After making 17 successive world title defences, you could be forgiven for thinking that Wladimir Klitschko's contest with Bryant Jennings was just another fight to the legendary Ukrainian. However, when the 39-year-old steps through the ropes at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, there is a lot more than just his collection of world belts on the line as he looks to further enhance a legacy that will forever remain in the upper echelons of the sport.
Unlike Floyd Mayweather Jr, who this week claimed to be better than Muhammad Ali, Klitschko refuses to compare himself to boxing greats of years gone by, but it's the humbleness of Klitschko that probably maintains his desire to continue in the sport. Mayweather is likely to retire in September, saying that he remains in the sport for the money, but for Klitschko, he is motivated to operate outside of his comfort zone and prove that he isn't content to compete in one-sided fights in front of huge crowds in Europe.
That's a theory that has stuck with Klitschko over the past five years. It's something that David Haye used to secure his showdown with Wlad, but regardless of the opposition, whether the quality is as high as Haye or significantly lower in Alex Leapai and Francesco Pianeta, the end result has always been the same and Klitschko has barely lost a round in continuing his dominance in the division. But in Klitschko's case, dominance leads to new challenges, and that has taken him back to New York to try to provide a boost to a city that hasn't seen a world heavyweight title fight in years.
Klitschko's last visit to the Big Apple as a fighter didn't sit too well with the locals. Klitschko won, but his bout with Sultan Ibragimov was greeted with a chorus of boos due to his own methodical style and the size of the mismatch that was taking place at MSG. Like any sporting audience, the crowd wanted to be entertained and from as early as round two, it became clear what was about to transpire. That match led to Klitschko's departure from American primetime television but seven years on, and after penning a lucrative deal with HBO, Klitschko is aware that he has been brought back on the condition that he adopts a style that is going to boost television ratings if and when a unification clash with Deontay Wilder takes place in the future.
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Firstly though, Klitschko must deal with Jennings, an American who has put together 19 successive wins, albeit in far less illustrious company than Klitschko has been facing over the past decade. His victory over Mike Perez in July was just about deserved, but it wasn't a performance that will strike any kind of fear in Klitschko, or even earn his respect. Given that the Philadelphia resident is coming in three inches shorter and 30lbs lighter than the champion, it's hard to give him a realistic chance of causing a monumental upset, unless he can put something together in the early stages that stops Klitschko finding his rhythm.
That's the key to any Klitschko fight. Unless you can strike in the opening rounds, the uphill task gets steeper and steeper. Klitschko's last opponent Kubrat Pulev tried to adopt that approach and although he enjoyed some success in the first 30 seconds of the fight, he left himself open and it was only a matter of time before he hit the canvas with regularity. It was easy to be critical of Pulev for that strategy but you simply can't fight in survival mode against Klitschko. Chances need to be taken because sooner or later, he will connect clean.
It's for that reason that Jennings is unlikely to see the final bell on Saturday night. Klitschko will want to look ruthless in front of his new audience and Jennings will be aware that it is sink of swim time. Regardless of the manner of Klitschko's expected success, US fans are likely to have to wait for the clash with Wilder, or even the brash Shannon Briggs, but the foundations need to be put in place for a Stateside audience to take an interest in a fight with Tyson Fury.
With the British heavyweight being mandatory challenger to Klitschko's WBO belt, that match will likely take place in a football stadium in Germany, but it will be the last bout of a three-fight deal with HBO. Successive wins by stoppage would almost certainty secure a renewal of that contract, but there will be no complacency from Klitschko. He may be 66 fights into a hall-of-fame career but earlier this week, he reiterated that he has no plans for retirement in the near future and that isn't good news for the rest of the division.