Haye Too Brave For Own Good?

By Leo Ashworth: Following the recent announcement that David Haye will challenge WBC kingpin Vitali Klitschko in London next June I’m sure many of you have asked yourselves this question. Has Haye bitten off more than he can chew? On the surface David Haye is set to challenge the man widely considered to be his toughest challenge and arguably the best Heavyweight in the World, and of his era, although brother Wladimir would likely lay claim to those titles also. This in only Haye’s third fight at Heavyweight (KO1 Bonin, TKO5 Barrett).

Surely this is lunacy on Hayes part?! Despite Wladimir being perceived as the more technically sound and naturally gifted of the Klitschko’s, big brother Vitali, the self styled Dr Ironfist, has two qualities which in the eyes of most make him a much more dangerous foe for the Hayemaker. A seemingly granite chin and the instinct to finish the fight as soon as the opportunity arises. We shan’t discuss Wladimir’s apparent shortcomings in these departments here. They are well documented elsewhere.

Vitali, then, has oft been painted as some kind of “Ambling Alp” figure when compared to his brother. Where Wlad is fluid, fast handed… Classy, Vitali is statuesque, ponderous, upright, robotic, flatfooted. All words this writer has heard used to describe Vitali and all, in my opinion, unfair if perhaps not completely unfounded. Vitali is not the most mobile of boxers. Then again it appears he doesn’t need to be. He may have been a pretty stationary target against the once much-vaunted Sam Peter, but Sam found that actually reaching that target with the bombs packed in his Grants was another story. Much like Wlad’s recent opponents, those who face Vitali appear bamboozled by the jab. And if they do get through he is a much more adept in-fighter than his brother. Yes he does have the rather awkward looking upright style associated with European fighters, but as well as looking somewhat awkward, he is extremely awkward to fight due in large parts to this sometimes “herky-jerky” style.

I will leave the subject of Vitali at this point as I have no wish to patronise the ESB readership, many of whom, I admit, are more knowledgeable than myself. No, this piece is simply my attempt to make sense of a seemingly senseless career move for the man seen as the torchbearer for English boxing in the dark days to come when Mr Calzaghe ditches his gloves for a well earned life of luxury in the Valleys and Hatton gets fed up with denying himself his beloved Guiness and fry-ups and finally throws in the towel in his long standing battle with the bulge.

So what of David Haye. Why do I say that he will have more trouble with Vitali than anybody else out there? Well for starters where Vitali’s chin has shown itself to be formed of the very solidest of granite, withstanding some stern shots from Lennox Lewis amongst others, Haye is perceived as “glass jawed” having been floored by very average Super Middleweight Lolenga Mok early in his career and again by the man whose WBA / WBC Cruiser titles David snatched on a famous night in Paris last November, Jean Marc Mormeck. In Haye’s defence it must be said that he dragged himself off the floor to win both fights. For this he must be applauded. Indeed he survived a lengthy spell on decidedly rubbery legs after the Mormeck knock down, somehow hanging tough until finally, finding his rhythm, he started to push an increasingly uncomfortable-looking Mormeck back in round six and clinically dispatched him in the seventh. Hayes “haters”, of which there seem to be too many to my eyes, were now at their most vocal since the earlier defeat to veteran Carl Thompson. “Mormeck was past it” they said. “Everybody knows Mormeck gases in the later stages”. Regardless, in the eyes of most it was a fete worthy of more attention than it was given by the British press when the Englishman stole into the Frenchmans house and left with the Crown Jewels. The Crown Jewels the Frenchman had won back from O’Neill Bell thus becoming acknowledgd as the Undisputed Champion at Cruiserweight. Suddenly in the eyes, or rather words of some he was “shot” because it fitted neatly with their agenda.

And the unenviable problem of “Gassing”, or running out of stamina down the stretch, is one that Haye appears to have been afflicted with throughout his pro career. A problem first exposed when he naively tried to bomb out the wily veteran, and former elite level Light Heavyweight Thompson. A man noted for his near superhuman reserves of courage, durability, and perhaps most tellingly, experience. Haye eventually ended up being saved by his corner, on his feet, when he’d expended every ounce of his strength shellacking Thompson for the best part of three rounds as Carl employed the rope-a-dope method to fine effect. In hindsight the Thompson fight came much too early for Haye and seems to serve as evidence that the sometimes overly ambitious Hayemaker has previous form for underestimating opponents. The stamina problems, whilst most obvious in the Thompson fight, also reared their head in several of Hayes subsequent fights, David even appearing to be pacing himself by only fighting for parts of rounds or seemingly taking rounds off in some fights. Most recently Haye looked to be blowing a fair bit by the third or fourth round of his last fight, November’s Heavyweight re-debut, an exhilarating defeat of perennial nearly-man Monte Barrett.

