BERN, Switzerland -- Wladimir Klitschko breezed into an empty ballroom in an upscale Swiss hotel, casually dressed in a white T-shirt and plaid shorts, looking more like a man headed for a summer concert than one preparing for a heavyweight title fight. In fact, Klitschko had attended a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert one night earlier, where he presented the band with a Team Klitschko jacket, one specially embroidered on the inside with the lyrics to "
"Sorry I'm a little late," Klitschko said, eyeballing a reporter dressed in a suit. "And sorry I didn't get more dressed up."
It's good to be Wladimir Klitschko. You sell out soccer stadiums and make in excess of $5 million per fight. You date actresses and models and are a sought-after endorser of anything from Mercedes-Benz to Hugo Boss to Mobilat. You are the unified heavyweight champ and, really, outside of your brother, WBC titleholder Vitali Klitschko, there isn't anyone out there who can beat you.
Too strong? Prove it. The reality is Klitschko (57-3) has not been threatened in a fight since Samuel Peter knocked him down three times in 2005 and has not been beaten since Lamon Brewster knocked him out in '04. On Saturday, Klitschko will defend his titles against Tony Thompson, a 2008 victim, at the Stade de Suisse (4:30 p.m., Epix).
"Tony Thompson is definitely not an easy job," Klitschko said. "I compare him to a spider: Big body, small head, long arms, which is perfect for boxing and makes it super complicated to fight against."
Uh, right. Look no one is knocking Thompson: Since getting knocked out by Klitschko, Thompson (36-2) has won five straight fights, earning another title shot by becoming the IBF mandatory challenger. And Thompson has offered up the obligatory excuses for his loss, citing a lingering knee injury and a poor adjustment to the trans-Atlantic trip.
But the truth is Thompson is 40, beat middling competition (Adnan Serin! Owen Beck! Maurice Harris!) to get here and was down big on all three judges' scorecards before getting flattened in the 11th round of the first fight with Klitschko.
Bottom line: There are puncher's chances and, below that, there are Tony Thompson's.
Of course, it's not like Thompson poked his head out of a pool deep with opponents. Take a look at
• There is Alexander Povetkin (No. 2), who Klitschko has chased for years but has refused to fight him. A member of Povetkin's team told me recently they planned to "Bob Arum" a Klitschko fight, which he interpreted as talking about it but never making it.
• There is Tomasz Adamek (No. 3), who had his face rearranged by Vitali Klitschko in a lopsided rout last September.
• There is Kubrat Pulev (No. 4), Robert Helenius (No. 5), Denis Boytsov (No. 6) and Tyson Fury (No. 8) who are too raw to warrant serious consideration.
• There is Chris Arreola (No. 9), another Vitali victim, who Klitschko hopes to fight in the U.S. later this year. But Arreola's promoter, Dan Goossen, told me that fight was unlikely to happen unless it was on a pay-per-view.
See my point?
After Thompson, there is a good chance Klitschko won't lose for a long, long time. Oh sure, there are some nice prospects. There is the 6-foot-8 David Price, who recently admitted to me he was years from being ready for Klitschko. There is Seth Mitchell, the former Michigan State linebacker who has put together a nice early run, but is nowhere near ready for that kind of challenge.
At 36, Klitschko could be winning fights well into his 40s.
To fight that long, Klitschko will need motivation, and there is a meaty piece of one out there. Joe Louis holds the heavyweight record for title defenses, with 25. A win over Thompson would be Klitschko's 13th. Now winning 12 or 13 more might seem daunting but, again, consider the competition. And consider there are longtime members of Klitschko's team who believe he is just hitting his prime.
"He's 36 years old right now," said Klitschko's promoter, Tom Loeffler. "But I don't really think that you have seen his peak yet."
Klitschko doesn't like to look too far into the future ("I care about history," Klitschko said. "I just don't care about it right now) but people in his camp say he is keenly aware of his place among the greats. The 'oh well they couldn't have beaten (insert '70s or 80s heavyweight here)' commentary gnaws at both brothers, so much so that Vitali Klitschko told me recently he often plays out fights between himself and Muhammad Ali in his head.
No, Wladimir Klitschko won't be stepping aside anytime soon. Those that want to see a new era, forget it. Trainers who are building young fighters, train them harder. Klitschko isn't going away until someone makes him.