Haye burst onto the scene and into worldwide consciousness in 2007 when he took out Jean Marc Mormeck for the WBC and WBA pieces of the cruiserweight crown. He then solidified his status as a potentially dangerous heavyweight fighter when he blitzed Enzo Maccarinelli in 2008 for the WBO version of the cruiser crown, solidifying his status as the lineal and unified champ at the division just below heavyweight. Prior to that, while he had been a star in the UK fighting regularly on television and exciting fans with his athletic power style, many in the US had dismissed him as a one-trick pony, stopping foes we had never heard of.
What made matters worse was that Haye had lost by TKO in five to 40-year-old Carl Thompson back in 2004, in Haye’s 11th fight. Haye started strong but ended up gassing badly in the fifth and was dropped and stopped by a right hand from Thompson, who retained his IBO cruiserweight belt in the deal.
But after unifying the cruiserweight division and redeeming himself in both his own and the UK public’s eyes, Haye set his sights on the heavyweight division, which has been ruled for a good portion of the last ten years by the Brothers Klitschko. Despite their dominance over the years, both brothers leave much to be desired in the excitement department and Haye, to both UK and US fans, is the perfect antidote to that particular poison.
The last time a unified cruiserweight champ moved up the heavyweight to challenge for a crown it was 1988 and unified champ Evander Holyfield decided to make a run in boxing’s glamour division. It took him seven fights and two-and-a-half years before he finally reached his goal by stopping James “Buster” Douglas (who had recently dethroned Holyfield’s real target, Mike Tyson) in just three rounds.
20 years later, the next unified cruiserweight champion would move up to heavyweight in attempt to make a move for the heavyweight title. This time, the title would be splintered among several men including both Klitschkos and Nicolay Valuev, a seven-foot Russian anomaly who had picked up the title from John Ruiz. Unlike Holyfield, Haye fought just one fight at heavyweight, a blowout of journeyman Monte Barrett in five rounds, before facing Valuev in November of 2009 for the WBA version of the title. Haye would be successful in his attempt, eking out a majority decision.
With a belt to call his own, Haye set about defending it in 2010 against John Ruiz and Audley Harrison in bouts that impressed his fan base but did little to convince the public he could beat either Klitschko. Still, Haye has done more with his mouth than any defense by the Klitschkos has to drum up interest in the heavyweight division, which brings us to Saturday’s bout.
According to Haye, the period of adjustment he underwent from his first days as a heavyweight to now have made him more than prepared for this bout.
“I’m healthy. Speed is ridiculous. Punch power is there,” Haye told the press. “I’m so happy the fight is happening now instead of two years ago because I am so much more of a better [fighter] now than I was then.”
While many claim that Haye is neither ready nor willing to go through with this fight, for him, it’s a dream come true.
“I’ve seen this fight so many times running out in my head,” said Haye. “I close my eyes when I go to sleep- when I am daydreaming- I’m thinking about different things. I’m thinking of him coming out and pumping out that jab, that right hand, leaning on me, throwing that nice sneaky left hook that he’s got, the nice little right uppercut. I’ve seen it so many times and I cannot wait to get in there and just do what I am going to do”
Much has been made of the mental approach to this fight from both men. They are a study in contrasts. The Ukrainian, from in the ring to out, is all about order and control. He uses his 6’6½” height and 81” reach to keep his opponents at bay with his jab so he can set up his booming right hand. Klitschko is neither creative nor fluid in the ring but with no losses since 2004 against nine title defenses, he is incredibly effective.
“Myself and (trainer/manager) Adam Booth have constructed what I believe to be the perfect game plan to beat Wladimir,” said Haye. “He’s stuck in his rigid ways. Has been since he was an amateur. He hasn’t really changed. He’s gotten bigger, stronger, more effective, more insistent with what he does but he doesn’t come out of the groove. He gets stuck in his way. That will be his downfall; His rigid mentality. He can’t flow, can’t change, can’t adapt like I can. That is what I believe will make the massive difference real, real early on in this fight.”
Booth was short in his commentary, stating simply to the press, “Enjoy.”
The London-born Haye is all about creating chaos. At 6’3” with a 78” reach, he uses his athleticism, speed and power to create odd angles in order to set up his knockout blow, generally the right hand. Out of the ring, he is cocky, arrogant, and impulsive, all of which he uses to get under his opponents’ skin. Haye believes his athleticism is the key in that it will enable him to change the way he fights to suit his opponent, a strength he does not believe Klitschko has.
“Wladimir is in tremendous shape. He has been studying tapes of me. Tremendous. I couldn’t think of anything better to do than for an opponent to watch all of my previous fights,” said Haye. “I’m very happy about that because fight night, you are going to see something completely different. It’s going to be fun to watch this big robot start malfunctioning because that is exactly what is going to happen real fast.”
A big question coming into the fight, which will be on Klitschko’s de facto home canvas of Germany, is whether or not he can get a fair shake at the judging table and from the referee. Wladimir loves to grab and hold his opponents on the inside, then laying his weight on them in an attempt to tire them out. Naturally, that is against the rules of boxing. Haye is hoping that he gets both a ref and judges that will for once penalize Wlad for doing so.
“You need a fair referee,” Haye told Spy Sports after the presser. “I don’t want a strong one, a weak one, I just want one who is fair, who knows the rules of boxing and implements them. If he does three fouls, he should take a point away. Plain and simple. I am not asking for anything special. I don’t want hometown judges. I just want judges who are fair. As long as they are fair, have shown to be fair in the past and have no real affiliation with myself or Wladimir, then that’s what I would want in an ideal world. If we’ll get that, that is a different story altogether.”
In a recent HBO “Face Off” (moderated by commentator Max Kellerman), which put the two men in chairs facing each other to discuss the bout, the mental game was in full effect. Wladimir seemed the picture of controlled anger, focusing all his disdain for Haye (who continually smiled in Wladimir’s face and told him he would knock him and his brother out) into pointed comments that did little to mask how he truly feels. Haye was his usual cocky self, content to smile and brag and get at Wladimir any way he could using his mouth. Haye feels it has all worked and come Saturday night, the talk, the cancelled fights and the t-shirt will all put Klitschko in the trap Haye says he has laid for him.
“It’s good to see Wladimir up for it for once. Normally, he sits back and doesn’t say anything but a few cuss words were thrown my way, which is nice to see,” said Haye. “I genuinely believe he is going to want to make a statement. He is going to want to come out, hold his feet and land some leather and that works out perfect for me. I’m anticipating and hoping he comes and out and really tries to put it on me. I just can’t wait for Saturday night.”
They say, “Watch what you wish for because you just might get it.” At times, Haye has looked like a man who just heard that statement for the first time. At others, he appears to be a man who is finally seeing his long-laid trap about to be sprung. Saturday night, we will see if this is a case of one or the other.
You can email Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoya and catch him on each Monday’s episode of “The Next Round” with Steve Kim. You can also tune in to hear him and co-host David Duenez live on the BlogTalk radio show Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com, Thursdays at 5-8 PM PST. Gabriel is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.