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Klitschko back in US, meets unbeaten heavyweight Jennings

NEW YORK (AP) — It’s difficult to tell if Wladimir Klitschko has a tougher time holding up all his championship belts or defending them in the ring.

That’s where he will be Saturday night, in Madison Square Garden for the first time in seven years, when he puts his four heavyweight championships on the line against unbeaten Bryant Jennings. Klitschko is on a 19-bout winning streak and this will be his 27th title fight, matching a heavyweight record set by Joe Louis.

“It’s the right time and the right venue,” the 39-year-old Klitschko said. “It’s the opportunity I got some years later to be back in the States and back in the Garden.”

So Klitschko posed with his WBA, IBO, WBO and IBO belts — the only one he doesn’t own is the WBC, which Deontay Wilder has — and talked of the success he’s had in Europe since that last U.S. bout, when he outpointed Sultan Ibragimov at the Garden. Although he’s held a heavyweight crown for nearly a decade, Klitschko, a native of Ukraine, has been much more in demand in Germany than in North America.

“I’ve had some exciting years of absence. In Europe, we had many great fights in big arenas, soccer stadiums with 60,000 people,” he said. “The demand was so powerful on the Europe side, and now the demand is here. People want to see the world champion here.”

What Klitschko says they will see is someone still very dedicated to his craft and eager to show an American audience that even at his relatively advanced age for the sport, he’s still the best.

“If you are not moving forward, in boxing or in life, you definitely will not make it,” he said.

He praised Jennings for his dedication — the Philadelphian is a former maintenance worker — and spotless record. But he doesn’t give the 30-year-old challenger much of a chance of wresting away those championships.

“I’m confident I will win this fight,” Klitschko said. “How the ending will come I can’t promise you. I am confident I will defend my titles.”

For his part, Jennings is just as certain he’ll be the winner. Indeed, he said he plans to carry all of the belts to Las Vegas next week to show them off at the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight.

Jennings has fought 19 times — yes, he has the same length winning string as Klitschko — and has been in the Garden for his last two victories. But his resume hardly compares.

“This is something I was born to do. I’ve been confident from the beginning,” Jennings said. “This is my core, the real thing.

“I’m not intimidated. I know what he is in for. This is the life, boxing, that I signed up for.”

To beat Klitschko, Jennings will need to keep his wits even if the champ frustrates him. Jennings and his handlers claim Klitschko gets away with holding and leaning, and that the referee needs to be on top of the action to prevent it.

Klitschko has a 4-inch edge in height, and Jennings wants to get inside to keep Klitschko off-balance and unable to unload his power.

So if the champ is allowed to hold and lean, as the challenger claims, it would inhibit Jennings.

“It’s not really boxing,” Jennings said. “It’s a way to wear his opponent down. At the end of the day, there are way too many holds — holds that are not necessary.”

Klitschko shrugs and dismisses such criticism, reasoning that if he did use such tactics, he would have been called out long ago. He sees the charges as gamesmanship by Jennings.

“I’ve heard a lot of complaints before from the camp of my opponent,” Klitschko said. “I’m confident the referee will be professional enough to handle it right.

“I know my job is to defend the titles. Complaints are not important and nobody wants to hear them.”

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