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At 39, Klitschko still king of the heavyweight ring

NEW YORK (AP) — Wladimir Klitschko looks around the boxing landscape and sees young heavyweights, lots of young heavyweights. At his age, 39, that’s hardly unnatural.

What is unusual is that none of those youngsters — or any other opponent — has presented much of a challenge for his championship belts.

Klitschko has been on top for nearly a decade since taking the WBO crown from unbeaten Samuel Peter in 2005. He added the other alphabet titles during a string of wins that now has reached 19. Yes, many of them came against unimpressive opposition, but that’s hardly Klitschko’s fault. If the rest of the heavyweight field is, well, lightweight, he just goes about his business of compiling victories.

He has 63 of those, 53 by knockout, heading into Saturday night’s defense against undefeated American Bryant Jennings (HBO, 10 p.m. ET). That will be his 27th title fight, matching a heavyweight record set by Joe Louis.

“How long I’ve been champion, how many title defenses I’ve made, I still don’t want to compare myself with any of the great heavyweights,” Klitschko said. “I’m still looking up to those guys, they are still icons to me.”

Klitschko chuckled at the thought of being placed on the boxing Olympus with the likes of Louis, Marciano and Ali.

“I’m getting a little allergy,” he said with a smile about the record within his reach. “I never track it or count it, but I hear of it, people tell me of it. As an insider, I know inside the ring what to do. But I don’t want to compare myself with any great heavyweights. It doesn’t matter who is in front of me in the ring, I’m going to destroy him. But comparing me is kind of fantasy to me to say I am better than other fighters.”

In the last decade, Klitschko has been good enough to add the WBA, IBF and IBO belts to his collection. There have been plenty of fighters many years his junior — Jennings being the latest at 30 — eager to end Klitschko’s reign.

Again, he laughs when asked about them.

“I’m kind of reflecting on these guys and I see myself like 20 or even 10 years ago,” said Klitschko, the 1996 Olympic champ. “I have been 25 years in boxing and I see the change of the generations slowly coming out. You know, just about all of the current top 20 (heavyweights) have been in my training camps. They are very young and ambitious and strong and they definitely bring a lot of excitement into the ring.”

But do they bring any sort of challenge to Klitschko into the ring? In Jennings’ case, the world will find out Saturday at Madison Square Garden, where Klitschko has not appeared in seven years. Should he handle Jennings, there’s a growing call for him to take on undefeated Deontay Wilder, who owns the only belt not in Klitschko’s collection, from the WBC.

Wilder is one of those former sparring partners for Klitschko.

Jennings believes the time has come to bring down Klitschko’s kingdom. He isn’t concerned about his inexperience (19 wins, 10 by knockout) or being on such a big stage for the first time.

“Look at my whole career, and you can take an experienced fighter and compare him to me,” Jennings said. “I think I’m better than the majority of experienced fighters. Some experienced fighters don’t have half as much talent as me.

“Youth always is an edge, that’s something you can’t deny.”

Yet Klitschko has denied those opponents in the ring, several of them — Peter, Calvin Brock, Sultan Ibragimov, Ruslan Chagaev, Mariusz Wach, Francesco Pianeta, Alexander Povetkin, Kubrat Pulev — unbeaten at the time.

Klitschko said he likes Jennings’ backstory of working as a maintenance man and also the fact Jennings comes from Philadelphia, home of so many great boxers, including Joe Frazier and Bernard Hopkins. He likes something else even more: winning.

“As long as I have motivation and health, I will do this,” he said. “That is still there. The excitement of walking into the gym. What could be cooler, or better, than to be the best man on the planet and beating up people for a living?”

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