Haye Vs Harrison: This is bad for boxing even if it puts it on the backpage

boxingBy Bill Patrice Jones: Anyone who wants to defend David Haye’s decision to face Audley Harrison in his second defence of the WBA title will find little ammunition beyond the old adage: Boxing is theatre.

This little expression actually carries forth with it a great deal of truth. Boxing is drama and what is entertaining often sells a lot more than what is proper. Haye Vs Harrison will be entertaining for what its worth, but it is certainly not proper. There are myriad examples of the grotesque or bizarre in boxing selling well beyond the expectations of more honourable contests. One need only be reminded of Mike Tyson’s inglorious circus act after the Holyfield suspension, and the millions of dollars each of his meaningless contests leading to the Lewis defeat generated. Whatever anyone thinks about David Haye’s decision to face Harrison, one thing is certain: It will make both him and Audley Harrison a lot richer.

The coming heavyweight clash will be huge news in the UK and it is highly unlikely the hardcore fanatic or casual fan alike will be able to resist paying the PPV fee. Haye and Harrison have already appeared on both ITV and BBC mainstream news programmes.. If you asked BBC breakfast’s average viewer about Wladimir Klitschko they would probably say ’who?’ The idea of promoting Haye Vs Klitschko in such a mainstream UK venue would be absurd. However promoting Haye Vs Harrison in the vein makes perfect sense. Harrison was huge news in his homeland when he won his Olympic gold medal and has remained a well known love to hate figure ever since.

David Haye is no stranger to this phenomenon. Sensing his money making potential in the UK may have been a big factor in his decision not to face either Klitschko brother when initially slated to. One can imagine Haye and his team licking their lips at the prospect of promoting David and Goliath. It worked! Fighting Nikolai Valuev, a vastly inferior opponent to either Klitschko, proved a genius moneymaking move. Not only did it provide Haye a world title fight against an inferior opponent, it was successfully sold to the UK public. Haye Vs Valuev proved a massive PPV hit, with hordes of casual fans tuning in to see if he really could slay such a giant. True boxing fans were aghast at Haye’s change of opponent; however, money proved too powerful a motivating force. Haye’s title fight against Valuev was more of a carnival act than a world title fight, the belt had almost no credibility. Haye might have been forgiven if he had genuinely sought a Klitschko fight in the aftermath, but he didn’t. If Haye can be forgiven for the Valuev fight, he must surely not be forgiven for this.

You will now find a few British boxing pundits coming out of the woodwork to tell you that this fight is great for Britain. ‘It will put boxing on the back page again!’ Alongside this goes the age old wisdom that boxing is a cruel sport, its participants should make as much money as possible without risking health. This rhetoric simply does not fly when it comes to David Haye. Not only has he made a name for himself by brazenly challenging the Klitschko brothers; in addition, he has routinely criticized those who were brave enough to step up and challenge them. His mocking of Eddie Chambers following his win against John Ruiz seemed unnecessary to say the least. Should he have made good on his promise to face lineal champion Wladimir Klitschko, then Haye‘s approach could be excused. He didn’t. Not only that, but instead of facing a true contender or common Klitschko opponent, he has chosen a moneymaking ploy not worthy of respect.

There are two reasons Haye has spurned such anger in boxing circles. Firstly, it is because he is the real article. Haye is an explosive and menacing presence in the ring. He poses the only true logical threat to the Klitschko brothers reign. He has sickening power, good hand speed and a sort of confident swagger in the ring no other heavyweight contender possesses. Boxing fans are angry because they know he is in fact capable of beating one of the Klitschko brothers. It is not unfair to assume that Wladimir Klitschko Vs David Haye is the second biggest fight which can be made in the sport today. The boxing world is crying out for such a fight. David Haye has promised it time and time again, only to suffer a mini PR disaster when Wladimir actually put him on the spot.

The second reason Haye spurns anger is because one cannot draw parallels with his predecessors in boxing. The most notable being Evander Holyfield. The difference in their respective approaches to winning the heavyweight title could not be more strident. Holyfield, already a big draw in the U.S, unified the cruiserweight crown in 1988 against Carlos De Leon. Between then and 1990 when he beat Buster Douglas for the title he fought six times beating such names as: Alex Stewart, Pinklon Thomas and Michael Dokes. There could not be a more pronounced difference between the approach of Holyfield and Haye. Is it because the heavyweight division is that weak? Or is it because boxing in general is being watered down by money and protectionism among elite fighters? The same way we cringe when thinking about the fabulous four (Hagler, Hearns, Duran Leonard) in relation to Mayweather Pacquiao, we can also despair that David Haye does not feel the need to take a similar route to his idol. Boxing is not a sport like any other. It puts people’s livelihoods and health at risk. That boxing is a business as well as a sport is necessary. Fighters have always avoided those they perceive as dangerous and champions will always handpick opponents. This almost offers the sport a sort of allure. Presenting opportunities to vanquished champions and one last payday for those who need it. It is what makes boxing glamorous and sleazy at the same time. Whilst fans should accept this age old tradition in boxing, they cannot possibly accept title fights like this. This fight is the extreme result of boxing being a business first and sport second. In just a few months in 2010 we have seen Antonio Margarito banned from fighting in one state and then allowed to in another, the two greatest fighters of this generation fail to agree terms and our most exciting young heavyweight prospect choose a title defence like this!

David Haye is a fabulous talent. That fact is not in doubt. The majority of fans will tune in to see Harrison Vs Haye for the same reason they slow down alongside a car wreck. They just can’t look away! We all know that in boxing money makes decisions. In David Haye’s case, let us hope this is the last time that money alone does. Haye might be pocketing millions, but he is in a lose lose situation career wise. In a worst case scenario he lets a perpetual underachiever, with a punch, finally come to fruition at his expense. Don’t count on that though.

It will be a black mark on his career and the sport if a Klitschko bout never materialises. On the other hand should Haye eventually decide to step up and fight Wladimir he might find his recent list of opponents woefully inadequate preparation.

Article posted on 10.09.2010

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