Wladimir Klitschko Vs. David Haye: Keys To The Fight, Part II

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. Next: a preview and prediction.

Mind. Matter. How do Wladimir Klitschko and David Haye stack up in those categories? In the second of two parts, we compare their more mental attributes.

(The mon-keys to the fight.)

Offense. There’s nothing very sophisticated about the Klitschko arsenal. There’s the jab, which is probably boxing’s meanest, best, effective jab. And usually, there’s more jabbing. Then, some more jabbing. And after a while, the occasional straight right hand and left hook. The safer it gets, the more of those straight rights and left hooks there are, often with any real urgency to throw more of them coming from Klitschko’s trainer, Manny Steward, who frequently grows irritated with Klitschko for not finishing off his opponent when the time is nigh. And yet, it’s astoundingly effective, all part of the plan to minimize all risk. He doesn’t throw body shots because it gives away his height. He doesn’t throw uppercuts because he’d rather fight from the outside. He throws the jab so much because it’s the quickest way to stunt the offense of his opponents and wears them down from distance. He sets the pace and controls the ring. Since 2004, this has been a winning formula, and since 2005, he’s rarely been tested in any way, shape or form.

Haye is a much more diverse in his attack. His best weapon is his overhand/straight right, which knocks fools out. His left hook is pretty powerful, too, and can score knockouts on occasion. His jab is decent-to-good, and he often uses it to set up 1-2s. He’ll throw uppercuts on the inside, which could be important against a Klitschko who is very adept at tying up his opponents, and he’ll throw body shots, which could be key to wearing down Klitschko. Haye can fight going backward or forward, and he can counter or lead. I’m not sure which he’ll do against Klitschko, but it’s good for him to have options. The most concerning aspect of Haye’s offense is that he’s often wild with it. He’ll lunge in and get out of position, or throw looping shots that leave him open to straight counters. Overall, Klitschko has an effective offense, one that works well for him, but Haye is the more versatile, complete — if flawed — offensive specimen. Edge: Haye

Defense. Klitschko’s gotten very good at defending himself. Besides an offensive style that minimizes risk, he’s also pretty on the ball about taking a step back or leaning back just enough for his 6’7″ frame to get out of harm’s way. Then there’s the illegal stuff. He leaves his left hand out like he’s jabbing, but really he’s using it to stay in the way of his opponents’ offense. He holds a lot, and because he’s bigger and stronger than anyone he fights, no one can escape his vice-like clinch until he lets go, which keeps his opponents from doing any damage on the inside. You can count the number of times he gets hit flush in any given fight on one hand. Some have argued that’s because his opponents have sucked, but all evidence to date points to Klitschko being an excellent defensive fighter.

Haye has usually been awful on defense, but he’s shown the capacity for defense. His poor D starts with a low dangling left hand, which leaves him completely open. His tendency to get carried away on offense leaves him open, too. But there are times when he’s focused on it where you can see he has the ability to do a kind of in and out/step away at angles Manny Pacquiao act, or use a lot of elusive head and upper body movement to avoid attacks, since he has good reflexes. Even still, John Ruiz — who has a good jab, but isn’t in Klitschko’s class there — landed plenty of jabs on a Haye who was pretty defensive-minded. When people say David Haye, “defense” isn’t a phrase that often comes to mind. Edge: Klitschko

Intelligence. Together, Klitschko and Steward have drafted up a pretty smart routine for the big man. His style has beaten fast opponents like Eddie Chambers; tall opponents like Tony Thompson; big punchers like Samuel Peter; and well-schooled boxers like Ruslan Chagaev. It’s so simple, yet it has worked so efficiently with every one of Klitschko’s foes since 2005. The basic gameplan is one that Klitschko has proven he can implement against everyone so far. It’s unclear how well Klitschko is at making adustments should anyone disrupt that gameplan, since it hasn’t happened.

