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Monday, March 26, 2018 by Chams
The Klitschko brothers have dominated the heavyweight division of boxing at a rate that we’ve never seen before. Older brother Vitali, known as Dr. Ironfist, has never even been knocked down in any professional bout and holds the WBC Heavyweight title. Younger brother Wladimir, known as Dr. Steelhammer, is the longest-reigning Heavyweight champ in history and has collected the IBF, WBO, IBO, The Ring, and WBA Super Heavyweight belts.
Not only are they the first set of brothers to hold world titles at the same time, but what truly makes them unique athletes is their mental approach to the game. Both have Ph.Ds in sports science, both speak several languages fluently and both are esteemed, intelligent athletes.
The life and times of the two brothers can now be explored in depth with the release today of their critically acclaimed documentary, Klitschko. But before then, we caught up with Wladimir to discuss how his smarts and mental game have propelled him to the top.
AskMen: You’re quite the opposite of most athletes — let alone athletes in fight sport — because you’re intelligent, sharp and articulate. Has the mental aspect of your game been a priority for you or did it just evolve that way?
Wladimir Klitschko (WK): Thank you for the compliment. I should say that mental strength is No. 1, experience [is] No. 2, physical strength is No. 3, and genetic ability that you’re getting from Mother Nature probably comes after.
Mental strength is really important because you either win or lose in your mind. And I’m not solely talking about sporting matches, boxing events — anything you do, you do it first with your mental strength. And you can actually train and develop it, and I am responsible for what I’m saying because I have experience with that.
You can train your mental strength just like you train your body. If your body looks fit or ripped, it looks strong, and you can flex your muscles. So, physically, you have a certain strength.
Mentally, it’s the same thing. You can train your psychological strength. It’s not easy, though, because we all have mental weaknesses — all of us. There are no exceptions. No matter what you do, and it doesn’t matter who you are. During our lives, we’re always either working on it or if we are insecure in some areas, we’re trying to cover for it because we are betraying ourselves. So the whole key is to be honest with yourself, find the weak spots, work on it, get it done. Either you’re going to do it on your own or you can get certain books or you can even use a shrink if you want. There are different ways. An example in sports is golf players who use mental coaches.
Does it take a certain type of humbleness to be able to examine yourself mentally, find the weaknesses and find ways to improve them?
WK: Old-school people don’t want to do this because they feel it shows signs of weakness, and they want to show that they don’t need any help, which is wrong. It’s a regular thing. Just like you hire a fitness coach to get in better shape or lose weight, you can hire a mental coach to get your mind fit [and] in great shape as well.
What is it that keeps you ahead of your competitors in the sport?
WK: I think No. 1, it’s experience. I did experience drama in my life and sporting career, and it was very difficult — especially in sports, as I lost two fights in one year. That was back in 2004, and I was supposed to be at the end of my abilities, according to what other people thought. I was terribly criticized, suggesting that I had no future after previously being at the top of my game. People said it’s over, that I’m burned out.
And as I discuss in the documentary, what didn’t kill me made me stronger. That was exactly the case. That experience definitely made me a better person and makes me focus on my priorities.
You mentioned the documentary. In it, you and your brother are playing chess, and it’s well documented that you both like to play. Is that more for fun or do you see that as having a benefit as an athlete in boxing as well — maybe the practice of anticipating your opponent's next move?
WK: Earlier in my career, I never thought of boxing as a chess game, but I confirm it now that they are, in fact, very similar. You can plan your fights and strategy just like you would in chess.
All of my fights are planned. I study my opponents from A to Z. How he walks, how he looks, how he speaks, gestures of the human body, which is a certain language that provides you lots of information if you have the ability to read it. You just need to pay attention to it and gain experience over the years.
And if I am 100% prepared for the fight, my opponent has no chance to win the fight. I am saying what I mean: He has a 0% chance to win the fight. There is going to be no luck involved; there is going to be nothing else to stop me from winning the fight. At the beginning of my career, I didn’t realize it, but later on I realized the similarities.
And who’s the better chess player between you and your brother. I know you don’t go head to head in the ring, so who wins the chess bouts?
WK: If my brother was sitting here — he was just sitting in the car and got out — I would say he’s the best player, but since he’s out, I’m going to say I’m the better player. We are competitive, so there are some days that Vitali is better than I am, and there are some days that I am better than he is.
More with Wladimir Klitschko, next...