Flash Point: On Wladimir Klitschko Versus David Haye

*****

In the last six and a half years, Wladimir Klitschko is 13-0 with 10 knockouts. He has been one of the most dominant figures in boxing since 2005, scarcely losing a round. Behind a punishing jab and a destructive right hand, Klitschko, 55-3, is considered the best heavyweight in the world, with his older brother Vitali as the only man who can make a case otherwise.

Klitschko stands as an athletic freak feasting on a division that doesn’t have much in the way of physically imposing opponents. The quick fighters he has faced – Chris Byrd, Sultan Ibragimov, and Eddie Chambers – were several inches shorter and dozens of pounds lighter. The sizable opponents he fought – Ray Austin, Samuel Peter, and Tony Thompson – were immoderately slow of foot and hand. Others were both small and slow. The best win of this group may be Tony Thompson in July of 2008, certainly a respectable heavyweight, but not one that was ever in danger of being spectacular. A boxer with a combination of speed, power, and size is nowhere to be found during this reign of terror.

The last opponent that met this criteria was Corrie Sanders in 2003, an underachieving South African who flattened Klitschko within two rounds. To be fair, this was Klitschko, Kiev, Ukraine, before he received tutelage from Emanuel Steward, before ‘jab and grab’ was a predominant tactic, and before he was allergic to throwing combinations and left hooks to the body. Steward effectively ended Klitschko’s disposition as an exciting fighter to create the paradox we have today: a tediously cautious knockout artist, one of the few in history. And while his style isn’t endearing, this restrictive approach makes him more capable of surviving the rough moments he encounters inside the ring.

But the fact remains that his opposition under Steward lacked the tools to touch his shaky whiskers. That may change on July 2nd at Imtech-Arena, Altona, Hamburg, Germany, against United Kingdom’s David Haye. At 6’3, Haye, 25-1 with 23 knockouts, doesn’t quite match Klitschko’s physical stature, but he is a decent-sized heavyweight with a blend of speed and power that is unique in today’s division, a wasteland of love handles and man boobs. Mirages of athletic talent are worth reaching for, even if they end in disappointment.

Indeed, the former cruiserweight conqueror has his fair share of flaws. His chin may be even less stable than Klitschko’s, and 200 pound Jean Marc Mormeck dropping and severely staggering Haye in a 2007 cruiserweight bout begs the obvious question of what’s going to happen if Klitschko lands his patented right hand. Also, his struggles with 7-foot sloth Nikolay Valuev raised further doubts on how Haye is able to deal with bigger opponents. He won a majority decision but never seemed comfortable in the ring. Only a temple shot that left Valuev knock-kneed in the final round provided hope that Haye can be a disruptive force in a bland landscape.

The braggadocios Brit has done his job during the glacial build-up to the most intriguing heavyweight bout in years. A 2008 confrontation at Excel Arena in London became a Youtube sensation. A t-shirt worn by Haye in 2009 that featured him triumphantly holding the decapitated heads of the Klitschko brothers uncharacteristically roused the robotic siblings. Memorable statements such as “he’s clearly a dickhead” made on a recently aired episode of Face Off with Max Kellerman into grand entertainment, along with Wladimir Klitschko’s expression after being asked again about the aforementioned shirt.

Still, while Haye describes the matchup as “the gulf of difference between a tremendous little man and a good big man,” doubts revolve around how tremendous Haye really is. Prime Evander Holyfield, an exuberant combination puncher who had the intangibles to overcome huge size disadvantages, he is not. Instead, Haye’s a speedy pot-shotter with iffy stamina and durability, and in a bout that may end the first time someone makes solid contact, the safe route may be to bet on the bigger man with the consistent, accurate jab.

But the fascination is genuine when a fighter on the mountain top faces the stiffest test of his title reign. The dominance of Klitschko’s run is muddled by the strident weaknesses of his opposition. Defeating a true athlete is another step towards validation, and a measure of redemption for the black marks on his resume. Through the last three years, David Haye has been a proud representative of Klitschko’s critics, persistently questioning the legitimacy of his tour de force. July 2nd, Klitschko has a chance to finally knock those criticisms hollow.

*****

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Topics: David Haye, HEAVYWEIGHTS, Vitali Klitschko, WLADIMIR KLITSCHKO

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  • funkybadger

    The general analysis of this fight is really confusing me – on one hand I can’t find an American source (it seems) willing to give Haye a snowball’s chance in hell, but most Brits I’ve talked to, myself included, think Wlad is absolutely made for him.

    He’s upright, mechanical, predicatable. His defense consists of moving back half a step and leaning from the waist. The last proper fighter he fought knocked him out in 2 rounds. Isn’t he gift wrapped for Haye – what am I missing?

    Having said that I serially over-rate Brits – is that happening in reverse for Wlad? He’s spent so long knocking over fat underskilled american heavyweights he must, by definition, be unstoppable?

