by JOHNNY WALKER
WBA heavyweight champion David Haye of England has been talking virtually non-stop (nothing new for him) since he and The Ring magazine-recognized world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko agreed to terms for a fight either late this June or in early July.
Haye is typically vicious (this is a man who once complained that Nikolai Valuev smelled bad and demanded that he bathe before they got in the ring, remarks which drew the ire of the British Boxing Board of Control) when it comes to Klitschko, recently likening the champion with a PhD who speaks four languages to the comic character Borat, and claiming that the Ukrainian has “destroyed heavyweight boxing” with his methodical style.
This last charge is one that has been made by other boxing critics against Wladimir, and it deserves closer scrutiny.
In contrast to his brother, WBC champion Vitali, who fights angry and goes for the kill, Wladimir has at times been guilty, since he suffered losses to Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster, of being too cautious in the ring. Certainly against overmatched foes like Sultan Ibragimov and Eddie Chambers, fights that the champ won easily, Wladimir could have put the pedal to the metal and likely gotten rid of both men well inside the distance (Ibragimov made it to the final bell, Chambers was brutally KO’d with the fight nearly over).
Make the long-fused Wladimir mad, though, as challenger Ray Austin did by questioning his heart and his “balls,” and Wlad steps up his game: he knocked out Austin in two rounds without even landing a solid right hand.
Given the obvious personal distaste Wlad has for Haye, this is a very good sign indeed for their eventual meeting in the ring.
Haye’s complaints about Wladimir’s style, of course, implies that he, David Haye, is the perfect antidote to Klitschko’s supposed lack of excitement. But looking at his career since he entered the heavyweight division, it becomes apparent that Haye has created most of his excitement with his mouth, and very little with his fists.
Haye has been very inactive since entering the heavyweight division, fighting only four times since November 2008, when he earned a mediocre win over fading journeyman Monte Barrett. Haye later admitted that Barrett scored an uncredited knockdown against him, and also revealingly said that Barrett’s left jab “felt like a cruiserweight’s right hand.”
The real ring fireworks from Haye were supposed to occur when, after backing out of a verbal deal to fight WBA kingpin Vitali Klitschko, he took on the aforementioned WBA heavyweight champ, Nikolai Valuev, in 2009.
Aside from the nasty trash talk Haye sent the way of the thoughtful and soft-spoken Russian giant, Haye failed to live up to his promise of heavyweight thrills in this fight as well. Haye threw a record low amount of punches for a heavyweight title fight, and ran from Valuev for most of the night (the Russian later complained of “going to a track meet” instead of a boxing match). He did stun Valuev momentarily, landing a hard shot with the fight nearly over, putting him in the same “too little, too late” category as the man he loves to criticize, Wladimir Klitschko.
Even Haye’s ardent supporter, boxing analyst Jim Watt of Sky Sports, scored the WBA title fight for Valuev, who at least tried to press the action all night — a bit of honesty that poor Watt has been trying to makes amends for ever since. Though Haye lifted Valuev’s title, he did so in as unimpressive (and yes, boring) a fashion as one can imagine, not even coming close to the fine effort that Ruslan Chagaev put forth in handing Valuev his first career defeat.
Haye versus Valuev indeed made Wladimir’s fight with Sultan Ibragimov look like a classic performance.
Since the Valuev bout, Haye came closest to delivering some of the excitement he talks about last year against a one-foot-out-the-door John Ruiz, who was so disinterested that he no-showed the final presser for the fight. Haye knocked Ruiz down three times and rabbit-punched him, while Ruiz knocked Haye into the ropes in what should have been scored a knockdown. Haye scored a TKO win; Ruiz then promptly retired.
Against lowly fellow Brit Audley Harrison, who he had previously claimed he would never fight, Haye backslid, with the referee actually having to admonish both participants to start throwing punches during a bizarre circling and staring contest that ended when Haye decided to start fighting in round three and Harrison promptly fell over. Many boxing fans cried “fix,” and Haye later bragged that he had placed a wager on a third-round KO, which if true should have seen him suspended and fined.
David Haye’s heavyweight career, then, has been mostly sizzle but little actual steak. Haye has created a simulacrum of excitement around himself with his non-stop trashy rhetoric without actually being very exciting in the ring, making his criticisms of Wladimir Klitschko seem hollow and hypocritical.
Haye, who claims he will retire later this year, will get his (perhaps last) chance to live up to his own professed heavyweight ideals when he finally steps into the ring with Klitschko, but given his track record thus far, there is a good chance Haye’s best performance will be outside of the ring, in front of a reporter’s microphone.