By Johnny Walker
The heavyweight fight that galled the Klitschko brothers, made the British Boxing Board of Control irrelevant, and made media moralists world-wide fly into fits of righteousness, is almost here.
This Saturday, UK heavyweights David “Hayemaker” Haye (25-2-0, 23 KOs) and Dereck “Del Boy” Chisora (15-3-0, 9 KOs) will square off at Upton Park in London, England, in a true heavyweight grudge battle.
While Haye played-acted the role of villain to antagonize the world heavyweight champion Klitschko brothers, finally landing a lucrative fight with Wladimir, this time out it feels different. Haye has been forced into the role of the reasonable–if not quite good–guy, while Chisora is the crazy one who can go from friendly to ferocious in the blink of an eye.
Wednesday, at the final presser for the fight, the tension was palpable between the two men, as Haye often appeared tense and angry, seemingly irritated by Chisora’s determinedly—some might say obnoxiously– lighthearted demeanor. Haye also blew off an international promotional conference call for the fight earlier this week, and generally seems uptight as the fight approaches, even as he confidently talks about knocking Chisora out in round one.
And the more up-tightness Chisora senses in Haye, the more Del Boy goes in the opposite direction, insisting that he’s relaxed and without a worry in the world. And that seems to drive Haye up the wall.
While this fight is not for a world title, it certainly is important in the greater scheme of things for both men’s careers. It is very hard to see where either fighter goes from here after a loss, other than into boxing oblivion.
For Haye, a loss to Chisora after his disastrous outing against Wladimir Klitschko would destroy any remaining credibility he has as a top heavyweight and most assuredly mean the end of his boxing career–for real this time. And a loss for Chisora would mean he has failed against Tyson Fury, Robert Helenius, Vitali Klitschko and David Haye–many will say he is just a good second tier fighter who can’t make the step up to elite status.
While Haye and Chisora’s feud started in Germany when they infamously brawled at the presser following Del Boy’s spirited loss to WBC champion Vitali Klitschko, both men have remained relatively placid in the lead-up to this fight. That has left it to their trainers—Adam Booth (Haye) and Don Charles (Chisora) to pick up the promotional slack, and the two men have done an admirable job in that area.
Adam Booth, the cocksure, self-confessed “most smug trainer in Britain,” comes across as an obsessive, analytical type who leaves no stone unturned in the effort to secure the advantage for his fighter. This can backfire on the trainer at times: in Haye’s loss to Klitschko, it was Booth who made his fighter so hyper-aware of Wlad’s tendency to clinch when pressured inside that Haye was left staring absurdly and helplessly at the referee, looking for outside help any time he and Klitschko got close to each other. Booth had spent much time and energy working the ref before the fight took place, only to see the psychological advantage go to Klitschko instead of his own fighter.
This time out, Booth is at it again. He’s already made promoter (and Chisora manager) Frank Warren switch referees–Booth felt that veteran Mickey Vann was both too small and too close to Warren, so Luis Pabon will now be the third man in the ring. Booth also apparently demanded that the fight be 10 rounds instead of 12, which would appear to give his fighter an advantage: Haye is not known for his endurance, while Chisora proved his mettle by hanging in and winning the 12th and final round against Vitali Klitschko.
As for Don Charles, he has emerged as a fascinating personality in his own right and a contrast to the cynical Booth. While Booth seems calculating at all times, Charles appears to wear his heart on his sleeve: he brawled with Chisora during a training session in the lead-up to the fight when he felt disrespected by something the fighter said (both men made up a couple of hours later). He has spoken of Chisora as being like a son to him, and has irritated David Haye by saying he wants to fight him after Chisora does (Haye broke Charles’ jaw in the Munich press conference scuffle). Charles has even speculated that his fighter may be mildly autistic, accounting for his eccentric behavior. He says he wants to revive Joe Frazier’s bob and weave, pressure style for present-day heavyweights, and sees that as the winning formula for Chisora against Haye.
While one can take what Charles says about his fighter’s plans to resurrect Joe Frazier at face value–he utilized the same style versus both Helenius and Klitschko–it is more difficult to decipher what Booth and Haye’s actual approach to fighting Chisora will be.
Haye’s heavyweight career has seen him utilize a run and gun approach whenever he is up against a larger opponent—against Nicolay Valuev, for example, he averaged an anemic 12 punches per round. Chisora is not Valuev or Klitschko-sized, but he is a big-framed, natural heavyweight, something that Haye isn’t. Haye may once again feel that evasive action (i.e. running) and potshotting is his best option against Chisora.
While Haye has spoken of knocking Chisora out early, Booth has made sure that if that doesn’t happen, his fighter won’t have to be wading into deep waters in rounds 11 and 12. However, Chisora asked for and got a small ring, so Haye’s room to maneuver will be limited in a way it wasn’t against Valuev and Klitschko.
The real wild card here is recent activity. Charles and Chisora have recently been through two tough ring wars at the highest echelons of the heavyweight division against Robert Helenius (a fight most feel Dereck won) and Vitali Klitschko. Chisora is match tough right now.
Haye, on the other hand, has been “retired” for over a year, and even before he fought Wladimir Klitschko, he was not exactly a ball of fire. This will be only Haye’s sixth fight since entering the heavyweight division in 2008 with a win over Monte Barrett. While Booth has brought in sparring partners like recent Barrett conqueror Shane Cameron, nothing can replace actual competition, so the edge definitely goes to Chisora here.
Haye has certainly been on his best behavior during the lead-up to this fight, yet it’s hard to shake the feeling that he and Booth are just a little too slick, a little too outwardly sure of themselves: that they are fronting and only going after another huge payday before Haye disappears again.
With Chisora and Charles, what you see is what you get: it’s sloppy, it’s not always polite, but it is very real.
So who will prevail?
It says here to flip a coin — but if you’re asking me, I’d say my head says David Haye, but my heart says Dereck Chisora.
(Haye vs Chisora can be seen live in the U.S. on EPIX and streamed live on EpixHd.com with a free two-week trial, beginning at 4:30 p.m. ET on Saturday)