Klitschko vs Fury: Sky Sports visited Wladimir Klitschko's spa training camp ahead of Tyson Fury bout
The diary of a visit to the world heavyweight champion's Alpine training camp ahead of his upcoming title defence
By Isaac Robinson
Last Updated: 19/11/15 11:44am
Driving south-east from Munich Airport, the landscape is increasingly dramatic.
Slight hills quickly graduate to shapes resembling gentle spikes on a dog collar and by the time you're within 10 miles of Wladimir Klitschko's training camp, the gradients are huge and sheer.
Our driver is a slick operator with a cracking moustache. He takes no prisoners on these 'bahns' (and that's my German exhausted) and, under a cloudless sky - rare for this time of year in this part of the world apparently - we soon reach our destination. En route, I've made acquaintances with some other journalists, who seem slightly suspicious of the new boy but are most likeable.
Stanglwirt is a spa hotel - or Bio-hotel as it calls itself - unlike any other I've been to, not that I'm any kind of veteran. To sum it up in a word, you might unimaginatively opt for 'wood.' Everything here seems to be made of wood. I imagine Tyson Fury might quip that you could include the world heavyweight champion in that…
There are Ferraris, Lamborghinis and of course some logs of wood out front but it's tough to decide whether it's a James Bond kind of location or would be more appropriate in a Pink Panther film. Against the kaleidoscope of wood, guests stroll around in plush white dressing gowns. There's a touch of other-worldly ridiculousness about it.
A smiley girl in traditional German garb shows me to my room. It's huge, comfortable and, needless to say, very woody. I irritate those back home by sending a video of it and its view, handily capturing two white horses galloping around a paddock with the drama of a rocky mountain for a backdrop. I'm the grateful recipient of jealous abuse.
Sticking with the location itself, it gets weirder. The labyrinthine nature of Stanglwirt means I never quite have my bearings and several times resort to guessing my way around using the size and shapes of nearby (very wooden) staircases as landmarks.
The main hall/bar area (wood central) is also a viewing gallery looking down on a horse dressage area and I see my pale-hooved friends a-prancing. I'm later informed they are some of the top horses in the sport so Klitschko isn't the only champion training here. Nor are the horses the only livestock; in the evening, we eat at the 'Gasthof' at the bottom of what seems a few hundred staircases and, as I tuck in to my steak, I'm overlooking a room full of cattle.
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It's not long before we are due to begin the media workout so I set about trying to find the Tennis Centre. I should be marking the pillars of wood with paint as I go in order to ensure a less time-consuming passage back, but I'm not sure that would go down well with the cleaners.
Dillian Whyte is the first person I see. He's in conversation with Johnny Nelson in the Tennis Centre foyer. I touch fists with both (because that's... er… how I roll) and leave them to it, entering the Centre itself.
There are four indoor tennis courts in this part of the Centre - three still in use for tennis and the nearest with a bright white boxing ring plonked in it, shielded from the tennis players by plastic drapes. There are TV screens on the other three sides of the ring screening Fury fights. Throughout the course of his workout, I don't see Klitschko look at any of them, once. Perhaps this is designed to mirror the cattle-and-steak scenario with Fury an unsuspecting bull and Klitschko head chef.
The area soon becomes busy with big figures. English heavyweight Richard Towers (15-1-KO13) is here. So are unbeaten duo Robert Helenius (21-0-KO13) and Adrian Granat (9-0-KO8). Around seven or eight in total. These are huge men… but then enters a man of mystery to dwarf them all. Zeus Frazier - son of the great Smokin' Joe - is what they call 'a unit.' He's 7ft 2in tall and looks nearly as wide, despite very little fat on him.
Frazier Jr can play basketball, too. Klitschko's conditioning coach is warming up by shooting hoops in the far corner and as soon as Frazier joins in, it's apparent he has played the game to a decent standard by how he nets hook-shots off either hand.
Bernd Boente is already here, too. Klitschko's manager is always impossibly tanned and talks impressive English with a bright smile and real enthusiasm.
