Haye V Klitschko- the round which could win the fight

By Alex Harding: Which round is the longest round in a big boxing fight? The first round when youíve been dropped after thirty seconds and your opponentís swarming all over you? Yeah, maybe. Or the twelfth when youíre holding on for the win but your lungs are burning and your muscles are failing you. Again, yeah, maybe. Or one of those middle rounds where the pace isnít slowing and you know you canít keep it up. Yeah, thatís got to be up there too.

But thereís also a good chance that the round before any of those rounds could be the longest round in a fight. And maybe the most important. For lack of a better name letís call it round zero. That space between fights. Crucially, the build up to a specific fight. Whether itís the next fight or one somewhere down the road.

Itís a round that can sometimes be more active than the dozen the two pugilists are about to engage in. Itís a round that can build the excitement of the average man in the street like 36 minutes of actual boxing canít. And as hinted to above it can be the round where the fight is won or lost.

I think David Haye will have sat down with his team way back and come up with a strategy. A strategy split between physical fighting inside the ring and the mental build-up to that outside of the ring. They might well have asked what style inside the ring is most likely to lead to a Haye victory? A twelve round jab and move masterclass or an early blitz? Possibly either. But then they would have asked howís the best way to get this to happen? Training, obviously. Rehearsing that particular style or styles repeatedly. But also training your opponent. Manipulating him to fall into your style, your gameplan. Haye is a hard hitter- he doesnít need many chances on the target- whoever they are.

And David Haye is fighting this round zero as hard as the best of them. Thereís genuine feeling, genuine hatred going into the hotly anticipated Haye and Klitschko showdown. But itís not from David Haye. I think everything weíve seen and heard from him is a tactic. As tactical as a feint or an angle carefully picked inside the ring. But one look at Wladimir Klitschko in the HBO head-to-head and you canít say the same. The intensity was palpable. I couldnít hold his stare from the safety of my living room. Interestingly, from across the table, neither could David Haye.

But Davidís twitchy eyes might mean nothing at all. What definitely did mean something was the grimace Wladimir struggled to smile away. He is emotionally invested in this fight. Because of David Haye. And because of that he is losing round zero.

That might still come to nothing. After all, this isnít a round zero in the mould of a young Mike Tyson. He was letting his fists do the talking for him- letting the mouths of everyone else do the talking outside the ring. When his opponents were staring into his eyes they were looking at a highlight reel of fallen victims. Of spaghetti legged men wobbling around the ring, men motionless on the canvas, even fully grown men crying during the fight. And in a blink that opponent would be looking at themselves, their reflection, and theyíd be thinking what makes me different to the rest?

Hayeís approach draws more parallels to a young, bombastic Cassius Clay in the build up to his fight with Sonny Liston. Though David Haye is yet to turn up at Wladimirís home calling him an ugly bear. Clay was all over Sonny Liston, in an era where outspoken publicity was not the norm. He got under Listonís skin not just to the point where he made him angry but Liston confided in friends that he thought Clay was crazy; that he was out of control. I think there was a two-fold strategy there- sell the fight and himself as-well as unnerve his opponent. David Haye is undoubtedly looking for a mental edge but heís also looking to sell this fight for every penny itís worth. Donít forget this isnít as easy a match-up to sell as it would have been if Wlad was an established and fearsome American. Thereís no long illustrious heavyweight history of epic match-ups between the British and Ukraine. But Haye has gone out and made a history for this fight.

In some respects his pre-fight style is closer to that of Aliís in his build-ups with the Joe Frazier. To be blunt Hayeís gone below the belt on more than one occasion with his actions. Something Ali did when he started making comments about Frazierís integrity as a young Black man in what was still very much a white manís America. Haye hasnít played a race card though; heís just got plain personal. But once again I think thatís only resonating to one fighter that way: Klitschko. Come the end of however long the fight lasts I feel Haye will shake hands, either beam that big grin of his or roll his head wearily, and admit everything had been a publicity stunt and that there were no ill feelings. Depending on the result Wladimir will nod his head a little wiser for the experience- his bank balance happily bulging for all the hyperbole- or struggle to force a smile much like at the HBO head-to-head.

So the fight will sell. It will sell big. So David Hayeís done a good job there for both fighters. And if he can make Wladimir throw a right cross with more reckless abandon than he usually would then the longest round of the fight will well have been worth it.

And donít think weíve seen the end of this particular round zero either. Sky are putting the box office fee up by a third in the UK on the Saturday so I wouldnít be surprised if Haye sticks to the formula used so far. He understands pay-per-view perfectly. A well timed word or push might well have those who would not have watched the fight suddenly tuning in. And it might well have that reckless punch Wladimir might not have thrown suddenly end up being his last.

Article posted on 30.06.2011

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