Exclusive Interview by Geoffrey Ciani – This is Part Five of an ongoing series dedicated to the memory and legacy of an extraordinary individual, Emanuel Steward, whose contributions to the world of boxing are simply remarkable. In this installment, I had the privilege of speaking with the Heavyweight Champion of the world, Wladimir Klitschko (59-3, 50 KOs), who is coming off of a lopsided unanimous decision victory when he successfully defended his crown against Mariusz Wach (27-1, 15 KOs) last Saturday night. This was Klitschko’s first bout without Steward since the two first paired up more than eight years ago. Wladimir provided his views and unique insight, and also shared some of his experiences working together with the Hall of Fame trainer. Here is what Wladimir had to say:
GEOFFREY CIANI: Wladimir, first of all I want to congratulate you on another outstanding victory this past weekend. I got to say I’m surprised that Wach was able to stand up to your shots for twelve rounds. How do you feel about your performance?
WLADIMIR KLITSCHKO: I should say that Wach showed a big heart, with no doubt. He had to absorb really bad punishment in the ring, because I know those shots were not easy to take. I felt my knuckles almost on every shot, and this man was like made out of rock. He took a lot of punishment. So I have a lot of respect for him for keeping on going, and especially in the eighth round when the referee almost stopped the fight and his corner let him go the next round. So I was really impressed with that performance, but it was another title defense and that’s basically it.
CIANI: Now I know this must have been difficult for you on some level, being your first fight without Emanuel Steward since you two first joined forces. For you, how was it dealing with that scenario for the first time without Emanuel for your preparations and for the fight itself?
KLITSCHKO: I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining with how difficult it was. You can imagine it was not easy to all of us, to the entire team, to get to know one week and a half before the fight that Emanuel passed away. It was something that really affected the entire team, and we’re still actually affected by that. We miss Emanuel! I mean everything in the training camp and everything related to boxing, in my life in boxing, is Emanuel Steward. I am Emanuel Steward in a certain way, because he shaped the size of my character and my presence in this world as I am, through Emanuel. And I feel this before when I worked with Emanuel. I finally could see Lennox Lewis, because Lennox Lewis is also Emanuel Steward. He’s a part of Emanuel Steward, and Tommy Hearns and everyone else. It’s just something that is difficult to describe with words how much we miss him and how much it hurt us.
I was really upset because of a statement of Wach’s trainer, whatever his name is. I don’t know his name, but his behavior before when Emanuel was not able to come to the preparations. He basically was spreading the news that I was going to cancel this fight because without Emanuel Steward, he’s not able to fight and not able to do anything—it’s over with Emanuel Steward, so it’s over with Klitschko. With those statements, what was happening to Emanuel Steward was much more important than any boxing fight, or any boxing in general, and just to make statements like that from the coach, it was disappointing. It was just on the moral side not cool, and that was really another way of motivation for me to just keep on going and do the fight, even if it wasn’t easy.
But I don’t want to complain about how difficult it was. It was not easy. You can imagine. But that’s what Emanuel would have done, what Emanuel wanted from all of us. I mean I’m talking about my entire team, not just myself, that we needed to go ahead, perform, and fight. And I was trying to knock this guy out from the first second of the fight. I didn’t want to sit back and go with tactics, tactics. Of course I needed to go with tactics, and strategy, and everything like that, but I wanted to make a statement and I was really trying. To Wach’s credit, he took big punishment and I mean he kept standing there. So I have a lot of respect for that performance by Wach.
CIANI: I can imagine how difficult that must have been for you, and with the loss of Emanuel it’s a big loss for the entire boxing world, Wladimir, and from your perspective as somebody who’s worked with him these last several years, what do you think when you consider his overall impact on boxing and the legacy that Emanuel leaves behind?
KLITSCHKO: Emanuel Steward, hands down, is a genius! As soon as he stepped in the ring, he was so genius in every different way, and there are not too many geniuses in this world. In the history of humanity there were not too many, and he was one of them. And it’s not just high words. It’s really truly what I mean. He was an amazing man that not just left a legacy. At the end of the day I understood about the life of Emanuel Steward. It’s not about your legacy as a worker or what he achieved, but at the end of the day it’s a legacy about what kind of person he was, and I haven’t met one single person in my life that has said any single bad word about Emanuel Steward or had bad experiences with Emanuel Steward. All of the people shared the same feelings, and they were feelings of love. They loved him and loved the man that loved life so much and always had a positive attitude, and he shaped so many people, not just in Detroit, not just in the Kronk Gym. Around the world, he was so international, and with this amazing gift that he had he could understand people. You know it doesn’t mean that you have the same skin color so you can understand each other, do you speak the same language to understand each other, do you have the same genes to understand each other, the same background or the same age. There are a lot of examples of people just misunderstanding each other, and Emanuel Steward was ahead of everything. He was so practical and so simple in different ways, simple to copy, simple to understand, and he was flexible to understand a lot of different people. It doesn’t matter where you’re coming from. That’s such a gift that not every person has, you know even if you can speak different languages. But he would find a way. He was just understanding like, “I hear you. I see you. I understand you” and he really meant it, which was probably the simple key for him to work with so many different characters in the sport of boxing, and he was getting along with them, and in a short period of time he was fine-tuning them to make them successful at their work. It’s just something that I haven’t seen in any person that I’ve met. I met a lot of people in this world, but this quality I haven’t seen in any person that I’ve come across.