Johnathon Banks enters next. The world champion's trainer is an unassuming character and chooses his words wisely. You get the sense he just wants to be left alone to focus on his work but whenever he speaks about boxing or boxers, he's unable to disguise his passion. Another associate of the late Emanuel Steward, James Bashir Ali, is also on the firm - rattling off timeless knowledge in an old-school style as the hopefuls pound bags.
Enter the champion. What strikes you first is the fact that he looks in perfect proportion despite his size. If you were to design a statue of what an Olympic or world champion athlete looked like in ancient Greece, you couldn't go far wrong using Klitschko as your template.
The cameramen scurry around him vying for prime spot but Klitschko never seems fussed, and nor would you expect him to be after so long at the top. He is thoroughly conditioned to all this attention.
The warm-up regime is lengthy. The conditioning coach stretches him out in a seemingly endlessly variety of ways. The hand-wrapping ceremony is no less meticulous - they even bring a table and chairs into the ring - and from Klitschko entering the ring and beginning to shadow-box, you're looking at an hour at least. Steward's rituals live on.
Throughout the stretching phases, which presumably (and I'm no doctor) are about maximising oxygen entering the muscles and therefore require some degree of relaxation, Helenius is deafeningly smashing the hands off a pad-man. Klitschko must be good at zoning out.
After three-minute rounds of head movement, shadow-boxing, and running around the ring while raising his shoulders one-by-one in a warm-up that was new to me, Klitschko is ready for sparring. Boente not only ensures all the cameras are off - he asks that they are turned away from the ring. No clandestine filming…
First up is… well, it's not Helenius, Granat, Towers or Frazier. I make enquiries and it's the latest off the Ukraine's production line - a fighter who was the country's top amateur and has just turned pro. In retrospect, it was probably the most intense of Klitschko's sparring that day. He was clearly the stronger and the wilier over the course of the three rounds but the youngster showed both punch endurance and some offensive promise.
Then it's Frazier Jr's turn. I've been looking forward to this because the American has one of the most imposing physiques I've seen. The reality of his two rounds with Klitschko is that he fails to match the champion for speed and timing. Outboxed, he tells us afterwards that he's very much in the learning phase having switched from basketball late. Now it makes sense…
Third up is another relatively unknown Ukrainian fighter. This guy is small by comparison but compensates with skills - he's as awkward as it gets and appears very comfortable dancing around within range with his hands down, relying solely on his talent and reflexes to get him out of the lines of fire. The pair never really get to grips with each other and very few punches are landed before Banks calls a halt to the session after a round.
One thing that strikes me about watching Klitschko over these six rounds is how calm he looks. He really is very comfortable with violence and when he circles to head-on in my line of sight, I can see how intently he watches the movement of his opponent. As he anticipates engagement, his eyes seem to widen - keen to gather information about his opponent's plans to prime himself for pre-emption or reaction.
In truth, it is all quite pedestrian in terms of sparring. It's obvious he is happy to show the ceremonial side of preparation, ensuring the photographers get those 'moody' shots. He offers up some kind of action footage by working the speedball for a couple of rounds straight after sparring - but there is a hint of 'safety first' in front of the press during actual sparring. Understandably.
So the Klitschko machine winds down for another day. The champion retires to his personal villa and most of the rest of us to the bar. The more discerning elements are soon driven away by the covers band (I wasn't a great fan of 'Hotel California' to start with) and we visit the aforementioned 'Gasthof'. Bashir Ali and Towers take centre stage, regaling us with unrepeatable tales from inside and outside of the ring.
By the time I return to the bar, Stanglwirt itself is winding down. Woodnight all. No more are The Eagles reverberating around the lofty woodwork.
When I head for my personal Shangri-la at around 2am, Boente is still holding court in the annexe with a giant cigar in his mouth. His darting eyes and enthusiastic conversation have not been dimmed by the day's exertions or the evening's festivities - the man has an ageless quality.
So too, it seems, does Klitschko himself, who looked in phenomenal shape and at complete ease throughout my stay at Stanglwirt. If on November 28 Tyson Fury can't creak into motion the wheels of ageing Klitschko works so hard to keep still, who knows when this reign will end?