Although Haye comes off as all physical aggression all the time, there’s smarts there. He’s a master trash-talker, and at times he appears to have gotten under Klitschko’s skin, which could be vital to throwing Klitschko out of his pattern. Haye’s also a better boxer than the wild man he often appears. And Adam Booth, his trainer, has now proven he can draw up savvy gameplans for more than just Haye, since he led George Groves to a counterintuitive, counterpunching win over James DeGale. It’s a nice team, one that’s been together for a long time, but it’s not one that has created a seemingly unbeatable scheme the way Klitschko and Steward have. Edge: Klitschko

Willpower. The knock on Klitschko for a long time is that he was mentally weak. I’m not sure how much it applies anymore. He’s submitted so many opponents to his will in recent years, and he no longer appears jittery in the ring, the way he did for several fights after his last knockout loss. He’s always wanted to take on the best available opponent, and rather than run from a big puncher who could test his chin in Haye, he’s actively chased the Brit to make the fight. On the other hand, Klitschko simply hasn’t been hit flush by anyone who can hit very hard in a long, long time. You wonder whether the confidence problems have been glossed over, or if they’ve actually gone away.

Haye rarely seems to lack confidence, if ever. He doesn’t seem to mind getting knocked down or wobbled — he just fights back harder. There’s a lot of outward unflappability in his makeup. There have been occasional causes for concern. For instance, it’s never a good thing when a boxer spends so much time talking about retirement prior to the most important bout of his career. There were times where he looked a little intimidated in that famous HBO “Face Off” clip. And some of his trash talking has been fanciful to the point of appearing desperate, such as when he claimed that Steward offered to train him to defeat Wlad’s brother Vitali. Still, I have a feeling Haye’s brash act is more than an act, and Klitschko’s confidence is ready to be rattled if he gets hit cleanly by Haye. Edge: Haye

The Rest. The fight will be in Hamburg, Germany, which is Klitschko’s turf. In the rare event this fight goes to a decision and it’s close, that could matter. The crowd won’t get to Haye, I don’t think, as he’ll have a nice contingent from England, and Haye doesn’t mind playing the villian; he beat Jean-Marc Mormeck in Paris, on Mormeck’s home turf. But the crowd could be important to influencing the scorecards… Booth is wildly concerned about the referee, Genaro Rodriguez, whom Booth claims let Klitschko get away with 32 offenses in the first five rounds of one fight. I don’t know if there’s any validity at all to the claim, but the referee could be huge in this bout. Klitschko gets away with that pawing jab move and excessive holding all the time. If Haye’s corner is worried about this particular referee, and doesn’t get him switched — and at this hour, it appears unlikely — then mark this one as a Klitschko advantage… How rough Haye is willing to get with Klitschko on the inside could be important to his ability to counteract any illegal activity from the jab-and-grabber. Haye has shown a willingness to club his opponent on the back of the head, but he’ll need to figure out a way to jam his forearm in Klitschko’s neck or hit low on the inside to dislodge himself from Klitschko, since ref warnings potentially only go so far. I’ve not seen any indicator that Haye can or will do enough of this, though, because he’s usually been strong enough to separate from an opponent trying to avoid his offense and I’m not sure that’ll be the case here…

Haye is the better and more enthusiastic finisher of his opponents when he has them hurt, although some have gotten off the hook lately as he’s become more cautious of return fire from such powerful opponents, compared to the cruiserweights he used to fight. Klitschko will wobble his opponent and let him off the hook pretty often, but then, he also knows that he’ll usually get him the next round with one shot if need be. I give Haye the advantage here, but I think it’s largely academic… Neither man has had much trouble with mid-fight cuts or injuries that badly affect their chances of winning, but Haye did injure his right hand against Valuev and have to gut out a win, while Klitschko has spent long stretches out of the ring dealing with abdominal strains of late. I’m not sure if the strains were legit, or if they were like Haye’s back injury that he used as an excuse to pull out of the first fight with Wlad. I doubt Klitschko would be in this fight if he was at less than full health, however… Edge: Klitschko

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (http://www.tbrb.org). He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.