So Haye could be said to be in the lower half of the Heavyweight Chins league table, and tends to run out of steam. Not good omens when facing a fighter like Vitali. But Haye was a decorated amateur and has the skills to pay the bills. Surely his defence goes some way to compensating these issues, particularly the chin thing? Well, not exactly. David could be said to be a little lax in his defensive work. Often preferring to carry his left low by his side, which he feels allows him to get the shots off quicker, and relying on his reflexes to keep him out of trouble. Reflexes which are mostly sharp enough, but can be found wanting when Haye’s concentration switches off or he apparently loses it in his eagerness to throw those bombs. What Haye is, and what makes him so exciting, is an exceptionally gifted offensive fighter with huge power who is also particularly vulnerable.

So, on the face of it, madness for Haye to take this fight, especially so early in his Heavyweight career and seemingly on the verge of forcing the spotlight onto himself after quite a struggle for mainstream acceptance.

But the thing that has me wondering here is the fact that Haye is in fact a very intelligent man. Far too intelligent I would have thought to take on such a Kamikaze mission as this. And then when I think about it I see how Haye has goaded Vitali into this fight with his constant baiting of the brothers Klitscko. Behaviour which was actually out of character for Haye in all honesty. David was desperate for this fight as soon as he could get it, of that there can be no doubt. Haye has previous form here too, using a clever ploy about being weight drained to smoke out Enzo Maccarinelli earlier this year only to take to the scales looking as fit as a butchers dog to the obvious dismay of Frank Warren and Team Enzo. Haye duly entered the ring on fight night ring and dispatched of the seemingly overmatched Welshman inside two adrenaline pumped rounds. As I said then, a smart man Haye.

So what does David see in this fight that the rest of us don’t. What factor, seemingly invisible to most observers, appears glaringly obvious to him? At this we can only guess, so allow me to do just that.

For my money there is no mystery invisible factor. Just the known facts that Vitali is 37 years if age and has had four years out of the sport prior to his last fight as a result of persistent injuries so severe that they forced him to retire during those four wilderness years. This will undoubtedly mean that Vitali is not the force he once was, but how badly may he have deteriorated? Not too badly on the evidence of the Peter fight, but in this fight Peter was hopeless. Simply shuffling into range to take shot after shot without ever forcing, or indeed slipping, his way though to get his own shots off. As numerous opponents had before him, Sam looked unprepared for the jab and size of Klitschko once faced with the reality of it in the ring. Vitali had to do very little but measure Peter with the jab and hit him each time he wondered into range, hardly breaking a sweat.

Haye then, appears prepared to gamble that Klitschko’s comeback victory over Peter merely flattered to deceive. Could it be that the all action, Gung Ho Brit plans to keep his powder dry in this fight and use his superior skills, speed, and athleticism to steer him to a points victory? Could it be that en route Haye feels he will expose Vitali to be a mere shadow of the man who stood toe to toe with Lennox in probably the last great Heavyweight World Title fight a long time ago before injuries and inactivity took their toll. I think this is the most likely of all plans Haye may be considering. After all, he’s hardly banking on the shots that floored Monte Barret, but couldn’t keep him down, stopping this iron jawed beast of a man. And surely David’s pride would not allow him to go in and be blown away early in search of his own knockout punch. If that were to happen he would look, and no doubt feel, extremely foolish after all the smack talk.

So, when the fighters climb through the ropes ihe questions for me will be many: Can Haye really keep his concentration for 12 rounds and not walk onto something? Can he resist being drawn into the kind of battle he relishes? Does he have the discipline to resist the seductive power shots he has in his arsenal? The emphatic knockout victory he craves? Will his stamina hold out for 12 long, hard rounds where he must surely spend much of the time “on his bike” to avoid the Ukranian’s potentially fight ending punches finding their target? All the while trying to jump in with fast combinations of his own punches scoring heavily enough to persuade the judges he deserves the nod? More importantly getting out from behind enemy lines without catching one flush? The feeling, of course, is very much that Vitali may only need to land one decent shot to stop the much smaller man with the dubious punch resistance and end the fight.

So all of the above is why I am now looking forward to a fight That I had first thought was a mismatch and monumental mistake on David’s part.

In closing I think we must take our hats off to Haye for having the courage of his convictions and making good his promise of being a breath of fresh air to the Heavyweight division.

Article posted on 18.12.2008

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