    • Michael Nelson

      Hey funkybadger,

      I definitely give Haye more than a snowball’s chance in hell, and wouldn’t be shocked at all if Wlad got sparked. But I don’t trust Haye’s ability to take a hard shot quite enough to say Klitschko’s gift wrapped for him. Either man taking a succession of hard punches without buckling would be the only thing that surprises me.

      We’re definitely in agreement that Klitschko is flawed though. I’m just not as confident that Haye can survive his own flaws.

    • Carlos Acevedo

      Hi funkybadger,

      I think Michael is saying what you’re saying, basically, about Klitschko, but he also thinks Haye is still a bit of a mystery.

      What you say about Klitchko’s resume is true; there are some woeful figures on there–Ray Austin and Calvin Brock (I don’t care what anybody says about him, Brock was just awful in the ring), for example, but he also fought some decent fighters as well, Chagaev, McCline, Peter (the first time), and a prime Monte Barrett.

      On the other hand, Haye’s heavyweight resume is farcical–a shot Barrett, untalented Valuev, the woebegone backroom nightmare Ruiz, and Audley Harrison. Haye has–theoretically–what is takes to beat Klitschko: speed, mobility, athleticism, power, etc., but he hasn’t so far shown these qualities against fighters of a class approaching Klitschko. Maybe he can pull it off without having to, maybe he can’t.

      I’m not sure I understand the American aspect of your comment…Most American outlets have only a grudging respect for Klitschko (certainly that’s true here), who has been dull and robotic for years, but I suspect their backing him for this fight has more to do with size and heavyweight experience. Haye will get his due from all over the world should he win.

  • Carlos Acevedo

    Hi Michael,

    This fight is a mystery. It’s always been hard for me to be objective about Klitschko because he’s been so damn boring for so damn long, and it seems it’s hard for some to be objective about Haye because he has such a big mouth and a talent for seeking attention. This obscures his record.

    Right now, Klitschko is the more accomplished heavyweight, but, as you noted, Haye will present a far different look than Klitschko has seen in a long, long time. The key is whether or not Haye is the goods and can turn that look into a cohesive gameplan. It’s possible–especially since Haye can punch–but it seems like he lacks the heavyweight experience to do so.

    • Michael Nelson

      Hey Carlos,

      I’m with you on Klitschko’s style. It sucks. He looks like a drunk giraffe on the rare occasions he steps out his lane to throw an uppercut or a body punch. Unfortunately, a jab, an occasional right hand, and a very occasional left hook is all that’s needed to dispatch what’s been put in front of him.

      Something other than the typical Klitschko fight would be a win for everyone.

  • Dennis Wise

    this is a damn interesting match up because either can be KO’d in spectacular fashion. And a third possibility, of course, is that they both stink the joint out in epic fashion. and that is entirely too possible because neither like getting hit, and neither can take the other’s best shot. But I’ll be watching, hoping for the best.

    • Michael Nelson

      I agree Dennis, that third possibility is very real. In that respect, the Valuev stinker concerns me. Hopefully we don’t get Haye hopping around and pot-shotting while Klitschko’s content on edging rounds with his jab.

      Both have enough power, speed, and flaws to make for some drama, so hopefully we get it.

      • Dennis Wise

        what do you make of the Klitschkos apparent anger with Haye? That has not been a factor in any other fight of his that I can remember. Last year he said he wanted to KO Haye in the last seconds of the fight, to make the beating as long as possible.

        Maybe it means nothing, but that’s not the Klitschko we’ve seen before

  • Carlos Acevedo

    This comment is from DENNIS WISE (Technical Difficulties At TCS):

    this is a damn interesting match up because either can be KO’d in spectacular fashion. And a third possibility, of course, is that they both stink the joint out in epic fashion. and that is entirely too possible because neither like getting hit, and neither can take the other’s best shot. But I’ll be watching, hoping for the best.

  • phils

    I think Michael Nelson hits it on the head here. Vlad has faced a number of guys that seemingly have just came to cash a nice fat check. Haye is coming to win. This is the first fight that I have thought a Vlad opponent has a chance in years.

    I’m glad you mentioned Corrie Saunders–ever since that fight, if Vlad gets caught he gets that deer in the headlights look. So his answer to that has been ‘don’t get caught’ and we get eight rounds of jabs. It’s smart, but not exciting for a division that boxing depends on for excitement. But I have always thought, if you can catch Vlad, you can catch him again, and if you have the power, he can be stopped.

    The biggest question I have is can Haye get inside the reach of Vlad and land? If so, I believe he absolutely has a chance. Getting inside on Vlad has to be easier said than done though, but is it THAT hard? Sam Peter did it.

  • Carlos Acevedo

    THIS COMMENT IS FROM PHILS (TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES):

    I think Michael Nelson hits it on the head here. Vlad has faced a number of guys that seemingly have just came to cash a nice fat check. Haye is coming to win. This is the first fight that I have thought a Vlad opponent has a chance in years.