That’s why such loss, it’s a loss on one hand, but on the other hand whatever this man achieved in the work and with his human side, it’s always going to have a legacy as a personality and with Emanuel Steward as a person, that we all share with each other, that we are all carrying in our hearts, and we are definitely thankful to the times that we all in different ways have shared to spend with this man, not just in the boxing ring, but even to talk, to know him, to shake his hand, and to have a short conversation with him. So I feel very, very fortunate that I’ve been working with him over nine years. It was an amazing time and I remember every single moment and every single conversation I had with this man. It was something incredible that my vocabulary is not enough to explain how thankful I am to the superior powers that put us together in my life.
CIANI: Now Emanuel was always very big on your talents, even before you worked together. I know that he often told Lennox Lewis, when he asked who he had to worry about out there, he would always say the younger Klitschko that won the Gold Medal in Atlanta. I’m wondering if you could tell the fans out there a little bit what it was like for you the very first time you started working with Emanuel when the two of you got together?
KLITSCHKO: I remember it very clearly. It was 2004 or maybe 2003 when Bend Boente, my longtime friend and manager, called Emanuel. I was in Hamburg and I got on the phone and I spoke with him with even more broken English, but he understood me though. He understood me clearly.
I said, “Emanuel, can we try to work together? I would love to get to the gym or where we can workout and try to work together”.
He was very friendly on the phone, and he said, “Wladimir, yes. I know who you are. Yes. I know that we can try and work together. Let’s catch up”.
We were preparing for our first fight against Lamon Brewster in Los Angeles, and from the first second of meeting him as a coach, I met him before when Vitali fought Lennox Lewis, but it clicked. It clicked in the first second. I don’t know. We just felt like we had known each other for a long time, and I know he enjoyed to work with me.
The fight was a loss! I fought perfectly, and I know that I fought perfectly because I was doing everything that Emanuel was telling me. However I lost the fight, and both of us were actually crying after the fight from whatever happened to us, and we could not believe that it happened. But it showed also a strong side of Emanuel, and he picked up Lennox Lewis when Lennox was down and lost his fight. He had a bad first fight with me, which I lost, but he believed in my talents and I believed in Emanuel and myself to keep on going, even if I went on the bottom of the sport. We’ve been working our way back, and we haven’t finished to pay back from 2004, because myself and Emanuel knew we would get hammered by critiques, and all of the other opponents, and everyone else that said “Klitschko is over! Klitschko is done”.
But we just kept pushing and we knew we were going to make it then. It was amazing art work. Each time we were writing a script, which we kept continuing to do, writing a script before the fight in the preparations, because we were analyzing my opponents as good as we can, and then we played the script in the fight! It was exactly! There were no surprises, there was nothing that could stop me from winning the fights. It’s something that I’m going to savor all of my life, not just in the sport of boxing. Emanuel has feelings in my mind.
CIANI: Now it’s almost hard to remember that that long ago, that you guys did start off your working relationship on a losing note, considering the dominant champion you later became after that. How was it that you two were able to regroup and start the legendary run that you’ve been on now? What were the steps it took for you to progress and comeback, because aside from your first loss with Emanuel in the Brewster fight, it was not long before that that you lost to Sanders, and at that time a lot of people didn’t think you had what it took to be a dominant champion at the top level. So in light of that, it’s almost amazing the way you’ve rebounded to the point where you are now. What was that journey like, Wladimir?
