By Matthew Hurley: The upcoming heavyweight title bout between Wladimir Klitschko and David Haye has achieved something unexpected – it has garnered significant interest in a match up between two big men. It’s been quite some time since anyone outside of the Klitschko family and European fanbase has gotten jazzed about a Dr. Steelhammer title defense. Blame that on an American bias, Klitschko’s rather boring but highly effective style, or a seeming inability for many to distinguish Wladimir from his older brother Vitali. Whatever the reason, this current heavyweight title reign has been, perhaps, the most non-descript in boxing history.
It’s not been all Wladimir’s fault. In fact, the towering Ukrainian has been dominant since his last loss against Lamon Brewster in 2004 and, for certain, has been a charming, scandal-free ambassador for the sport. His problem has been a lack of excitement. That’s not to say he hasn’t scored some beautiful knockout victories. It’s just that endless rounds of tedium most often precede the final concussive blow.
As the late Ralph Wiley once opined about heavyweight champions, “We’re always drawn to the big punch… We want our heavyweight champion to be fearsome, explosive and exciting. We don’t necessarily want him to be a nice guy.”
Klitschko has adopted a safety first style reminiscent of Lennox Lewis on his most boring of days. But Lewis also had some thrilling performances to balance his career. Still, these two champions do have quite a bit in common, the most telling being that neither man has ever felt it necessary to engage his opponent if he could jab him to death and then close the show late. It’s little wonder both men love to play chess – a game of tactics, patience and precision.
The ironic thing is that both fighters count Emanuel Steward as their trainer. A man almost obsessed with offense and dramatic knockouts. Not surprisingly Steward has nearly lost his mind in the corner of both men, incredulous at their lack of killer instinct.
Regardless, Lewis has been reevaluated again and again since his retirement and, when his time came, found himself in the International Boxing Hall Of Fame. Like it or not, Wladimir is on the very same path. His credentials are right there for debate, and they’re pretty damn good. The criticism that he has reigned over an unquestionably weak division is valid. But then so did Mike Tyson, who lost to his two main rivals, Lewis and Evander Holyfield. And guess what? Iron Mike is now in the Hall – justifiably so, in this writer/voter’s opinion.
All that said, Wladimir must win this upcoming bout against David Haye or everything goes out the window. This is his one big and, perhaps, only viable challenge. And Haye has made it an event with his endless taunting, preening and charisma.
For all those, Klitschko included, who reprimanded Haye for that silly T-shirt picturing him holding aloft the severed heads of Wladimir and his brother, it says here it did more to hype this bout than anything Wladimir could ever do. Wladimir is gentlemanly to a fault and a true sportsman. But this is boxing and the fight game needs villains to up the ante. David Haye has no problem being the villain, and that’s great. He understands promotion. He understands that shooting his mouth off, refusing to shake hands when Wladimir offers it up is not only creating a buzz but is also getting under the skin of the normally stoic champion.
You can see it in Wladimir’s body language and in his rather odd retorts to Haye’s braggadocio. He’s not used to such blatant disrespect and he’s not quite sure how to handle it. He really wants to punish this arrogant little prick – which is exactly what Haye wants.
For his part Haye has to jump on him early and he is hoping Klitschko is so pissed off at him that the usually composed champion will leave himself open for a ‘Hayemaker’ – his powerful right cross. It’s really Haye’s only shot at winning. He has to tap that shaky chin early or Wladimir will establish his punishing jab, the best in all of boxing, and that will be it.
This is not the Klitschko of several years ago who folded so dramatically against Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster. He has learned his craft and proven himself to be a fine champion. But he knows, make no mistake, that his ability to take a punch is still questionable. He’s even brought it up, awkwardly, when trying to intimidate Haye during the pre-fight promotional tour.
“Come and get me and hit my weak chin,” he says. “If you dare.”
One could say the same thing about Haye’s chin at heavyweight. It’s unproven if he can take a legitimate heavyweight punch. Carl Thompson knocked him out in 2004 at cruiserweight and he is a relatively small man in this era of heavyweight behemoths. But his mindset and style is less refined than Klitschko’s and he knows he has to get rid of his opponent quickly or he has no chance. Wladimir is just too good at what he does.
And therein lies the intrigue in this enticing heavyweight title bout. Both guys have pronounced strengths and weaknesses and both guys know that with a win comes bragging rights and, yes, respect from a fickle public unsure of whether or not the heavyweight division is even worth caring about. If Klitschko and Haye put on a great show the heavyweights, at least for one night, will have taken center stage once again and the winner might just become a star. We can only hope.
June 22, 2011