    I’m glad you mentioned Corrie Saunders–ever since that fight, if Vlad gets caught he gets that deer in the headlights look. So his answer to that has been ‘don’t get caught’ and we get eight rounds of jabs. It’s smart, but not exciting for a division that boxing depends on for excitement. But I have always thought, if you can catch Vlad, you can catch him again, and if you have the power, he can be stopped.

    The biggest question I have is can Haye get inside the reach of Vlad and land? If so, I believe he absolutely has a chance. Getting inside on Vlad has to be easier said than done though, but is it THAT hard? Sam Peter did it.

    • funkybadger

      I think we’ve already seen the blueprint for this fight. Haye’s only recently faught another physically imposing, technically sound, shaky heavyweight.

      I could see this fight going exactly the same way as the Harrison match. Cat and mouse for three or so rounds, with Haye content to throw nothing and then its over as soon as he sees an opening.

      Considering Booth’s Yoda-like abilities, was the Harrison fight a tune-up as well as a pay-day?

    • Michael Nelson

      Thanks Phils. Because of his speed, I think Haye will have an easier time getting inside of Wlad’s reach then Peter in ’05. Whether he’ll have Peter’s durability (unlikely) and relentlessness (hopefully) is another question. Of course, he won’t have to if he can take him out early.

      If nothing else, two athletic heavyweights in the same ring will be a rare sight.

  • Carlos Acevedo

    THIS COMMENT IS FROM FUNKYBADGER IN REPLY TO MICHAEL NELSON I THINK (TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES)

    I think we’ve already seen the blueprint for this fight. Haye’s only recently faught another physically imposing, technically sound, shaky heavyweight.

    I could see this fight going exactly the same way as the Harrison match. Cat and mouse for three or so rounds, with Haye content to throw nothing and then its over as soon as he sees an opening.

    Considering Booth’s Yoda-like abilities, was the Harrison fight a tune-up as well as a pay-day?

  • Carlos Acevedo

    FROM DENNIS WISE IN REPLY TO MICHAEL NELSON (TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES!)

    what do you make of the Klitschkos apparent anger with Haye? That has not been a factor in any other fight of his that I can remember. Last year he said he wanted to KO Haye in the last seconds of the fight, to make the beating as long as possible.

    Maybe it means nothing, but that’s not the Klitschko we’ve seen before

    • Michael Nelson

      Hey Dennis,

      I imagine Haye pisses Wlad off more than anyone he’s fought. I’m not sure if that’s going to translate into anything new inside the ring though. Signs of passion or urgency are few and far between with Klitschko, despite Steward’s rabble rousing in the corner.

      If he does plan on ‘punishing’ him (which presumably just means more jabbing), I think it’d be a grave mistake to play with a dangerous opponent.

  • http://theboxingbulletin.com Andrew Fruman

    Nice preview, Michael.

    I’ve been looking forward to this one for awhile, and I can’t wait for July 2. Usually I find the pre-fight hype that surrounds most major fights a little boring and staged, but with these guys, the animosity feels real and I’m hoping that pushes both to give us something special.

    If I had to make a pick, I’d take Haye. He’s the more natural fighter, and I feel that he’s going to be the more comfortable man in the ring. He’s got the speed to get their first, and the movement to prevent Wlad from getting set… and I think we might just see some of Wlad’s old shakiness coming back when he finds that he’s not in control of the flow of the fight. But of course, Haye might get knocked out 60 seconds in, and that’s the beauty of this fight. Given the vulnerabilities of both guys, just about anything can happen – a first round knockout wouldn’t be a surprise, and neither would a twelve round bore where little happens.

  • Carlos Acevedo

    COMMENT FROM ANDREW FRUMAN (TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES)

    Nice preview, Michael.

    I’ve been looking forward to this one for awhile, and I can’t wait for July 2. Usually I find the pre-fight hype that surrounds most major fights a little boring and staged, but with these guys, the animosity feels real and I’m hoping that pushes both to give us something special.

    If I had to make a pick, I’d take Haye. He’s the more natural fighter, and I feel that he’s going to be the more comfortable man in the ring. He’s got the speed to get their first, and the movement to prevent Wlad from getting set… and I think we might just see some of Wlad’s old shakiness coming back when he finds that he’s not in control of the flow of the fight. But of course, Haye might get knocked out 60 seconds in, and that’s the beauty of this fight. Given the vulnerabilities of both guys, just about anything can happen – a first round knockout wouldn’t be a surprise, and neither would a twelve round bore where little happens.

    • Michael Nelson

      Thanks Andrew. Haye knows how to push buttons for sure. He can be annoying, but props are due for dragging some emotion out of Wladimir. This is the first time I can remember where pre-fight conferences and hype shows involving a Klitschko are worth watching.

      Good call on Haye being the more comfortable fighter. Though I think Wlad, because of his size, is the bigger KO threat, he’s more likely to fall apart if trouble finds him. As you said, very interesting fight. Nice to see a heavyweight title match that isn’t completely predictable.

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