So continues our marathon coverage of one of the biggest fights of 2011, Wladimir Klitschko-David Haye on July 2. Previously: the stakes of the bout; the keys to the fight, part I and II. Next, and finally: a TQBR Roundtable.
It is the singular thrill of heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko’s fight Saturday with David Haye that the battle could end at any moment. So pronounced is the power of both men, and so deficient is their ability to take a punch, that one shot could call an end to the evening in any round from the 1st through the 12th. And as this is the most significant heavyweight bout in nearly a decade, that threat of a sudden conclusion makes for high drama — the kind of fight where the only real estate that’s viable on your seat is the edge of it.
Outside of that dynamic, there is tactical drama to be had on HBO Saturday. Not because of Klitschko, so much. His style is dependably predictable, albeit for the past six years, impenetrable. He will almost assuredly try to slowly bend Haye to his will with a punishing diet of jabs, jabs and more jabs before attempting to finish him off with his big straight right, and should Haye get too close to his own chin, he’ll hold him in a death clinch. Haye? It’s a mystery. He might come out attacking recklessly, or he might circle backward and look for opportunities to counter.
In a fight where the winner could be the person who connects cleanly first, making a prediction requires making a guess. I think Klitschko is the better overall heavyweight. But Haye is dangerous because of a combination of speed and power Klitschko has never before encountered, and Haye’s chances of winning boil down to the methodology with which Haye applies that danger.
In previous entries this week, I’ve explained why Klitschko-Haye matters so much, and I’ve broken down the physical and mental attributes each heavyweight brings to the ring. I won’t revisit them. But I will look at how they might implement them.
There are many who think Haye’s best chance is to go after Klitschko’s china chin with relentless aggression. Klitschko usually gains control of his opponent within mere moments, and after he seizes it, it’s a slow roll down hill for whoever’s across the ring from him. They either usually submit entirely or get so sick of trying to overcome Klitschko’s difficult style that a helpless look overtakes their faces within a few rounds. For those who think Haye needs to go nuts, the reasoning is that Haye can’t afford to get stuck in that pattern.
I think I consider this the wisest course for Haye, actually, myself. He might as well gun for the knockout early, because Klitschko’s offensive and defensive system has proven difficult to overcome the other way. But don’t forget that Klitschko have proven time and again that he will not only tie up anyone who charges at him, but he’s also pretty good at catching aggressive fighters with counters that dissuade them. There’s a reason Klitschko doesn’t get bumrushed. Maybe part of the reason is that the people who tried bumrushing him haven’t had the explosive ability to pull it off. But another reason is that Klitschko makes them pay when they try.
The other way is for Haye to do a kind of Manny Pacquiao-lite in-and-out thing, working in some counters. He did something like it against John Ruiz, and it was very effective. Haye has the speed, power and combination punching ability to make it work. And there is a little bit of precedent with this working against one of the Klitschko brothers, the elder Vitali. Odlanier Solis was smaller than Vitali, and he was able to counter and move for most of the 1st round of their fight until he got stopped. Haye is a good deal more mobile than the chunky Solis, but he’s also not as good a defender. Likewise, Wladimir is a good deal faster than his big brother. There is, then, more risk in some ways and less in others.
The big problem with this approach for Haye is that it worked against Ruiz. Klitschko is no Ruiz. Eddie Chambers tried something like this approach against Klitschko, and it got him almost nowhere. And yeah, Haye is no Chambers. But Klitschko has shown repeatedly that he will take the most risk-averse approach to implementing his style. If someone flashes danger at him, he’ll just slowly pile up the jabs and win points on the scorecard. And because it’s such a good jab, it softens everyone up. Klitschko knows that time is on his side. Expecting him to make a mistake so that he can be countered is a big leap of faith.
I actually suspect that this circling/countering approach is the one Haye will take. It’s something he’s worked to refine in recent years, and I don’t think it was without purpose. I also think that the reason Haye has been so utterly savage in his public remarks about Klitschko is that he wants to get him mad, he wants Klitschko to come out aggressively, and he wants Klitschko to walk into one of his big right hands.
I’ve always thought that if anyone beats Klitschko, it’s Haye. The person who beats Klitschko one day will have to be a big puncher, because those are the people who have beaten him in the past. Then you have to figure out how to hit him at all. It’s going to be hard for anyone to out-technique Klitschko, because he does everything so right. But someone with outrageous speed, like Haye has, could theoretically get to Klitschko’s chin and rock his world.
The problem is, and always has been, that I don’t think Haye is likely to beat Klitschko. He most certainly can. It would be far from a surprise if he did. But the probability strikes me as lower than a Klitschko victory. As much of a danger as Haye presents to Klitschko, so does Klitschko present a danger to Haye. More so, even.
Because I’m assuming that Haye will fight in the second of the two styles outlined above, I believe that it is Klitschko who will land something significant first. It might take a few rounds, because he won’t want to open up. Haye will be cagey, move well and look for opportunities to attack. But he will find they are few. And in the meantime, Klitschko will be steadying him with that jab, finding the range for his right hand. As an “expert” for the July issue of Ring Magazine, I predicted the end would come in the 4th. I’ll stick by it.
Would that I was wrong. I’m a fan of Klitschko outside the ring, and I respect what he’s done inside it, but I despise watching him fight with his monotonous routine. I’m a fan of Haye inside and outside the ring, fully. A Haye win would turn the heavyweight division upside down. Haye as heavyweight champion is more interesting, more vulnerable, and more exciting.
But the odds are that Klitschko gets the biggest win of his career Saturday. Then, the conversation about him changes at least a little. He has ruled over a moribund era of the heavyweight division. Beating Haye, the best heavyweight of the last several years not named “Klitschko,” will give him a defining victory, and shut the mouth of his biggest detractor over the last couple years.