Wednesday, May 31, 2023  |


Klistchko vs. Haye: It doesn’t get better in heavyweight division

Fighters Network

We'll all applaud if Wladimir Klitschko gets into the ring with David Haye sometime soon. Photo / Ed

It’s not quite the Chris Brown-Rihanna relationship, but David Haye’s bid to fight one of the Klitschko brothers might be the next closest thing in terms of drama that does a complete 180 from one news day to the next.

First, Haye confronted and called out Wladimir prior to a press conference; then it looked as if Haye would be fighting Vitali; then Vitali chose Juan Carlos Gomez and Haye-Wladimir talks got serious; then they fell apart; then, as of last Thursday and Friday, Wlad vs. Haye appeared to be almost a done deal; and then, on Saturday, word began to circulate that the negotiations were again breaking down.

As you’re starting to read this column, the status might change again. And by the time you finish the column, it’ll probably have flip-flopped the other way.

But one thing will be true regardless: It’s a fight that the heavyweight division badly needs right now.

With very few American heavyweights who matter (there isn’t a single American-born big man currently ranked in THE RING’s Top 10), it won’t be easy to spark interest in the former glamour division west of the Atlantic Ocean. The one fight that would obviously generate headlines is Klitschko vs. Klitschko, but we’ll see Gus Johnson fall asleep at ringside before we see that fight signed.

So what would it take to drum up interest in the division? How about the longest-reigning current titlist and the man universally ranked No. 1 taking on an exciting, aggressive challenger who speaks English, talks plenty of trash in English and still has a perceived high ceiling because he’s never lost as a heavyweight?

Wladimir Klitschko is coming off of three straight forgettable fights, against Sultan Ibragimov (“forgettable” may be too kind a word), Tony Thompson and Hasim Rahman. He needs an opponent who will inspire the fans and inspire him to trade punches. He could fight someone like Alexander Dimitrenko, who’s unbeaten and not entirely unworthy, but how is anyone living outside of the former Soviet Union supposed to get fired up for that? With Nicolay Valuev conclusively exposed by a 79-year-old Evander Holyfield and with big brother Vitali a pipe dream opponent, brash Brit Haye is the only available heavyweight who can make Wladimir’s next defense truly compelling in a way that transcends the German or Ukrainian hardcore fight fan.

So to all the promoters and managers struggling right now to meet the demands of both sides: Please, for the sake of a once-proud division that is fading into the abyss, keep trying to make this fight a reality.

“What would be best for the heavyweights right now,” opined ESPN blow-by-blow man Joe Tessitore, “is a well-skilled, young, dynamic, American, power-punching prospect on a collision course with strong contenders and champions willing to fight in action-packed bouts. But that’s a goal which feels more like a dream, so let’s at least take some baby steps. How about simply a wildly entertaining, meaningful bout? Just give me a Klitschko-Haye fight that is entertaining and demands the fans to want to see more of these guys.”

In the short-term, that’s all we can ask for: a heavyweight title fight that we can look forward to, then look back on in a positive light after it’s over. In the long term, of course, we want more, and that begs an interesting question: If the fight happens, which would be better for boxing, a Klitschko win or a Haye win?

On the one hand, Klitschko’s steady reign as the premier alphabet beltholder is bringing a measure of respectability to the title. He’s coming up on three years since winning the IBF strap and five years since his last defeat. If he beats Haye, he extends those streaks and the reign will begin to vaguely resemble that of Larry Holmes – long, consistent, and more appreciated with every defense. Holmes didn’t excite like his predecessor, Muhammad Ali, or his successor, Mike Tyson, but if he represents a valley between two peaks, it was a hell of a high valley.

Plus, having been an HBO staple for almost a decade, Klitschko has built up a degree of name recognition that Haye, for now at least, can’t approach.

On the other hand, a win by the former undisputed cruiserweight king would provide a shakeup, which is sometimes just what’s needed when you’re coasting along on the slow road to nowhere. Maybe Terrell Owens is good for the Buffalo Bills, maybe he’ll destroy the franchise, but he’ll get people talking about them either way. Haye shares some of T.O.’s self-serving personality traits, but his self-centeredness is easier to embrace because he’s an individual player in an individual sport. His mouth can carry a promotion. And his fists can make the fight live up to his hype, as evidenced by his action-packed (albeit scary for his backers) slugfest with Monte Barrett last November.

