So we have official word now. With David Haye pulling out of one of the most anticipated heavyweight fights in years with a back injury, Wladimir Klitschko is going forward with a replacement opponent June 20, and that man is Ruslan Chagaev. HBO will not televise it as it intended to televise Klitschko-Haye, but a search is afoot for a U.S. network to pick it up, and I hope someone does.
Shocking! Yes, I said that aloud. I want to see Klitschko-Chagaev. I want to see it even though Chagaev is not nearly as exciting as Haye. I want to see it despite my being so leary of Chagaev’s health that I’ve attached a picture of what hepatitis B apparently looks like, what with Chagaev testing positive for the ailment in Finland last weekend and having to pull out of a rematch with Nicolay Valuev as a result. I want to see it even though Klitschko frustrates the ever-loving, ever-living piss out of me. I want to see it even though I was just saying a few minutes ago that I had hoped Klitschko would wait on Haye to get healthy.
I want to see it because it will apparently be for The Ring heavyweight championship, which would mean we’d finally have a more definitive answer to the question, “Who’s the heavyweight champion of the world?” That gives the fight meaning it wouldn’t otherwise have. Sure, it’s not my ideal way to fill a vacancy — Klitschko and his brother Vitali are the clear #1 and #2 heavyweight, with Chagaev a distant #3 — but it’s at least defensible, since the last time a #1 and #3 faced off for a vacant heavyweight belt it was because #1 (Vitali) wanted #2 (Chris Byrd) but that fight wasn’t happening and #3 (Corrie Sanders) was, if not very good, within shouting distance of the #2 man. The parallels are there.
I want to see it because while I don’t expect Chagaev to win or come very close, it is about as meaningful and threatening opponent as Klitschko could find, and he did it on very short notice, which I respect. For all my dismay at Klitschko’s fighting style once he gets in the ring, which is far too cautious for my tastes, one thing you can’t say about Wladimir is that he’s chicken about accepting challenges. Haye was a meaningful challenge, the greatest threat out there, and he agreed to fight him. Other than his brother, Klitschko has, over the last many years, fought the best opposition he could get his paws on, and he’s beaten them all. It’s why he’s in my pound-for-pound top-20 list, when he doesn’t even appear on some folk’s. He’s an excellent fighter, even if the way he fights doesn’t appeal to me, and he’s never shied away from tough opposition. That he’s taking on that top competition on short notice June 20 is even more impressive — consider that Valuev, after Chagaev fell through, refused to fight a replacement opponent because he’d been training for Chagaev, a southpaw, and the two replacements available were right handers.
I want to see it because while I far preferred Klitschko-Haye, there’s no guarantee that a man with a back injury — a notoriously difficult injury from which to recover — will be able to fight again a month from now, and we might as well get another bout in the meantime that doesn’t preclude the Haye fight happening later on. I sincerely hope Klitschko-Haye can happen down the line. There’s no reason it can’t BECAUSE of Klitschko-Chagaev. If Klitschko-Chagaev meant we couldn’t get Klitschko-Haye at all, then I’d be yelling and screaming and carrying on. It is almost surely the case that Haye will have a harder time talking Klitschko into the ring now, since Klitschko never liked Haye to begin with, and since Haye had already pushed back the fight once, and since Klitschko may now be unwilling to risk it on Haye again. That’s too bad, if so, and I can’t say I wouldn’t understand Klitschko taking that position. But none of that has anything to do with Klitschko-Chagaev, a fight that stands on its own and is a perfectly acceptable fight for Klitschko to take under the circumstances.
Am I flummoxed by Wladimir agreeing to fight a guy who’d tested positive, questionable results or no, for a pretty major virus? Oh yes. I can’t say I’d risk my health in that way. Am I expecting a boring, crappy, almost entirely uncompetitive fight? Oh yes. Klitschko should be the heavy favorite, and neither man is known for being in barnburners. Would I watch just about any crap fight that was on television? Oh yes. So maybe I’m not the best gauge of whether ESPN, Showtime or whomever should pick up the fight. But I think that it’s a significant enough fight, even with those caveats, that it should be televised here. Considering that HBO has televised far crappier Klitschko fights, their present disinterest is confusing, because Klitschko-Chagaev is more interesting any day than Klitschko-Hasim Rahman. Would that one of HBO’s competitors come through.