By Alex Harding: Which round is the longest round in a big boxing fight? The first round when you’ve been dropped after thirty seconds and your opponent’s swarming all over you? Yeah, maybe. Or the twelfth when you’re 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 isn’t slowing and you know you can’t keep it up. Yeah, that’s got to be up there too.
But there’s 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 let’s call it round zero. That space between fights. Crucially, the build up to a specific fight. Whether it’s the next fight or one somewhere down the road.
It’s a round that can sometimes be more active than the dozen the two pugilists are about to engage in. It’s a round that can build the excitement of the average man in the street like 36 minutes of actual boxing can’t. 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 how’s 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 doesn’t need many chances on the target- whoever they are.
And David Haye is fighting this round zero as hard as the best of them. There’s genuine feeling, genuine hatred going into the hotly anticipated Haye and Klitschko showdown. But it’s not from David Haye. I think everything we’ve 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 can’t say the same. The intensity was palpable. I couldn’t hold his stare from the safety of my living room. Interestingly, from across the table, neither could David Haye.
But David’s 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 isn’t 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 they’d be thinking what makes me different to the rest?
Haye’s 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 Wladimir’s 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 Liston’s 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 he’s also looking to sell this fight for every penny it’s worth. Don’t forget this isn’t as easy a match-up to sell as it would have been if Wlad was an established and fearsome American. There’s 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 Ali’s in his build-ups with the Joe Frazier. To be blunt Haye’s gone below the belt on more than one occasion with his actions. Something Ali did when he started making comments about Frazier’s integrity as a young Black man in what was still very much a white man’s America. Haye hasn’t played a race card though; he’s just got plain personal. But once again I think that’s 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 Haye’s 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 don’t think we’ve 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 wouldn’t 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.