Wladimir Klitschko fought his first professional boxing match in over eight years without his hall of fame trainer, the late Emanuel Steward, when he defeated Poland's Mariusz Wach on Saturday. While the outcome of the fight was almost a foregone conclusion to many, how Klitschko would perform without Steward interested me. Enter Johnathon Banks.
Banks himself is a professional boxer, fighting in the heavyweight division, who was trained by Steward. Following Steward's passing, Banks stepped into his old mentor's shoes on Klitshcko's behalf in taking on the role of trainer, all this while preparing for his own fight on November 17th against undefeated heavyweight prospect Seth Mitchell.
I was interested to see if Banks was merely "filling a role" for Klitschko's fight with Wach, or if he was actually going to be a hands on trainer during the bout.
When a Klitschko brother fights, the other brother is usually close at hand and often performing a job in the corner. Knowing this, I wondered if Vitali would take the role of the main communicator between rounds while Banks was just an additional pair of eyes.
I watched the bout live through EpixHD, through which the lack of commercials between rounds allowed me to see the dynamics in the corner. I was happy to see that the man who had stepped up and assumed the trainer role for the fight was allowed to do just that–train.
Vitali stayed mostly as a background figure, assisting where needed and holding the bucket. Banks broke down the round as he saw it, and gave a great breakdown of how the fight was going and what he wanted to see moving forward. Vitali occasionally echoed Banks' instructions, always in English, and both brothers appeared to respect what Banks was saying.
Wladimir followed the rookie trainer's instructions well. If Banks said to jab more, Wladimir jabbed more. When Banks wanted him to bring the right hand into play more frequently to follow the jab, there were more right hands.
Banks had obviously spent his time under Steward paying attention to more than just the instruction he was being given for his own fights. He astutely instructed Wladimir on the best approach round-to-round and when it was time to start mixing things up in order to keep Wach on his toes.
Even more impressive was the manner in which Banks was able to keep the corner calm at the end of Round 5, a round that ended with Wach catching Klitschko with a strong right hand and then pushing forward and looking to do more damage.
In the corner, Banks kept things calm, talking to Wladimir about staying on task, keeping the jab going and keeping the pace under his control. For a novice trainer to keep everyone—including himself—grounded and level headed after seeing his fighter eat a big right hand was a good thing to see.
To all appearances, it seems as though Klitschko intends to keep Banks on full-time and after working well together in the build up to Saturday's bout—and again during the fight—it seems to me like a wise choice.