Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Klitschko Out To Prove His Star Is Rising

BERLIN (AP) -- Wladimir Klitschko wants to do more in his IBF title defense than just beat Ray Austin. The Ukranian has a big punch and intends to show he's ready to become the new star of the heavyweights.

Some already see Klitschko as the best fighter in a division in need of a marquee name. He beat Samuel Peter by decision, then crushed Chris Byrd and Calvin Brock, three of the top heavyweights.

Hardly anyone seems to give Austin a chance on Saturday in Mannheim, Germany. The American hasn't been beaten in nearly six years, but there are no big wins on his 24-3 record with four draws.

"Ray Austin is running into the growth and progression of Wlad," said Emanuel Steward, the trainer for the 30-year-old Ukrainian. "Those watching the fight are going to be lucky enough to see the emergence of one of the greatest heavyweights ever."

Steward knows a thing or two about top heavyweights, having trained Lennox Lewis, the last undisputed champion. He has been tireless in proclaiming the talent of his 6-foot-6 fighter.

Klitschko, however, is a lot more modest about where he ranks in boxing and what he has to prove to the public.

"I think there is still a lot of work to do to be a real champion, not just a titleholder," Klitschko said. "I'm on the way, but I haven't arrived."

Klitschko (47-3, 42 knockouts) is being touted as boxing's next big thing for the second time. Many boxing fans remember what happened the first time -- and still question his chin and stamina. He was flattened in two rounds by Corrie Sanders in 2003 and stopped a year later in five by Lamon Brewster.

But he resurrected his career in September 2005, climbing off the canvas three times to win a unanimous decision against Peter, the Nigerian still considered a potential champion.

"Many thought I could never come back from the devastation of the Brewster defeat," Klitschko said. "You see, I never lost my confidence. The ups and downs of the past have made me love this sport more."

There is no doubt who is the star Saturday. The fight poster for HBO is dominated by a picture of Klitschko. Austin isn't in the photo and his name is in small type at the bottom.

After fighting several smaller opponents, Klitschko is about the same size as Austin. He dismisses this as a factor, even if the American's handlers hope it does play a role.

"Klitschko has a history of having problems with taller heavier heavyweights," said Austin's trainer, Stacey McKinely. "Ray Austin is a dangerous man in the condition he is in today."

The 36-year-old Austin last lost in July 2001 to Attila Levin. Austin hasn't beaten any top fighters, but he has drawn against several, including Russia's Sultan Ibragimov and Larry Donald of the United States.

If Klitschko does prove to have the talent, he still might have trouble unifying the four heavyweight title belts because of the sport's convoluted politics. But he would clearly like another one, the WBA title held by 7-foot Nikolai Valuev.

"We should stop talking about it," Klitschko said. "Let's have the fight."

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