The Beginning and the End: Haye v Ruiz and Hopkins v Jones II

Haye - RuizBy M. Heffernan - Come Sunday morning we will, in all likelihood, have watched one boxing career gather momentum and another come to a belated, albeit inevitable, end. There is not only an ocean dividing the ring pursuits of London’s David Haye from those of statesiders Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr. – there is close to two decades of boxing achievement. Haye was little more than a child of thirteen when Jones and Hopkins first met when contesting the IBF middleweight title in 1993. He would have watched these modern-day veterans’ careers subsequently flourish and confound, particularly in the case of Jones, who remained a figure of inspiration for Haye. It is not difficult to understand why – Jones Jnr. was a ring virtuoso: abundantly talented, dominant, capable of transcending what were thought to be the physical limitations of the sport. Haye strove, and strives still, to emulate Jones in the ring. He will have done remarkably well if he manages to come within an even reasonable proximity to the great man’s accomplishments or aesthetic brilliance.

The Beginning

It goes without saying – though I will say it anyway – that the current heavyweight scene is like a blasted landscape with scarcely a single interesting feature. There is nothing to arrest the attention, and little need for passers-by to linger for long. The dominant champions in this unremarkable landscape, the brothers Klitschko, are very amiable men: articulate, professional, dedicated. And soporifically robotic..

They could act as the meet and greet hosts into the uncanny valley. Between them they hold three out of the four meaningful world titles (Vladamir the WBC title, Vitali the IBF and WBO belts). They have agreed never to face one another in the ring, thereby resting that particular moral dilemma from boxing promoters’ hands. We can be thankful for that at least. However, the upshot of this is that so long as the Klitschkos have their power-sharing agreement in place, we will not see a unified heavyweight champion, just a series of rough approximations. The solution to this is obvious enough: beat one of them, or both.

This is where David Haye enters the frame. A former unified cruiserweight champion and the current WBA heavyweight champion, Haye is young, charismatic, powerful, fast-handed and outspoken. Name one other active heavyweight with those same attributes. Let me save you the perspiring and head-scratching – there aren’t any. For this very reason there is perhaps an unfair burden of expectation on Haye. This Saturday’s fight against veteran campaigner John Ruiz – a former two-time holder of the title Haye now holds – is a pay-per-view event in the UK and Ireland.

Ruiz is thirty-eight now and is as game as they come. He is awkwardly effective, as the parlance goes, or effectively awkward, whichever you prefer. In truth, nobody is paying to see John; they are paying to see David. To be more exact, they are paying to see David knock out John. Any variation on this result will be seen as unsuccessful, as it will indicate that Haye is on the same undistinguished level as the existing crop of insipid heavyweights struggling to make an impact of any kind on the public consciousness. This is the pressure that is on Haye and it is a pressure that he himself has conspired to create in his sustained criticism of the division at large.

So what will happen? I expect the savvy Ruiz to attempt to use his greater experience to stifle Haye’s early attacks and hope to come on strong as they fight wears on and Haye begins to tire – much as Carl Thompson did in inflicting Haye’s sole professional defeat to this point.

However, Haye has improved since then and is now more adept at pacing himself during longer bouts. If he remains calm and punches economically, rather than frenetically, we will see a stoppage in around the eighth or ninth rounds. That is what must happen if the hype surrounding Haye is to retain any credibility with the public, or possibly even advance it. Whether he can manage to repeat the feat against either of the Klitschkos is a debate for another day.

And the End

On the other side of the Atlantic, and very much at the other end of their careers, Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jnr. face off in a match-up without much relevance save for the most curious among us, or the most sentimental. It’s an unfortunate situation – had this rematch occurred ten years earlier it would have been the perfect public showcase for elite level boxing. While at their respective peaks, both men were universally and unanimously regarded as being among the best fighters ever to lace up the gloves. As it is, there is apparently little interest in watching Jones, who is forty-one, fight Hopkins, who is forty-five, seventeen years after their initial encounter. Jones won that first contest clearly on points. The bout propelled Jones’s growing reputation, and even acted as a boon to Hopkins’ own career by augmenting the defiant determination that saw him eventually become one of the most dominant middleweight champions in boxing history.

I cannot say for sure whether it is due to cupidity or competitive rivalry that the fight is happening at this stage. Perhaps it is a bit of both: it is clear that Hopkins wants to redress that loss of so long ago. It seems to represent an opportunity for him to psychologically purge himself of a defeat that came before he had hit his peak. That said, he has had his chances to do so before now. Roy has claimed – and with some insight – that Hopkins is an opportunist and has only taken the fight at this juncture to capitalise on Jones’ physical depletion. And it is a sadly obvious depletion at that. Roy is coming off the back of a first round KO loss – albeit a somewhat controversial one – to Australia’s Danny Green. It seems there is redemption of sorts at stake for both men.

Hopkins is the strong favourite going into the fight, and with good reason. There is not an athlete in world sport more well-preserved at such an advancing age. Ascetic living and consummate professionalism has served him well in staving off any noticeable decline. Even now, in his mid-forties, Ring magazine have given Hopkins their fourth spot in the fabled pound-for-pound rankings. It is an opinion shared by numerous reputable boxing websites and publications around the world. He is nothing short of a modern-day phenomenon. Conversely, Jones, who for so long occupied the number one spot in those same rankings, now doesn’t even come close to consideration for an inclusion. In this respect he has nothing to lose by fighting Hopkins, though some have expressed concern for his safety and I can sympathise with those sentiments.

However, it can also be argued that Roy has merited the right, over the course of his astonishing career, to take one final opportunity, however remote his chances of success.

Defeat for either man will almost certainly warrant retirement. To that end I believe it will be a more engaging contest than many commentators have foreseen. Bernard will fight to win; Roy will fight not to lose and this will dictate both pace and outcome. Hopkins will back Jones to the ropes repeatedly and effectively, though I believe Roy may have some successes in the earlier rounds with quick bursts of counter-punching. He has, after all, retained some of that abnormal and mesmeric hand-speed. It will hardly be enough though, and in the end Roy will surely capitulate to his old foe.

On a final note, the two fights previewed above, for all their incongruities, are dubiously linked. Hopkins has stated that he will move from light-heavyweight up to heavyweight to meet the winner of Haye-Ruiz. I don’t believe that such a bout is needed either to strengthen Hopkins’ legacy or to begin Haye’s.

Article posted on 01.04.2010

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