The national media has been slow to pick up on this fight but have finally grasped the top rope and thrust this contest (belatedly) onto the front page. While the overall popularity of boxing continues to wane there has been a sharp increase in the interest surrounding what used to be the sport's most heralded division - the heavyweights. Those of us who love the sport can thank the trash-talking, brash, irreverent challenger, David Haye, for this renewed spark of awareness - even if the national media was slow (very slow) to pick up on it.
Why should we thank Haye, who has made a spectacle of himself by publicly challenging, goading, attacking, and maligning the reigning heavyweight champions, Ukrainian brothers Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko? Because, despite his embarrassing antics and lack of quality opponents he has managed to give us a reason to watch - hype or not, he has created a real grudge match.
Most pre-fight confrontations are staged affairs where emotion and pageantry are manufactured in an attempt to hype boxing matches that in another era would have sold themselves on merit alone. In any other era, a heavyweight fighter like Wladimir Klitschko would have dominated headlines the world over with each fight, no matter the opponent or circumstances. Klitschko (55-3), the younger of the two brothers, is a supremely gifted heavyweight whose accomplishments are as impressive as those of Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson and Larry Holmes. He has not lost a fight since 2004 and has successfully defended his title ten times. With a KO over the obnoxious but talented Haye, he can enter the pantheon of great heavyweights who own at least 50 KOs over their opponents.
Sadly, modern boxing faces a real problem when it must sink to the same promotional level as professional wrestling to entice viewers to plunk down a PPV fee that is appalling. Nevertheless, Haye's non-stop verbal assault upon the Klitschko brothers appears to be a brand of genuine and heart felt personal hatred not seen since, well, maybe ever - and everyone loves a real grudge match. Hey, didn't I just say that?
Whether he was confronting Wladimir at charity functions or sporting T-shirts picturing Haye beheading the brothers with a bloody knife, the Brit has consistently spewed a brand of venom that seems wholly out of context with the fight or the man he will face in the ring tonight.
By contrast, "Dr. Steelhammer," a normally quiet and non-descript personality, has begun to respond to the vitriol in an uncharacteristically emotional way. He has tried to portray an outward calm at promotional events, but his steely reserve has begun to crack like an emotional facade made of plaster, rather than steel as his nickname implies. While English may not be his native language it is evident in his replies to the English speaking media that Klitschko is harboring a level of anger that might encourage him to forgo his normal, plodding, plan of attack for something far more violent and risky. He seems like a man who wants to hurt Haye, not just win, and at 6'6 and 245 pounds he has the tools to do what Hayes has loudly promised to do to him: literally execute his opponent in the ring.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Record - 55-3 49 KOs 25-1 23 KOs
Height - 6'6 . 6'3
Weight - 245 lbs. 215 lbs.
The Punch-Drunk Bard's Pick
This fight has excitement written all over it and that's saying something from two of the sport's most boring, but efficient, boxers.
What Haye Must Do: Haye is an excellent boxer with quick feet and decent hand speed whose power is underrated in this fight. He must get inside - if he doesn't he will eat jabs all night and end up another KO victim by round 10. He can't just lunge forward, he has to move in and show angles. Once in he can't just content himself with getting inside and avoiding Klitschko's killer jabs, he has to throw - short left hooks and chopping rights; keep the pressure on early and then hope the giant begins to tire. If he does, Klitschko will begin to make mistakes and he will expose his suspect chin more often as the fight goes on. Despite Haye's clear athleticism his only chance is to pressure his opponent and I fully expect we will see him try to do just that.
What Klitschko Must Do: Klitschko must be able to withstand the early pressure Haye will bring. He has to use his size to his advantage, especially early on, by controlling distance with his jab and his feet. He must overcome the desire to go for the early KO. As usual, it will be his jab that is a key component but, more than in other fights, it will be his feet that will see him to victory because Haye is a sharp, fast boxer who is an excellent counter puncher. Maintaining the proper distance to launch that jab is crucial. Simply throwing it will not work against Haye as he must work himself into position with solid footwork. Early on Klitschko must follow his jab with an occasional right hand to get Haye's respect. Once it lands I expect Haye to go into survival mode. Klitschko is probably the most athletic man of his size to ever enter a ring and this will be evident as both boxers move in the ring like light heavies.
The Prediction: I think Haye has riled a tiger and now must back up the years of trash talk. If Klitschko's chin were not an issue this would be an easy pick. But it IS an issue and I think the champions chin will be tested early. I think Klitschko has enough experience, athleticism, and power to endure Haye's initial attacks. If he let's the moment, the home crowd, and the incessant needling of his opponent get to him we might see an upset, a la Lamon Brewster. Having said all of that, I think Klitschko will endure a trial by fire for two rounds before settling in and dominating Haye in the middle rounds. He will use his jab to frustrate the smaller man and after some wild exchanges we will see Dr. Steelhammer deliver a crushing straight right that sends David Haye into retirement. Klitschko by KO round 6