Most observers look at heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko's April 30 defense against England's Dereck Chisora as little more than a formality. Klitschko's trainer, Emanuel Steward, insists he isn't one of them.
"When this fight was originally scheduled [for Dec. 11, before Klitschko injured an abdominal muscle in training], I said -- and I was probably the only one -- that I expected a tougher fight from Chisora than from any of the opponents we had fought in the last five years," Steward told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "I still feel the same way."
Despite vast gulfs in size -- the Ukrainian has height and reach advantages of five and seven inches, respectively -- and experience (Klitschko has fought 58 times as a professional, including 19 world title bouts; Chisora has laced them up for money on just 14 occasions), Steward insists the Londoner brings certain intangibles to the table that some of the champion's recent challengers have lacked.
"I think Dereck Chisora has improved tremendously in the past year as a fighter," Steward said. "What I respect about him is his competitive spirit. This, to me, is what always makes a dangerous opponent: These guys with tremendous confidence, especially if they're young.
"Not wanting to belittle anyone, but the [Ruslan] Chagaevs, the Lamon Brewsters, the Sam Peters -- all these veteran-type guys -- they're very predictable, no real burning ambition. To me, the confidence, the ambition, the burning desire of a fighter is a lot more dangerous than that of an experienced fighter. I've always felt that Chisora was a tough fight, and I'm really not that super-excited about it.
"I personally would rather we had just fought David Haye."
With that sentiment, most everyone not named Dereck Chisora would agree. And after previous near misses with Haye, the long-awaited unification clash seemed set for July 2, until Klitschko elected to take on Chisora in the interim. With that, Haye -- expressing disbelief that Klitschko would be ready to fight again so soon after defending against Chisora -- walked away.
The problem, underlined Steward, is that a July fight would be 10 months after Klitschko's last contest, against Peter, and the champion didn't want to wait that long between bouts -- particularly given that he didn't necessarily trust the Brit to actually show up on the appointed date.
"He doesn't have faith in David's level of commitment," Steward said of Klitschko. "They made the fight once before, and then Haye pulled out about two weeks before the fight. Then, [Haye] negotiated with his brother Vitali, and then just as he was about to sign the contract he announced that he was going to fight [Nicolay] Valuev.
"So because of Haye's inconsistency -- plus [Wladimir] felt he owed that obligation to Chisora -- he wanted to go ahead and take the fight in April and then fight again in July. So I can understand David's point, but I also understand Wladimir's. But to be very clear, Wladimir says he intends to be ready to fight on July 2."
Before Klitschko returns to the ring, Steward will be in the corner with one of his newer charges, WBA junior middleweight titlist Miguel Cotto, who defends against unpredictable Nicaraguan Ricardo Mayorga at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on March 12. The veteran cornerman also will begin working with former WBC light heavyweight belt holder Chad Dawson, who turned to Steward after losing his title in a lackluster performance against Jean Pascal in August. Beginning this month, Cotto and Dawson -- as well as other Steward fighters including middleweight Andy Lee, British heavyweight Tyson Fury and perhaps Klitschko -- will enter camp in a gym in Hollywood, Fla.
"It'll be a fantastic training camp, with a lot of talent all training together," Steward said, "just like it used to be in the old days."
Steward knows a thing or two about the old days, of course, having been in the game almost 60 years -- half of them at the very highest level. He plans to impart some of that experience at a boxing clinic at the London Hilton on Jan. 23 (reservations can be made at www.emanuelstewardonline.com).
"The biggest problem we see in boxing these days is there's a shortage of trainers, of teachers," Steward said. "There's not enough people teaching these fighters the basics, not properly. So we're going to have a clinic, show some of the basic fundamentals: the diet, the proper things to eat to get the maximum energy; not to be undertrained or overtrained; the mental aspect, especially over the final few weeks; ways to wrap your hands to improve your punching power.
"And we'll have some footage of vintage sparring sessions between Gerald McClellan and James Toney, Thomas Hearns and Mike McCallum, and just answer a lot of the questions about the behind-the-scenes goings-on between the likes of Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson, confrontations that Mike and Lennox had that people weren't aware of, before they fought. It will be open to the public, not just restricted to boxing trainers."
Then Steward chuckled.
"Hopefully, Dereck Chisora will show up. And David Haye."