HOLLYWOOD, Fla. - Wladimir Klitschko has reached rare territory among heavyweight champions.
Now, in his ninth year as champion, Klitschko is approaching Joe Louis and Larry Holmes in successful defenses.
When Klitschko faces Bryant Jennings April 25 at New York's Madison Square Garden, he will risk his heavyweight belt for the 18th time.
A win over Jennings will place Klitschko within one successful defense of Holmes, but he would still need six additional wins to match Louis' record of 25.
"With all respect to Louis and Larry Holmes, they're icons for me, I don't want to be compared with them because they are fighters I always have looked up to," Klitschko said before a workout Tuesday afternoon.
"As an outsider (media) can observe the fights and title defenses, you keep track. I'm an insider."
Nonetheless, Klitschko has made deep inroads during his second heavyweight stint that began with a seventh-round technical knockout win over Chris Byrd for a sanctioning body title in April 2006. Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali or Mike Tyson never enjoyed a title run as long as the native of Ukraine and part-time Hollywood, Florida resident.
"My mind is in a tunnel; I'm getting ready for the next bout," Klitschko said. "And I'm excited about the challenge. I do not compare myself with the records of those guys -- Joe Louis and Larry Holmes. I just enjoy my game."
Klitschko (63-3, 53 KOs) built the impressive streak of title defenses at a time when American heavyweights have faded from contention. Until Deontay Wilder's victory over Bermane Stiverne on Jan. 17, no American held a piece of the heavyweight title since 2006.
Wilder looks for a lengthy reign while Jennings, of Philadelphia, seeks to tilt the division's power more toward to its once-dominant base.
"Every opponent is different and we will see how Bryant Jennings can hold the pressure," Klitschko said. "As my former coach, Emmanuel Steward said, 'on fight night, when you step into the ring, welcome to big time boxing.'
"How is Bryant Jennings going to hold to big-time boxing and get along with that? We'll see."
Jennings (19-0, 10 KOs) earned the opportunity to face Klitschko after his split-decision victory over fellow contender Mike Perez last July.
"Bryant Jennings is going to bring a lot of excitement and a lot of energy into the ring," Klitschko said. "This fight is going to be nothing but exciting."
Klitschko believes boxing is enjoying a revival. Attention toward the sport has increased with the buildup to the Mayweather-Pacquiao mega-fight on May 2 in Las Vegas. And Klitschko also predicts a future unification bout between him and Wilder would be appealing to fight fans that distanced themselves from the heavyweight division after Tyson's retirement.
"The demand is shifting back and forth and during the time when boxing was less popular in the heavyweight division, because of the lack of good (American) prospects, it shifted to Europe," said Klitschko, who will make his first U.S. appearance in seven years.
"You cannot say boxing was dead or unpopular. The attention shifted to different continents. And now the demand for boxing is big and I'm really excited to be back in the States.
"I believe Deontay is an extremely talented athlete. We've sparred enough that we know each other well. I believe a unification fight is something the public wants."