BERLIN (AFP) – Wladimir Klitschko chases the 17th defence of his world heavyweight crowns against unbeaten Kubrat Pulev on Saturday with the legendary Joe Louis’ record of 25 defences in the division getting closer.
The 38-year-old Klitschko has held at least the IBF and IBO heavyweight titles since 2006, adding the WBO title in 2008 by beating Sultan Ibragimov, before a unanimous decision against Britain’s David Haye in 2011 gave him the WBA crown.
It says as much for Klitschko’s longevity as the lack of genuine contenders that the giant Ukrainian has had few peers in the division.
Klitschko takes on Pulev in his hometown Hamburg’s O2 World, near the Imtech Arena where he beat Haye more than three years ago.
The Bulgarian has earned his first world title fight by becoming the IBF’s mandatory challenger.
The 33-year-old has 11 knockouts in 20 victories on his unblemished record, but sparked animosity when he boycotted Monday’s pre-fight press conference having been left fuming after members of his promotional team were denied access.
“Because Klitschko is not behaving correctly, he doesn’t get my respect,” said Pulev. “He isn’t afraid and he will be tested (during the bout).”
The Ukrainian champion pulled out of the original fight in September due to a bicep injury and was unimpressed by the challenger’s pre-fight behaviour.
“I cannot believe it. He is ill-advised and it looks like brainwashing,” said a bemused Klitschko, who has an impressive record of 52 knockouts in 62 wins with the last of his three defeats now over a decade ago.
“Somebody from his entourage is pulling his strings.”
Pulev enjoyed knockout wins over Alexander Ustinov and Alexander Dimitrenko in 2012 and his unanimous win over Tony Thompson in August 2013 earned him the right to fight Klitschko.
He kept busy last year by forcing both Joey Abell of the USA and Croatia’s Ivica Perkovic into retiring in the early rounds of their bouts.
“I am going to be dangerous, pressing the action early on Saturday. Wladimir will have to move a lot inside the ring,” said Pulev.
“This is going to be the most important fight of my career to date.”
But Klitschko has seen it all before.
The champion brushed off the latest extreme efforts by USA boxer Shannon Briggs on Wednesday to earn a shot at the Ukrainian’s belts.
Briggs, 42, gate-crashed Klitschko’s opening training session in Hamburg before being ejected from the building by security guards.
“The people don’t want Klitschko anymore. I’m the real champ. The world wants to see the Klitschko-Briggs fight,” bellowed the American.