“A Haye win is better for boxing because you can pronounce his name,” said Hall of Fame boxing writer Bert Sugar, only half-joking. “I can spell Haye. With Klitschko, I always have to look down and check my spelling. I think Americans can take to Haye, even though he’s British. I mean, we need marquee names, and Klitschko is a name you can’t fit on the marquee. Look at Manny Pacquiao – we shortened his name to ‘Pac-Man.’

“More to the point, though, Haye is a more-exciting fighter than Klitschko. It’s hard to be a less-exciting fighter, unless your name is Nicolay Valuev or John Ruiz. The Klitschkos, both of them, are defense-minded fighters. They only throw a punch when it’s safe. That’s not exciting for boxing. I was at the Klitschko-Ibragimov fight, and I had to tell the writer in the row in front of me to quit snoring, he was keeping me awake. I think Haye would bring excitement back into boxing.”

If a tiebreaker is needed between the “long and respectable” argument for Klitschko and the “new and exciting” argument for Haye, it’s this: A Haye win gives us hope for a universally recognized champion.

Since Klitschko vs. Klitschko is an impossibility, we need a Klitschko to fall before the division has a leader. Not that a singular champion would instantly solve all that ails the heavyweight division, but it would be a major help. The mainstream sports public – which matters more with regard to the heavyweights than any other weight class – will more readily latch on to something that’s simple. One champ that we can all agree on is simple. Not to mention, from a fan’s perspective, crowning a champ is the whole point of sporting competition once you reach the highest level.

Two Klitschkos at the top is an unique gimmick, but the gimmick wears off quickly when you know they’ll never settle the argument. A win for David Haye gives us a chance at what we want next: Vitali attempting to avenge his brother’s loss with the ultimate prize on the line.

But first, we need the right fight for boxing, Wladimir Klitschko vs. David Haye, to happen.

Then we can graduate to further discussion of who would be the right winner for boxing.


ÔÇó How tough are boxers? If I broke my wrist or my hand right now, I probably wouldn’t finish this column. Delvin Rodriguez scored a knockdown with the injured hand against Shamone Alvarez on Friday night, finished the fight and won.

ÔÇó How tough are we on boxers? Robert Guerrero took a lot of heat for asking for his fight against Daud Yordan to be stopped on account of a bad cut over his right eye, and I’m among those who will heap the heat upon him. For a guy whom most of the crowd in San Jose had come to see, for a guy who’s been watching his wife battle leukemia and claimed nothing in the ring could scare him compared to that, I expected him to try to fight on, try to give the fans their money’s worth and try to post a win in his HBO debut. I can’t get inside Guerrero’s head and tell you just how impaired his vision was, but this doesn’t bode well for the next time he’s in a give-and-take war and the “take” starts to outweigh the “give.”

ÔÇó Tougher than Guerrero but not as tough as Rodriguez, Joel Julio’s most telling moment on Saturday night came after round five against James Kirkland, when his corner asked him “How you feeling?” and Julio had absolutely no response. Like Oscar De La Hoya against Manny Pacquiao, it’s sad to see a fighter in a position where they’ve had enough but are a little too proud to verbalize it.

ÔÇó On Saturday at 8 p.m., ESPN Classic aired Butterbean vs. Harry Funmaker. Our world officially has too many channels and too much air time to fill.

ÔÇó Lennox-ism of the Week, Part 1: After it was noted that Victor Ortiz is a natural right-hander who fights as a southpaw, our hero declared, “I’ve never seen that before.” Really? You’ve never seen former heavyweight champion Michael Moorer before? Or Winky Wright? Or Chad Dawson? Is it that hard to do five minutes of prep work before getting behind the microphone? (By the way, I wouldn’t mind seeing Max Kellerman start to challenge Lewis’ more inane comments, a la Larry Merchant vs. George Foreman, rather than taking the diplomatic, I’ll-pretend-he-didn’t-just-say-that route.)

ÔÇó Lennox-ism of the Week, Part 2: Can we thank Lewis enough for spelling out what “well-rounded” means? That’s a term only the most highly educated viewers could possibly be familiar with. Good thing you simplified it for us, big guy.