Interview: Richie Woodhall previews Wladimir Klitschko vs. Francesco Pianeta

Richie Woodhall former World boxing champion now trainer taken September 18, 2010
© PA Photos
Sports Mole talks to former WBC super middleweight champion Richie Woodhall ahead of the world heavyweight title clash between Wladimir Klitschko and Francesco Pianeta.

Wladimir Klitschko will go in search of an 18th straight victory this weekend when he takes on unbeaten challenger Francesco Pianeta in Mannheim, Germany.

Klitschko has been utterly dominant in recent years, defending his heavyweight titles with ruthless efficiency against a whole host of challengers.

Pianeta is a former sparring partner of 'Dr Steelhammer' and comes into the bout aiming to inflict Klitscho's first defeat since 2004.

Former WBC super middleweight champ Richie Woodhall will commentate on the fight on Saturday night for ESPN. With a big weekend of boxing action ahead Sports Mole surveyed the heavyweight scene with Woodhall, and also took a closer look at Floyd Mayweather's return against Robert Guerrero.

What can we expect to see this weekend as Wladimir gears up for a voluntary defence of his world titles against former sparring partner and unbeaten challenger Pianeta?

"On paper you have to think this could be pretty comfortable for a fighter with the skills of Wladimir. Pianeta is yet to taste defeat and remains untested at the highest level, which means we don't know how good he is yet. With his southpaw style he could make things awkward, but you look at his record and there's no really defining wins on there. He beat both Frans Botha and Oliver McCall last year but they've got a combined age of about 90! The only problem I have with Klitschko is if he takes it lightly, complacency can creep into anyone's make-up and he has stressed previously that he has struggled to get motivated. It's a cliche but in the heavyweight division you just never know, but I do ultimately definitely expect another decisive Klitschko victory."

Do you feel that Wladimir is underappreciated in the modern age because he has so efficiently dealt with every challenge that has been presented in recent years, especially in this country?

"I do think he's not given full credit for his achievements, and is probably underestimated too. I most certainly think he's a fantastic example of a modern champion, to have the record that he has is absolutely incredible, Saturday will be his 23rd world title fight. I always say that a boxer can only beat who steps into the ring with him. You can criticise Wladimir all you want but every opponent in recent years has been beaten comfortably. He should be recognised as a great champion because he's cleaned up the heavyweight division; it's a shame that his supreme skills are not appreciated. He gets the most from his natural, physical advantages and he always picks the right tactics. People that expect Wladimir to mix it up need to get real - why do that if you're so successful from long range? If he was to revert to his old ways and slug it out in the trenches toe-to-toe he would have much more than three defeats on his record, that is for sure."

With Pianeta such a heavy underdog can you make a case for a huge upset victory, or at least a severe test of Klitschko's skills at 37 years of age?

"Well for once in a fight featuring Wladimir Klitschko there is very little difference in height, which should give Pianeta a chance to pose problems. A tall counter-punching southpaw can be the most difficult opponent to face and the German-based Italian ticks all those boxes. It could take Wladimir some time to work out his opponent and start unloading with the right hand. There is always a question mark over an undefeated fighter, if he can rise to the occasion we have a very interesting fight all of a sudden. Pianeta is not a devastating, concussive puncher, he's more of a stiff, accurate type. The only problem I have with Pianeta is that he's only knocked out one of his last five opponents. To frighten Wladimir you need to test that chin, and there's nothing there to really scare a supreme champion like Klitschko."

With Wladimir at 37 do you think there could be any danger of a slowdown, particularly in preparation for a seemingly routine voluntary defence?

"It all depends on his desire to keep going. If Wladimir can still get up early in the morning, work hard and keep sparring there is still plenty of money to be made. The difference for Klitschko is that every time he fights he's on the world stage, you have to prepare as if it's your first title fight let alone your last. We've seen time and time again the moment motivation slips and you step off the gas in the heavyweight division things can turn sour. One punch can change everything in the most dangerous division, someone like a David Haye can knock you clean out with either hand if presented with the opportunity. So far Klitschko has been 100% in his preparation as champion, but only he knows how long that can go on. Longer term there are decent opponents out there, with Alexander Povetkin at the top of the list just at this moment."

How do you view the heavyweight scene at the moment? With plenty of interest from domestic stars can we look forward to a fruitful time for boxing's marquee division?

"For starters Wladimir against Povetkin should go ahead later this year and that is a genuinely massive fight. In financial terms too Klitschko will earn around £17m to take that bout in Moscow and that could well be his swansong. Looking further down the list the European champion Kubrat Pulev from Bulgaria is decent, I like the look of him. From the British side of things Tyson Fury is very exciting. He's tall, raw and powerful and in the future I think he can give just about anyone a major test at heavyweight. Whether he'll just miss the boat as far as the Klitschkos are concerned I'm not sure, but in two or three fights he should be ready to challenge at the top level. Below that David Price has to redeem himself against Tony Thompson but if he deals with him and responds the right way he could get back in the mix no problem. From Stateside I think Deontay Wilder is raw, strong and aggressive, he could be a real one to watch for the future.

"David Haye is still a level above these guys right now, I think he'll probably get to Vitali Klitschko before he retires and that would be a tremendous fight. For all its sceptics there are a series of fighters out there that bring excitement and could come through to take over from the Klitschkos when they eventually call it a day."

Finally, the weekend's massive clash from Las Vegas sees Floyd Mayweather return after a year out to take on Robert Guerrero. How do you see 'The Ghost' faring against Mayweather?

"I like Guerrero and think this one will be very competitive. He's a good, smart boxer who has power too. Unfortunately for 'The Ghost' I just don't see any sign of Mayweather deteriorating, even at 36. You would expect to see little chinks in the armour at this stage, but he's still at the top of his game. Mayweather trains extremely hard, lives a clean life and reaps the benefits. I think there'll be spells where Guerrero has success and take some rounds but overall Mayweather will be too quick and win on points. Speed is vital to Mayweather and while he has that matched with technique I don't see him being beaten any time soon."

ESPN will broadcast live and exclusive coverage of Wladimir Klitschko's defence of his WBA, IBF, IBO & WBO Championship belts against undefeated Italian, Francesco Pianeta at 9.45pm on Saturday. Visit ESPN.co.uk/tv for details.

Wladimir Klitschko
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