|IBF champion Wladimir Klitschko (left) stares down - literally - WBO kingpin Sultan Ibragimov during the weigh-in. (BEBETO MATTHEWS/Associated Press)|
NEW YORK - Staring up at the imposing Wladimir Klitschko during the weigh-in two days before their heavyweight unification fight, Sultan Ibragimov barely batted an eye.
This wasn't just boxing bravado, though. The relatively unknown, largely undersized World Boxing Organization champ has made a habit of felling bigger foes.
Going all the way back to the 2000 Sydney Olympics, when the 6-foot-2-inch Russian lefthander lost a controversial decision to Cuban great Felix Savon in the gold medal match, Ibragimov has had to rise to the occasion. Literally, in almost every case.
Shannon Briggs had more than 50 pounds on Ibragimov, but the American couldn't catch up to his constant movement and fast hands. Javier Mora, Lance Whitaker, Andy Sample - all of them had more than 30 pounds on Ibragimov, and all of them lost in lopsided fashion.
"People say this is a big guy and I'm a small guy, but you're going to see a great fight Saturday night," said Ibragimov, who weighed 219 pounds Thursday against a svelte 238 for the 6-6 1/2 International Boxing Federation champion in what will be the first heavyweight unification bout since 1999.
"[The size difference] is something I can't control anyway."
When Klitschko (49-3, 44 KOs), at his lightest since 2000, and Ibragimov (22-0-1, 17 KOs) were told to stand face to face for photographs, it comically wound up more like face to chest.
Klitschko's typical size advantage hasn't always helped.
In his last two losses, to Corrie Sanders in 2003 and Lamon Brewster 13 months later, he carried 17 pounds more than his opponent. Klitschko also had a big size advantage on DaVarryl Williamson, but was barely ahead when referee Jay Nady sent it to the judges after the fifth round in 2004 because an inadvertent head-butt opened a gash above Klitschko's eye.
Trainer Emanuel Steward thinks his Ukrainian fighter is better than he's ever been, though, and perhaps better than anybody's ever been.
Tall praise from the legendary trainer who helped guide former world heavyweight champions Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, and Michael Moorer.
"Very few guys are going to match Wladimir with just pure strength," Steward said.
It's unlikely Ibragimov plans to deal in power punches. The 32-year-old fighter will more likely use his quick combinations and lateral movement, darting in to deliver a couple of punches before backing out of range from the 31-year-old Klitschko.
"You have to fight Wladimir's arms before you can fight Wladimir," Steward said. "He's a master at controlling distance with his arms, so [Ibragimov] won't get in. The strategy for Wladimir is pressure."