NEW YORK (Reuters) - Long-reigning world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko likens his next challenger, Bryant Jennings of Philadelphia, to the Rocky Balboa character of film fame.
But the towering Ukraine who has ruled the division for nine years does not predict a happy ending for Jennings in their April 25 clash at Madison Square Garden.
“I think Bryant is Rocky Balboa,” Klitschko said Wednesday referencing the lead character in Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky” series.
“He’s from Philadelphia. He’s someone who started late in boxing. He’s a top contender. I can see the desire and will, the way he carries himself. Makes me think this fight is going to be exciting. This is his life chance.”
But Klitschko likes his chances as holder of five heavyweight belts and a 63-3 record.
“As the champion, I am the Bad Man. I am the Baddest Man on the Planet in boxing,” said Klitschko, who has made 17 title defenses during an uninterrupted reign started in 2006 for the second longest heavyweight run behind legendary Joe Louis.
Jennings is 19-0, but at 6-3, 225 pounds and wearing a black tee shirt with “I MATTER!” lettered on the front, looked like a kid brother as he stared up at Klitschko for photographers.
“I’m ready because I’ve got to be ready,” Jennings, 30, told Reuters about measuring up to the task.
“Size? In the NBA at one point (former Philadelphia guard) Allen Iverson was the most dominant player on the court and was amongst the smallest.
“I bring youth. I bring will. I bring heart. I bring speed. I have a fighting spirit. I’m relentless.”
Klitschko, 38, says he takes fights one at a time, but could not help but think ahead to a clash with former sparring partner and knockout artist Deontay Wilder.
Wilder owns the WBC belt previously held by Klitschko’s brother Vitali, who after retiring from boxing was elected mayor of Kiev, Ukraine’s biggest city.
Winning that belt would complete the Klitschko collection.
“We need to do it and we have to do it,” Klitschko said about a match with Wilder.
“There is certainly a reason why I’m back here and why I’m fighting on U.S. television live on U.S. soil,” said Klitschko, who has fought in Europe exclusively since his last Garden bout in 2008.
“(Wilder) is the most valuable opponent for me to fight and the price is the title that he has.”
Editing by Frank Pingue