After so many years of dominating the heavyweight division, so many one-sided title defenses against all comers and having earned tens of millions of dollars, champion Wladimir Klitschko, a pro for 17 years, could be forgiven if he had lost some of his zest for the fight game.
Nothing could be further from the truth, however, for the 37-year-old Klitschko, whose title reign of more than seven years became the second longest in history this past summer when he moved ahead of Hall of Famer Larry Holmes on the list. The only man to hold a heavyweight championship longer than Klitschko? The legendary Joe Louis (nearly 12 years).
Klitschko still enjoys sticking to his training camp routine, having the same team surround him and keeping the same daily schedule in seclusion in the mountains in Austria.
"Sometimes I lose track of things because it's always the same schedule, the same place, the same cabin, but I do love it," Klitschko said. "It's exciting and it's always challenging because there is always someone new to face, somebody new to get ready for. There are some differences because [late trainer] Emanuel [Steward, who died last October] is not with us anymore. But I've known [new trainer and Steward disciple] Johnathon Banks as long I knew Emanuel.
"He does things like Emanuel, but we also try to work on new things. I am not just a hamster in a hamster wheel. There are always things to experiment with and that is keeping me young even though I am a seasoned fighter."
If there had been any signs of boredom for Klitschko before any previous defense, Klitschko didn't let on, and there certainly doesn't seem to be any as he prepares for No. 15, a long-awaited showdown with undefeated Alexander Povetkin of Russia, one of Klitschko's mandatory challengers and a secondary titleholder.
It's a fight that has been a long time coming -- this is the third time it has been scheduled -- and will finally happen on Saturday (HBO, 3:30 p.m. ET/PT, replay at 9:45 p.m. ET/PT on the Miguel Cotto-Delvin Rodriguez telecast) at the SC Olimpiyskiy Arena in Moscow, where Povetkin will be fighting on his home turf.
Klitschko is looking forward to finally tangling with Povetkin.
"I was always dreaming about this fight," Klitschko said. "I would talk to Emanuel about it. For right now, in the heavyweight division, it's the best fight I could have."
It is that rare match between Olympic super heavyweight gold-medal winners. Klitschko powered his way to gold at the 1996 Atlanta Games, and Povetkin did the same at the 2004 Athens Games.
"That's exciting to me, because I'm a fan of boxing as well as being a boxer," Klitschko said. "It's exciting to find out who is the better Olympic champion, the one from 1996 or the one from 2004. That's the headline of this fight -- two Olympic champions fighting for the world heavyweight championship."
And it's about time.
Twice previously the fight was scheduled but didn't come off because Povetkin (26-0, 18 KOs), 34, pulled out. He had become Klitschko's mandatory challenger in January 2008 after defeating Eddie Chambers in a final eliminator. Klitschko's K2 Promotions won a purse bid to put on the fight, which was scheduled for December 2008.
But Povetkin suffered a freak foot injury when he tripped over a tree root while doing roadwork in preparation for the bout. And even after Povetkin's foot healed, he declined the fight and went in another direction.
In 2012, Povetkin was again named Klitschko's mandatory challenger, and the fight went to another purse bid, which K2 Promotions once again won. Povetkin was looking at a career-high payday of more than $2 million, but Teddy Atlas, Povetkin's trainer at the time, convinced him not to take the September bout on the eve of the news conference that was supposed to announce the fight.
That left an embarrassed Klitschko (60-3, 52 KOs) standing in a German stadium to face the media with a life-size cardboard cutout of Povetkin next to him as he tried to explain what had happened. Klitschko instead faced substitute opponent Samuel Peter, a former titleholder, in a rematch and knocked him out.
Now, three years later, Povetkin is committed to the bout but not in any particular mood to discuss it.
"I am just preparing for the fight," Povetkin said at this week's media workout. "I could talk trash now, but I refuse to do it. Everything will be revealed on [Saturday]. You will be watching this all on [Saturday]. I repeat, once again, why should I talk trash now? You can say anything before the fight, but it won't matter during the fight."
But Klitschko, with one of the best knockout percentages in heavyweight history, plans to put the first blemish on Povetkin's record.
"He is the best opponent I've ever had," Klitschko said. "My goal is to win the fight by KO."
Although Klitschko said he hasn't forgotten about Povetkin standing him up last time, he's over it and is expecting a tough fight.
"Povetkin has a great record. He is undefeated, and I expect him to give everything that he has to keep that undefeated record," Klitschko said. "He was European, world and Olympic champion in the amateurs. He hasn't lost a single fight as a professional. He's never been knocked down. Never been on the canvas. He is undefeated and he is the regular champion of WBA. His record is a dream for a promoter, fighter and manager. It's so clean, has no marks on it, it's incredible."
Klitschko said he has also been impressed by Povetkin's demeanor when they have come face to face during the promotion.
"He's very respectful, very calm and a very self-confident guy," Klitschko said. "There is no controversy like David Haye did when he said all that crazy stuff before our fight, there's no spitting water or slapping like [Dereck] Chisora did before he fought my brother [titleholder Vitali Klitschko]. Barking dogs never bite and Povetkin is not a barking dog. I believe he will deliver a great performance.
"Emanuel would always talk about Tommy [Hearns] and how he was always quiet, but when he got in the ring, he was always tough. I am expecting the same from Povetkin. He is fighting in his own country, so there's a lot of pressure on him to deliver the performance."
Klitschko, who is based in Germany and from Ukraine, figures to have his share of fans in attendance, but it won't be anything like when he fights in front of 50,000 at soccer stadiums in Germany, where he is the overwhelming fan favorite.
Still, Klitschko said he is excited about fighting in Russia.
"I feel great about it," he said. "Muhammad Ali is always an idol to me and millions of people. He would fight in different countries. It's exciting to me to fight in a new place. I never fought in Russia, so I am excited about it even if the crowd will be against me."
The reason the fight wound up in Moscow is because Russian businessman Andrey Ryabinsky put up the money for promoter Vladimir Hryunov's shocking purse bid of $23,333,330, one of the largest in boxing history.
It dwarfed bids made by K2 Promotions ($7.13 million) and Povetkin promoter Sauerland Event ($6,014,444), and it allowed Ryabinsky to dictate the location of the fight and guaranteed the fighters the biggest purses of their careers. Based on being entitled to 75 percent of the winning bid, Klitschko will get $17,499,997, while Povetkin will get $5,833,333 (25 percent).
Klitschko admitted that he was surprised by the size of the bid but hasn't let it go to his head.
"I didn't expect that [purse bid], but it's not something that makes me blind or puts fog in my eyes," he said. "I know the win and my performance means much more than the money I will get for the fight. It's never been my motivation and it never will be my motivation. I'm a prizefighter and I want to be compensated, but it's not what I base my career on. I know it's a lot of money, but it's not making me satisfied. I need to win this fight. That will satisfy me."
Then Klitschko, with an underrated sense of humor, compared his payday to a recent purse of another star fighter.
"Hey, if we compare it to Floyd Mayweather's purse [of $41.5 million for the Sept. 14 fight with Canelo Alvarez], this is a joke," Klitschko said with a laugh.
"So let's not talk about the money. Let's talk about how I will win."