On HBO, the 32-year-old, Ukrainian-born Klitschko appears every bit the intimidating presence in the ring he's made out to be. But when we walk into his ballroom-turned-boxing gym at Dorint Royal Golf Resort on the Spanish island of Mallorca during his training camp for his December 2008 fight with Hasim Rahman (Klitschko won via TKO in the seventh round), the limits of digital cable become apparent.
Usually, media guides exaggerate physical traits like height or weight. But seeing Klitschko shadowboxing alone in the ring, my first thought is that his camp has downplayed his height by a foot in order to keep opponents from turning tail and running. He looks much bigger than the 6'6½", 240 pounds he's listed at, but then again, that's the intimidating power of muscle.
He isn't just tall. He's wide and packed with more muscle than a high-definition flat screen can adequately showcase. He has all of the vanity muscles mere mortals aspire to - broad delts, wide tapering lats and vascular arms - but also holds a respectable amount of mass in areas that other boxers often lack like the calves and forearms. Even more, he moves around the ring with the ease of a welterweight.
An Amalgam Of Eras
Klitschko has a distinct advantage over the rest of the competition when it comes to his physical preparation: a PhD in sport science.
He understands and appreciates the advances in exercise and nutrition over the last few decades, but he and his team don't use cutting-edge techniques exclusively. His training and nutrition are, in fact, a blend of the latest in scientific advances and proven old-school methods. "We're open-minded for new stuff and we'll take advantage in any way we can," he says. "If we find that something works, we'll keep with it."
For example, while current nutritional standards for elite athletes almost always recommend 5-6 protein-packed meals per day to maintain muscle mass, team chef David Williams advocates an old-school, three-squares-a-day approach. For 3 1/2 years he has prepared meals for Klitschko, not based on some macronutrient chart but on how his athlete feels.
Klitschko says boxers today have an advantage over the Alis, Listons and Fraziers from a generation ago.
"Now there are all of these vitamins and minerals for athletes, which help their systems go through difficult workouts and stay in consistently good shape, because this is a business and you have to be able to keep it up," he says. "I think that athletes today are generally faster-running, higher-jumping, harder-punching. I firmly believe that."
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Klitschko is one for the big picture. He doesn't like to overplay his stature, relegating it instead to just one link in a chain.
"If one of the pieces is missing, the chain doesn't exist. You have to have basic condition and physical strength. I begin each [camp] with weightlifting, then later on I move to technical stuff. But the base of everything is strength and conditioning."
For the rest of our story on Wladimir Klitschko, pick up the March issue of M&F, on newsstands now.