(David Haye, left; Wladimir Klitschko, right)
It’s really going to happen. On June 20, the world’s #1 heavyweight, Wladimir Klitschko, is going to fight David Haye, a fighter that myself and a lot of others want to be the champion of the moribund division. ESPN reports that the deal is done, and the contracts will be signed in the morning. Given the protracted negotiations, that is the tiniest string for it to yet unravel, but for the first time, both sides say that the only thing left to do is put signatures on dotted lines. The site hasn’t been finalized yet, but it’ll be in Europe, and again, nobody sounds perturbed about this tiny detail, because there are four potential sites for which all parties are apparently agreeable.
This is instantly the most meaningful heavyweight bout in years, at least since Lennox Lewis retired in 2003 following his close and competitive bout with the elder Klitschko, Vitali. And that instantly makes it one of the two most important fights on the 2009 calendar, with the other being the May 2 bout between pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao and junior welterweight champion Ricky Hatton. No one has posed a real threat to Vitali since 2003, and no one has posed a real threat to Wladimir since 2005. There is justifiable skepticism in some quarters about whether Haye poses a real threat to Wladimir, either, but I am not so pessimistic. Skeptics can point to Haye’s shaky chin and unproven resume at heavyweight, but I’ll point right back at Haye overcoming that shaky chin to dominate the cruiserweight division, and add that Wladimir has a shaky chin of his own and hasn’t fought anyone with Haye’s combination of explosive speed and one-punch power.
And I think it will be good as long as it lasts. Watching boxers try to solve the strategic puzzle of Wladimir’s cautious style — jab endlessly to take advantage of being 6’6″, drop the occasional big right hand, tie up anyone who gets on the inside — makes most any fight boring. But I don’t think Haye will let it get boring. That’s because I don’t think he’s interested in solving anything, per se. I think he’s interested in overwhelming Wladimir. Say what you will about his recklessness, but it virtually guarantees he’ll knock out Wladimir or get knocked out trying. If it lasts four rounds, I’ll be very surprised. I’ve been mildly optimistic before that other heavyweight fights would turn out well, and I’ve usually been let down. I’m practically certain this one entertains.
If Haye wins, suddenly the heavyweight division is alive, at least for a little while. I know the Klitschkos are popular in Germany, but for much of the rest of the world, they are anathema. Their charitable efforts make them good ambassadors for the sport on one level, but their fighting styles have just dragged the heavyweight division down on the whole. Haye has the charisma — he’s actually a model, and he’s got serious swagga — and fights in the style people like in their heavyweights, which is to seek and destroy at all costs. Worst of all, the Klitschkos’ refusal to fight one another means that there can be no real, lineal heavyweight champion, a division where that is demanded more by the general public than any other. Haye has a chance to change that. In fact, if he beats Wladimir, he’ll have nothing but chances. The Klitschkos’ promoters have made it so that if he wins, he has to fight Vitali and Wladimir once more in his next two fights (in an order of his choosing, it sounds like). With his granite chin, Vitali is a far more daunting opponent than Wladimir — but unless Ring magazine’s rankings get all wacky, by the time Haye beats Wladimir, he and Vitali will and ought to be ranked #1 and #2 in the division, which means that if Haye ends up with Vitali as his next opponent, we’ll get a real, lineal heavyweight champion one way or the other.
Hope, though, is all I have. At minimum, we get an interesting heavyweight fight. Beyond that is uncertain. I’m sure Wladimir will be the heavy betting favorite, and he should be. If he destroys Haye, the division goes back to boring, unsatisfying one-party rule. It’s a high-risk, high-reward fight, this one. But I’m really glad Wladimir Klitschko – David Haye is happening.