Klitschko vs. Haye: Ignore the Hype

By Alex McMillan: That David Haye has created a buzz sadly lacking in recent years around the Heavyweight division is without question. In the UK he's garnered support, and criticism that even Lennox Lewis failed to ignite during his near-decade dominance of the division. America too, in its absence of a real home-bred contender, seems to have taken to his cocky outbursts and all-action style. His July 2 bout with Wladimir Klitschko is the most exciting heavyweight contest in some time, with opinion rather divided on the expected outcome. But has Haye truly earned, in real fight terms, the right to be perceived as a threat to the seasoned Ukrainian? What do their records tell us to expect when the much anticipated first bell rings? And should he be successful, are boxing fans guilty of underestimating the achievements of Klitschko?

Since turning heavyweight, Haye has done a great deal of talking – often about the Klitschko brothers and their 'fear' of entering the ring to face him – as well as a little boxing. In 2 and a half years he's fought 4 times, pretty standard for a modern top-weight pugilist, and totaled 29 rounds. The most significant victory by far came against the towering Russian Nikolay Valuev, when he boxed and moved his way to a majority decision. Although entering the ring with an almighty seven-stone advantage over Haye and boasting an excellent 'on-paper' record Valuev had failed to stop any of his previous 5 opponents and had dropped a unanimous decision to Ruslan Chagaev in the first of those. His height and build catch the eye, perhaps precisely why Haye wanted the fight, but can we really compare him to the younger Klitschko? Can Haye's subsequent wins over a John Ruiz who'd lost 3 of 6 and Audley Harrison – don't get me started! - really be considered adequate preparation for a challenge against the most dominant heavyweight in recent years?

Assessing his record, and viewing his development in recent years, the Ukrainian often reminds me of Lewis, tall and strong behind a textbook jab, dominant without often exploding into 'entertainment', and perhaps crucially, under the tutelage of Emmanuel Steward. While he often comes across as cold, calculated and – off-putting to many American fans, Eastern-European – beneath the intellectual exterior and behind the perfect jab Wladimir boasts a fantastic record against fully blown (if hardly legendary) heavyweight opponents and has stopped 11 out of 13 opponents since his last loss – a 5th round knockout since avenged against the big punching and wide open Lamon Brewster. His style is rather systematic, relying mostly on strength and practiced technique to wear down opponents before feeling secure enough to unleash his bigger punches and combinations to force stoppages. In his heyday Lewis often faced criticism for staying behind the jab or double-jab rather than forcing a blow-out contest yet managed to stay ahead of the opposition for years. Both he and Klitchsko suffered flash knockouts and fell into the dreaded 'glass-jaw' category of fighter, which perhaps explains their tendency to be somewhat cautious in the ring, but would either succumb to Haye, essentially a cruiserweight?

It was at his earlier weight that Haye earned his reputation as a ferocious puncher who excited and came to fight in every contest. While the early loss to Carl Thompson can be forgiven as an essential lesson – Thompson was always capable of rising to the big occasion – question marks can be raised over his victory over Jean-Mark Mormeck. Down in the 4th and looking spent, Haye recovered to end the contest with a flurry of power punches in the 7th. While this of course points to a great heart and appetite for a battle one can only wonder how he will react should Wladimir land with similar punches come July 2nd.

Much of the pre-fight assessment has centered around the Ukrainian's inability to take a real power punch versus Haye's ability (and desire) to risk taking a few in order to land a big one. But is this really the issue which will define the fight? Is it not just as likely that Haye, opening up, will fail to withstand the power of his first prime heavyweight opponent, a champion boasting 49 KO's? Other than the slow-moving giant Valuev Haye's entire heavyweight career comprises a stoppage of Monte Barrett – who lost to Wlad 8 years earlier and hasn't registered one victory from 4 since the Haye fight - John Ruiz and Audley Harrison. While Ruiz is game, having fought at world level for some time, the likes of Valuev and Chagaev managed themselves to inflict tight points victories over him. The Harrison fight, last time out for Haye, perhaps works as an analogy of his entire heavyweight career thus far: lots of hype, some rather tasteless comments and little substance in terms of a challenge once both fighters step inside the ring. Perhaps the real success has been the ability of Haymaker promotions to capture the imagination of the fight public and – after a great deal of trying – the attention of the Klitschko brothers. Come July 3rd, irrespective of the outcome of the fight, Haye and his partner Adam Booth will have made a great deal of money. Beneath the Hype of T-shirts and threats of early retirement perhaps the real issue – the generation of PPV sales – has already been settled.

Haye may surprise me. I'm prepared to be mistaken. But all things considered I expect him to struggle in the face of Wladimir's jab, perhaps land a few and cause the Ukrainian some uncomfortable moments before succumbing late on once the dominant champion decides he's in safe enough control to mix it with some power slugs of his own. Unless that is, the Londoner's jaw proves incapable of withstanding a real heavyweight's punch and he finds himself down and out in the early-to-mid rounds. Either way, expect the legacy – and criticism – of the underrated younger Klitschko to continue.

Article posted on 24.06.2011

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