KLITSCHKO: The journey is nothing to compare with anything. It makes me so proud when you really stand up and you show the opposite style of what people were thinking of you. He makes you do something so it’s easy to do that, and it’s very simple. You know there are a lot of things that sound complicated, but he simplified it. Emanuel simplified it, and if you had the quality of a champion—if you have the quality of a champion, and he’s seen it! He’s seen it from other guys. Either you have this gene or you don’t have this gene. He said all of the champions they have this mean side in them. Not that they’re bad people, but they have this. To be champion you have to have this ego, an ego that is big and tough. You got to be bad-ass! That’s actually what he was telling me, but not a bad-ass in the way of a bad person. Like one of the lines, you have to learn how to fight when you’re tired, and if you don’t have the champion’s gene you can’t do that. It’s impossible. That’s what he would say, “You have to learn to fight when you’re tired”. That’s what I’m learning in all my preparations with fourteen rounds of sparring. In a fight, when I’m tired in the sparring sessions that’s how you learn, that’s how you proceed, and if you’re not a bad-ass you’re going to give up. So if you’re a champion and you have this ego, so you can keep on going, and I believe that’s actually different I believe in the guys that he’s seen. Either they have this talent and they have this gene, or they don’t. You can learn it, but you have to have it inside. So you have to kind of, you got to have it! You know?
CIANI: The one fight Emanuel often talks about as the fight where it seemed you really began to mesh together, you and Emanuel as a team, was your first fight with Sam Peter where I know Emanuel still had a great amount of belief in you, and he’s mentioned to me that that was the fight that you wanted. That you wanted the Sam Peter fight because he was considered a hard hitting tough guy at the time, and you wanted to prove yourself against a guy like that. I’m wondering if you could just explain to the fans out there everything that was going on going on going into the Peter fight, during the Peter fight, and immediately after?
KLITSCHKO: That was a milestone this fight, because I was on the way down and I was called a “Dead Man Walking” from Peter’s Camp and Samuel Peter was one of the rising stars. He was killing people in the ring. He had a high percentage of knockouts. Almost all of his fights he won by knockout, and I remember after each fight Samuel Peter was screaming, “Who next?” He meant who’s next, but with his dialect he was screaming “Who-Ne’! Who-ne’” and then he was like, “Klitschko’s next!”
It was like whatever, and he was number one and wanted to become a champion. He was number one in two different versions, and I knew that I could beat this man. I had him as a sparring partner when I was a champion, and when he was younger he was strong, he was incredibly motivated and pumped up, and I knew that if I wanted to show that I am the man in the division I have to fight this guy. I have to take him and after beating him I will become the number one mandatory in two different versions to fight for a world championship belt. So I don’t know. It was desire, and Emanuel and I were on the same page, and it was like, “Come on! Let’s do it. You know let’s take it, let’s take this guy, and I know I can do it”.
We were preparing very hard in the Poconos Mountains in Pennsylvania. We were training hard. We had like fifteen sparring partners that were coming and going up to camp. They were coming in with a big head, getting busted up in the ring, and then they were leaving back home, because they thought that this Klitschko is something that is easy to knock but they saw the opposite. Anyway, they were great preparation and in this camp in this preparation and after the fight, we got in closer with Emanuel. We just got to know each other on an extreme side, because it was an extreme fight.
CIANI: For you right now, going forward in your career without Emanuel being with you, how do you plan on tackling that? You got off to a great start against Wach this past weekend where it honestly looked like you hadn’t missed a beat. But going forward, knowing that you two had created this special chemistry between trainer and fighter that worked so well together, does it give you any doubt or anything like that going forward?
KLITSCHKO: You are so damn wrong about it that Emanuel is not there. Believe it or not, the monster has been created and Emanuel is with me. Even if he is not there he is with me. He is whispering in my ear as soon as I’m getting in the gym. Even if he was making these preparations for this fight, I am Emanuel Steward. I know how he thinks. I know what he would say. I hear his voice whispering in my ear while I am doing sparring.
He used to love to get in the ring while we were in sparring sessions, and he was in the ring like a referee. He was like, “Stop! Okay! Pay attention to this. Do this! Do that”.
So it was like just the same things that we have been doing over years, and years, and years, and years. That’s why I don’t feel like Emanuel’s not there. I felt in this preparation, even if he wasn’t there I mean physically, but he was there. He put so much in the team and in myself that I know exactly how he thinks. I know exactly what he says.
I actually have a feeling he’s listening to our conversation right now. Don’t call me crazy, but like I feel the presence of the man. That’s why I wouldn’t be able to say that he’s not around me. He’s with me. He’s in my heart and in my mind, and there is nothing that can affect my career with the line or a question, “How are going to do without Emanuel Steward?”
I am with Emanuel Steward. I am Emanuel Steward in a certain portion in a certain way. And Johnathon Banks has done such a great job to step in and do whatever Emanuel showed to our team as a fighter. Johnathon Banks grew up in Emanuel’s house. He was living in Emanuel’s house, breathing his mind in of understanding his life and boxing. That’s why with my team we will continue the work that Emanuel started, and there is nothing that can stop us. Nothing! There is nobody that can stop us as long as we’re motivated, which we are, and as long as we are going to enter the ring, and as long as I’m going to hold those titles, and as long as I’m existing in my life—Emanuel Steward is in my heart, and there is nothing that can stop us.
