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Chagaev for Haye: Not a bad trade

06
Jun

David Haye brought intrigue to his would-be fight against Wladimir Klitschko with his engaging personality and fearsome knockout power. The boxing world hadn’t been so excited about a heavyweight fight in years.

Haye didn’t bring something that also is important, though: A good chance win. Ruslan Chagaev does.

Chagaev, an unbeaten southpaw from Uzbekistan, took over as Klitschko’s opponent on June 20 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany after Haye pulled out because of a back injury Wednesday. And while the former amateur star doesn’t have Haye’s charisma, he has better credentials.

Haye (22-1, 21 knockouts) was a dominating cruiserweight but has fought only four times above the 200-pound cruiserweight limit. And he has beaten exactly one heavyweight with a recognizable name, Monte Barrett, stopping the faded, then-37-year-old former contender in five rounds.

Frankly, it was difficult to imagine a 6-foot-3, but lean (215 against Barrett) cruiserweight-turned-heavyweight standing up to a 6-6¾, 245-pound behemoth with crushing power who has won 10 consecutive fights, going largely unchallenged in the last eight.

It was quick knockout waiting to happen.

Chagaev (25-0-1, 17 KOs) is only 6-1 but is a career-long heavyweight who fights at around 230 pounds, which makes him a better physical match with Klitschko than Haye. The fact he’s a southpaw adds another challenge for Klitschko.

The Uzbek is rated No. 3 by THE RING, which made it possible for him to fight No. 1 Klitschko for the vacant RING heavyweight championship. Haye is rated No. 9.

Chagaev has an excellent amateur pedigree. He’s a former two-time amateur world champion who once beat the legendary Felix Savon of Cuba, a substantial accomplishment to say the least. Clearly, he has very good fundamental skills.

And while he doesn’t have a hall of fame resume as a pro, his heavyweight slate is better than Haye’s.

His biggest victories are over John Ruiz and Nikolai Valuev, which obviously isn’t earth shattering. However, Ruiz, like him or not, has been tough to beat. And no one else has beaten Valuev, a 7-footer who knows how to use his size and reach to befuddle his opponents. Chagaev proved to be too skillful for him, winning the WBA title in 2007.

Chagaev was scheduled to face Valuev in a rematch last Saturday in Helsinki, Finland but a hepatitis B antigen was found in his system and the Finnish authorities wouldn’t allow him to fight.

Thus, he became a logical choice to replace Haye as Klitschko’s opponent. He holds a major title, he has a near-spotless record, he was fit and he was willing. He also would have no problem fighting with the hepatitis antigen in Germany, where he has fought many times.

Yes, it would’ve been fun to see how the entertaining Haye would fare against the monster from Ukraine. And, yes, the thought of Klitschko fighting a non-descript, relatively unknown heavyweight from Uzbekistan is hardly thrilling, which is why HBO rejected the fight.

In the end, we lost an interesting matchup but got a better fight.

Michael Rosenthal can be reached at [email protected]

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