive at training camp until about three weeks out from the fight, which is when Klitschko would begin his sparring. So when Banks arrived in Austria with other sparring partners on Sunday, Klitschko said he asked him if he would serve as his head cornerman for the fight.
"There is nothing I have to change or adjust," Klitschko told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "I have always talked with (Banks) through our sparring sessions and about the strategy for the fights all of these years. He has a very analytical mind. I think he was a good student of Emanuel. He and (longtime Steward assistant) James (Bashir) have always been part of my camp and will work with me for this one.
"I know (Banks) is not experienced as a coach at all, but it doesn't scare me. Yes, he's starting at a very high level with a championship fight, but he is comfortable with it and confident. He knows the business and he knows boxing. He knows me and how I function, so there is nothing new I have to adjust."
Klitschko said when he asked Banks about assuming the role, he was happy to see his immediate, and confident, response.
"My first question was would he think about doing it," Klitschko said. "He was excited and said, sure, he would do it. There was no doubt in his eyes. It was something that I have had in the back of my mind once I got the news that Emanuel would not be able to be in camp. After I asked (Banks) about doing it, he was very excited, very happy and inspired by it."
Klitschko (58-3, 50 KOs) said Banks' role will be the same as Steward's -- to go over strategy and fine tune the things he worked on in training for the several weeks before the trainer would usually arrive.
"I'm very experienced and I have the knowledge from all the years I have done," Klitschko said. "Fine tuning and the strategy was what we were always working on with Emanuel, which was enjoyable.
"Johnathon has been growing up in the house of Emanuel. He has the knowledge and the sprit of (Steward's) Kronk Gym (in Detroit). But we are missing Emanuel and we hope he will come back and be my coach, but while he is not here, this will work well."
Banks (28-1-1, 18 KOs), 30, of Detroit, still has his own aspirations as a fighter. He fought for a cruiserweight world title in 2009 but was knocked out in the eighth round by Tomasz Adamek. He then moved up to heavyweight, where he is 8-0-1 against middling opposition, and has been featured on several Klitschko undercards.
Banks has his most significant heavyweight bout on Nov. 17 in Atlantic City, N.J., where he will take on top American prospect Seth Mitchell in the co-feature of an HBO card headlined by lightweight titleholder Antonio DeMarco's defense against Adrien Broner. Coincidentally, Mitchell (25-0-1, 19 KOs) has been mentioned prominently by Klitschko as a potential future opponent.
Steward, who also works as an HBO commentator, has been off the air for several months and not worked with his fighters while battling an undisclosed, life-threatening illness.
Klitschko declined to discuss the particulars of Steward's illness, saying that his health was a private family matter. But Klitschko said he spoke "briefly" to Steward "a couple of days ago" and that Steward endorsed the idea of having Banks work as the head trainer for the fight with Wach.
"I've been talking to him about different scenarios and situations," Klitschko said. "But whatever happens with Emanuel and his health is more important than boxing."