Against which Klitschko brother does Haye have the best chance?

Bill Patrice Jones - David Haye Vs one of the Klitschko brothers is arguably the second most sought after match in boxing today. General boxing fan’s preference to which Klitschko brother Haye should face (if he ever does) is generally unclear. It makes little sense to keep speculating about Haye fighting ‘the Klitschkos’ when each bout has its own unique brand of appeal. Wladimir Klitschko is generally regarded as the world’s best heavyweight, whilst Vitali held that distinction in 2004. If David Haye wants to lay claim to being the number one heavyweight in the world then a victory over Wladimir Klitschko is the path. What though is David Haye’s most realistic prospect of a legacy enhancing victory? To which brother will he pose more problems with his speed and power? Providing Haye does not ruin his prospects with a shocking defeat to Audley Harrison, he and his team need to carefully consider specifically which Klitschko brother they should pursue..

Many boxing fans will want more than anything else to see David Haye finally step into the ring with Wladimir Klitschko. Their rivalry preceded even Vitali’s comeback in 2008. David Haye was very vocal about a prospective clash with Wladimir when he was still the cruiserweight champion. Added to this the fact that the two actually had a fight date set and one could conclude that theirs is the more pressing rivalry. As time as gone on and Wladimir has improved the general public’s opinion of Haye’s chance against Wladimir has steadily declined. In 2008 Steve Bunce (on setanta sports) described Wladimir as ‘damaged goods’. Probably not until Wladimir’s dominating victory over Ruslan Chagaev, on the night he was scheduled to meet Haye, did any mainstream boxing pundit in Britain allude to what a mammoth task defeating Klitschko would be. Much has changed since Haye first moved up to heavyweight. The single defining change has been the increase in David Haye’s fame. Even whilst promoting his Klitschko bout with setanta the average man walking the street in the UK, or even London, would probably not have known who David Haye was. Flash forward to the present, following his switch to sky, and spectacularly successful promotion of David and Goliath, and you have a different picture. Haye is massive news now in the UK. His PR machine with Sky Sports has worked wonders for his marketability. The combined effect of David’s fame and Wladimir’s improvements have damaged the prospects of a fight between the two.

It is also hard to envision the best way for Haye could successfully approach a Wladimir clash. Ever since Corrie Sander’s shocking upset of Wladimir Klitschko in 2003 the perceived wisdom has been: to beat Klitschko you have to attack him. This was further reinforced by Lamon Brewster’s upset in 2004. The idea was unfortunately inherently flawed. Chris Byrd tried it in 2006, on the advice of Lamon Brewster, and was given a terrible beating. One need only look at the first and second Sam Peter fights to also realise how flawed the idea is. In 2005 Peter did everything he could to overpower and knock out Wladimir and failed, though he had fleeting moments of success. He tried it again in 2010 and after a reasonable opening round was systematically outthought and outfought en route to a punishing tenth round KO. The sort of tactics he, Brewster and Byrd employed all backfired. The sort of blueprint for defeating Wladimir, drawn up during his upset losses, is quite frankly: out of date. Few imagine David Haye would be overly aggressive in the hope of shocking Klitschko. Haye is the only active heavyweight capable of defeating Wladimir; however, it will surely require the fight of his life. In order to overcome the physical strength and technical prowess, David will have to be in the best shape of his life. He will have to make himself elusive, yet at the same time competitive in each round. On top of this he will have to make every punch count. Can Haye outlast Wladimir? It does not appear so. Wladimir’s stamina against Sam Peter last September was arguably the most impressive aspect of the performance. In short: Haye vs. Wladimir Klitschko is the tougher fight for the WBA ruler right now.

If this was 2003 one could justifiably sneer at the idea of Haye defeating Vitali Klitschko. But this is not 2003, and Vitali Klitschko is not as good as he once was. Thus far no one he has faced during his comeback has hammered home that reality. Vitali Klitschko’s best performance since coming back was probably the inaugural one against Sam Peter. Since then, though the wins have been lopsided, warning signs have surfaced. Vitali is not as fast as he was in 2003. Though this may be stating the obvious, one should carefully consider just how unbeatable Klitschko looked before his retirement. Perhaps in many ways he still does. Unfortunately even the greatest of champions must age at some point. Though not troubled in either fight, Vitali has shown signs of age in his last two fights. Kevin Johnson may have been reasonably elusive, but it is hard to imagine the Klitschko who starched Kirk Johnson not being able to catch up with him at some point. Vitali may not have lost one minute of one round against the overmatched Albert Sosnowski, but it surely took too long to finish the job? Vitali Klitschko is a legendary fighter, no offence is intended in these observations. No man can forever avoid his own mortality in the ring if he chooses to fight on. No one can foresee when ‘too long’ will be for a great champion. Vitali Klitschko may know himself well enough never to risk it. Nonetheless all fans will have noticed how much he has tired after 5-6 rounds even in bouts he is dominating. Was he better than Wladimir in his prime? Perhaps he was. Is he better than Wladimir now? Most probably not. He casts a strange figure in boxing, plagued by bad karma and desperately searching for a meaningful fight among a crowd generally unworthy of his talents. A fight against David Haye is therefore more appropriate in some ways for Vitali. It would offer him the perfect way to bow out from the sport with a defence against his best opponent since Lennox Lewis.

David Haye should pursue a fight with Vitali Klitschko because it offers him the chance to defeat a living legend. It is also, when analysed fairly his greater chance of victory. Haye’s youth and speed will be much more effective against Vitali than they will against Wladimir. If Haye were to make himself a hard target, something none of Vitali’s opponents except Kevin Johnson have done, he would force Vitali into the sort of fight that will tire him out even more quickly. Klitschko has faced dangerous punchers in recent times, but an overweight Samuel Peter and Chris Arreola were for large periods mere target practice for such a skilled champion. If Haye can remain in the fight after 5 rounds then things might get that much more interesting. While Wladimir will only come on stronger later on, Vitali may fade if under pressure.

Last September we saw why Wladimir Klitschko is so hard to beat. He took whatever landed from an extremely motivated and hard punching challenger, met him in the centre of the ring, tired him out and punished severely. This October we may see a tiny glimpse of why Vitali Klitschko is in any way fragile. One could realistically expect to see a faded but dangerous Shannon Briggs make Vitali look his age even if it is for a second. Vitali should win, but will he look as flawless as Wladimir?

All of this speculation, is of course speculation. All this talk of David beating Vitali is also hopeful. The point is right now we have a situation in which most people perceive the Klitschkos to be unbeatable and most of those perceive David Haye to be the only genuine threat. If Haye is, then his best chance of breaking the Klitschko’s stranglehold is against Vitali not Wladimir. This is a testament to how good Wladimir is now considering the enormity of the task beating Vitali will be.

We should hope for boxing’s sake Haye does not suffer an upset against Harrison. Hope is necessary because that upset is, however shocking, a live possibility. Audley Harrison has always been one of the division’s mysteries, capable on his day of realising the potential he has possessed since the Olympics. Haye should win but Harrison can win.

I’ll be optimistic and look forward to a Haye Vs Vitali super fight sometime next year.

Article posted on 08.10.2010

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