CIANI: Wladimir, I just have two last questions for you here. First one is, what will you remember most about your time spent with Emanuel?
KLITSCHKOI: His smile, his smell, his smartness—all start with an “s” and all in a positive way. He was an incredibly smart man, I mean incredibly smart man, which there are a lot of things that I will remember a lot. It’s just like too fresh. Like I said, I just don’t feel he’s not there. It’s like I feel him.
One of the lines, he said, “Lladimir”, because he didn’t call me “Wladimir”. (laughs)
Actually one funny story, I said, “Manny, I’m Wladimir. Not ‘Lladimir’!”
He said, “Okay Lladimir. I’m not ‘Manny’. I’m ‘Emanuel’. I hate ‘Manny’! Understood?”
I said, “Okay Emanuel”.
He said, “Okay Lladimir!”
I said, “Come on!” (laughs) He kept saying ‘Lladimir’.
He had a great sense of humor, and he said, “Okay Wladimir. Listen. I’m 67-68 and what do you think? I haven’t stopped learning! I’m learning every day. Every day! There are so many smart people around me, there are so many smart fighters, and some fighters are smarter than their trainers. The trainers have no ability to understand their fighters, to listen to them. They’re like too conservative, and I’m learning every day. I’m learning every day! Every day! Every day I’m going out, every day I’m hitting the gym, every day I’m talking to people. I’m learning every day, Wladimir!”
So that’s what he was saying. You know the thing is it doesn’t matter how old you are. You just learn. You don’t get stubborn and say, “I know what life is about, and back off!”
And he said one line which describes him perfectly, what a wizard he is. Every person, he said, “Wlad! Every person has certain qualities. Recognize it! See it! Use it! Don’t kill it all at once”.
So he was looking around the corner at every person. He didn’t judge, like this man is good and this man is bad. He was always kind of taking a step back like, “Hmmm”. You know, you got to take a particular look. You just back off, and “Hmmm”, and analyze it. You know and then think ten steps ahead, but one step just to back off just to let him see. He was such an incredibly, I mean genius. If there is like one word that I can describe him with: “genius”. That’s it.
CIANI: Wlad for my final question, I’m just wondering if you have any final thoughts on Emanuel, whether it’s any experiences you two shared together that you’d like to share with the fans, or if it was anything regarding his impact on boxing as a trainer, a manager, a commentator, or as an overall ambassador for boxing. Do you have any final thoughts?
KLITSCHKO: Oh gee. It is so difficult to say the final thoughts because there are just so many. You cannot describe such a global and big man with one word or one line. It’s impossible.
This definitely described the man. There is one magical word and one magical power that does magical things in life, and that’s the love. Emanuel taught me how to actually love things. I never loved boxing. Ever. Never. I didn’t know so much about boxing before I met Emanuel, but since I started to work with him I fell in love with the sport, because such people as Emanuel Steward were involved. Unfortunately there are not always positive examples in our sport, but this man put a better light on this beautiful, beautiful and wonderful sport, that people can accept and understand how beautiful it is, and Emanuel was one of the angels of the sport that brought it over to the public eye, and not just for boxing fans, just to the people in general that never knew anything about boxing. He made this sport as glamorous as Muhammad Ali.
It’s mostly fighters that shape and put glamour in the sport, and Emanuel just gave it to the cross promotion for the sport through his commentating on HBO that he enjoyed so much, talking to different people without even knowing that he’s a boxing trainer, without even knowing the sport of boxing at all. But he put a better light to the sport, which is not possible to even give a price for. It’s priceless what he achieved aside from his achievements as a coach. He just made the sport of boxing better than it could be to the people that are not involved in the sport, and of course the people that are involved in the sport. I think that’s something special that not too many people have achieved, but he really made it in a different way. Not as a fighter, as with Muhammad Ali for example, but as a person that is involved in boxing but not in the boxing ring as a fighter, just in a different way. And he was a boxing promoter, and a manager, and a trainer, and a boxer previously, but he just put a better light on the sport.
I just can’t say thank you for putting love in my heart for this sport of boxing, because without love I would never ever go as far as I went. I’m not done yet, but I would have never accomplished that. So I’m just thankful to him for, as I said, this magical word that does magic to “love” and cherish what you do and to appreciate what you do, and that’s what he did for boxing.
I would like to give a very special thanks to Wladimir Klitschko for providing his tremendous insight for this installment
This article was also published at East Side Boxing