By Jim Cawkwell
When a fighter is as guilty of shameless self-aggrandizement as was David Haye before fighting Wladimir Klitschko, losing is not an option. All fighters need unflinching self-belief to be what they are, but Haye’s excessive bravado and dismissive attitude towards Klitschko were an insult to the champion’s abilities and Haye’s defeat prompted a swift revision of his position as an elite fighter.
The moment Haye blamed his colossal failure on a broken toe he managed to alienate an entire legion of boxing faithful. Lost in the wasteland of mediocrity that is the heavyweight division, there is an idea that Haye is an exceptional talent that could once again challenge for the ultimate prize. But as time idles by and Haye busies himself with immature, attention-seeking pursuits, one wonders if even the fighter himself believes it.
The Dereck Chisora fight and its surrounding controversies were mere diversions to Haye’s usual business as a championship level fighter. However, scarcely will you see a more concise and brutal display of power than that of Haye’s two-fisted fury smashing a helpless Chisora to the canvas. It was a glimpse of Haye’s talent for inflicting punishment: a sneering, pitiless anger unleashed to bring a quick and ruthless end to the affair. Against such a force, the destroyed form of Chisora might have been the fate of any heavyweight in the world.
But it’s no secret that Haye’s mind is very much fixed on the life he desires beyond boxing. His current flirtations with mainstream media are a prelude to a second career as an actor or celebrity of some description. It is said that a fighter even thinking of retirement is already at least halfway there. Haye’s self-imposed retirement was short-lived, and probably only ever intended as a bargaining tool meant to lure either Klitschko.
But if such a personality could not be altogether humbled by the loss to Wladimir, Haye – though still braggadocios and unapologetic – does appear more respectful in his approach of late as he tries to secure a final showdown with the elder Klitschko, Vitali.
Seeking out Vitali Klitschko is perhaps evidence that a real fighter – not a media darling or Hollywood schmoozer – is the true motivator behind Haye’s actions. Of course, it wouldn’t be cynical in this business to point out that the only worthwhile money fight for Haye is against Klitschko. But suspend your skepticism and consider the possibility that Haye understands how unfulfilled a legacy he will leave if he does not try to redeem himself.
A precocious talent from the start, Haye defined himself with an aggressive pursuit of his goals that always saw him matched tough. There was always a swaggering confidence about him that overrode his deficiencies. But when the defining moment came and victory eluded him, Haye hid behind feeble excuses. Though he is under no obligation to anyone but himself, it may mean something if Haye fights Vitali Klitschko this year and performs well enough to challenge the majority perception that “The Hayemaker” is merely an arrogant fraud possessing far more style than substance.
But the land ruled by the Brothers Klitschko is no country for light heavyweights and cruiserweights. The immense size disparity between them and the super heavyweight specimens was never more apparent than throughout the utter mauling Tomasz Adamek received at the hand of the elder Klitschko. Years past his prime, Klitschko still represented a mountainous task for Adamek, whose bravery led him to a terrible beating. Vitali Klitschko served notice that if the era of the super heavyweight is to succumb to the advances of heavyweights less physically imposing than he, it won’t happen on his guard.
The modern heavyweight scene is a strange one, having endured a decade-long drought of serious talent. Novices are lined up to fight the two proven champions and this is somehow accepted; heavyweights with an undefeated record and the merest smattering of quality are given the spotlight only to be mercilessly exposed. The world cries out for the emergence of that kid – whoever and wherever he may be – pounding the heavy bag in the shadows, preparing his body and dreaming of becoming the great heavyweight fighter this sport needs.
For now, there is David Haye and all his explosive potential against the obstacles of negotiating and then perhaps fighting the most awkward yet effective and dominant heavyweight of the last decade–though is not unthinkable that Klitschko might decline to gift a pay day and a final chance at redemption to a fighter he deems distasteful and unworthy. Haye should contemplate how much less in demand he will be once he retires from boxing, and if Plan B doesn’t work out, a future on the scrapheap of the celebrity Z-list beckons.
That is, unless Haye realizes the importance of his legacy and gives enough concessions to satisfy Klitschko and make the fight happen. If it is in him to try, Haye will need to summon the will and strength to bring the fight of his life, even if all he can do is go out on his shield.
We have seen the David Haye that strode towards greatness as if it were his to take: a charismatic heavyweight beginning to breathe life into a flailing division. But we have also heard the excuses uncharacteristic of a great fighter, the more identifiable trait of a bad loser.
Which version will manifest now to play the final act?
Jim Cawkwell can be reached at [email protected]