by David P. Greisman
Admit it: You missed David Haye.
Missing him was an emotion impossible to imagine a year ago, when he’d failed to fulfill the expectations he’d set for his fight with Wladimir Klitschko, when he’d failed to back up the brash trash talk, failed to take Klitschko out, failed even to go down fighting, instead settling for a dull distance decision loss.
He then pointed to his right toe, which he said had been broken weeks before. We then pointed to the door, and we were glad when he obliged. He announced his retirement three months after losing to Klitschko, and we bid him good riddance. Ours is a sport with a tradition of men who talk big, but it is a sport with no room for men who talk big but do little to back it up.
It seemed impossible that we’d miss him, then, and yet we did — even though he was barely gone.
Haye officially announced his return in May, just seven months after he’d announced his retirement. He came back this past Saturday against Dereck Chisora, barely a year between that night and his fight with Klitschko.
There’s a saying that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. Not with David Haye. We didn’t know what we’d been missing until he was back.
Suddenly the heavyweight division is interesting again. Suddenly there’s someone else to talk about.
The dominance of Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko has gone on for so long, and has been so one-sided, that the top of the heavyweight division has gotten boring. It’s not at all surprising that the two best fights in boxing’s marquee division this year were good because of three people not named Klitschko.
First there was Vitali’s bout with Chisora in February, which was a clear win for Vitali but an entertaining bout nevertheless, as Chisora’s consistent pressure made Vitali work for the win, and as Klitschko’s shoulder injury made working for the win take more than usual.
Then, a week later, there was Alexander Povetkin’s title defense draw with Marco Huck, a fun fight where it didn’t matter that both men were flawed and that neither man could ever pose a threat to the Klitschko brothers.
Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko are prominent because of their talent and their accomplishments, and they are exceedingly popular in Europe, where tens of thousands fill arenas and millions watch on television no matter how little chance their opponents have of winning and how little opposition those opponents put up before their inevitable defeat.
But excellence is not always entertaining. Part of the blame could go to the brothers, two brilliant minds and superlative athletes who have fine-tuned their game plans to the point that they bludgeon their foes deliberately until they submit, either mentally or physically. Much of the blame, though, must go to the challengers themselves, who quickly realize how little they are succeeding and ultimately acquiesce, their diminishing activity mirroring the increasing futility.
You can go years between true challenges to the Klitschkos.
David Haye’s return, then, is incredibly welcome.
There’s only so much credit you can give Haye for stopping Dereck Chisora in five rounds. Chisora had only been a pro boxer since 2007, when Haye, by then about half a decade into his career, had already become the cruiserweight champion. Chisora was the natural heavyweight, but he was shorter and rounder, slower and cruder. Haye had the advantages in speed, technique and experience. Chisora, though, still had heart and determination and, in this division, a puncher’s chance.
That soon became the only chance Chisora had. Haye took his time and eventually picked Chisora apart, putting together fast, hard combinations, knocking Chisora down twice and scoring the fifth-round technical knockout.
For whatever little the win might mean, it still meant something, putting Haye in the winner’s bracket in a division in which 15 different fighters have lost to a Klitschko brother in the less than four years since Vitali returned from retirement.
Those other heavyweights can put on good, competitive fights against other big men. But the main goal in all sports is to find out who’s best. We’ve long known who is best at heavyweight. We just don’t know who can change that.
We do know who can’t. It’s hard to picture the current crop of heavyweights dethroning Wladimir or Vitali. We’ve already seen many try and fail. We already know we don’t need to see others, such as Povetkin, do the same.
There are still some younger prospects being groomed for a shot, potential future contenders such as Tyson Fury, Seth Mitchell and David Price.
Those fights are still in the distance. Those fighters still need to develop.
David Haye is ready now. It’s hard to imagine others defeating the Klitschkos, but with Haye, with his combination of skill, speed and power, it remains a possibility.
That’s why it was so maddening to watch Haye lose as he did last year. For all of his physical traits, there remained a mental block he just couldn’t break through. Even if his hurt toe truly played a role, it seemed the kind of injury that a fighter should overcome when challenging for the heavyweight championship. Even were he to lose to Klitschko as the rest have done, we wanted him to go down fighting.
Because he didn’t, we didn’t miss him. But we should’ve, if only for what he represents.
Lamon Brewster defeated Wladimir Klitschko in 2004. Lennox Lewis defeated Vitali Klitschko in 2003. No one since has beaten the Klitschkos. Perhaps no one will beat them any time soon.
But we still search for a fighter who can live up to his billing — to be a challenger who actually challenges them.
The 10 Count
1. What a statement made Saturday night by Danny Garcia, who was brought in to fight Amir Khan as a serviceable replacement opponent — a titleholder whose previous level of competition had never approached that of Khan.
Garcia promptly showed himself to be much more than what we’d seen of him.
There will be those who seek to minimize Garcia’s victory by criticizing Khan’s abilities. That’s par for the course in sports commentary, with revisionist historians who are never satisfied, never impressed and never give anyone enough credit.
All credit to Garcia. He went from victories over Nate Campbell, Kendall Holt and Erik Morales that put names on his record but didn’t wholly sell us on him being a true contender — to standing toe to toe with Khan, felling one of the top guys at junior welterweight and raising his own stature in that division with emphasis.
2. All you have to do is ask yourself this to know just how big the win was: “Do I want to see Danny Garcia again?”
That answer in the affirmative should come quickly and easily. And that is the sign of a budding star.
3. Amir Khan shouldn’t be consigned to the scrap heap, despite the two straight losses, and despite now having been stopped twice in his career (the first time being against Breidis Prescott in 2008) and despite the lingering questions about his ability to take a punch.
Sound like someone else? Someone who’s the undisputed heavyweight champion?
Granted, Khan doesn’t have the kind of physical advantages that Wladimir Klitschko does, but he will need to make the kind of changes Klitschko made. Khan has been so confident in his offensive abilities at times that he leaves himself with glaring defensive liabilities.
That’s made for some great fights — the battle with Marcos Maidana, the war with Lamont Peterson, the four-round firefight with Danny Garcia — but it’s not great for Khan’s career.
It’s not over for Amir Khan — not so long as he finds a way to begin anew. The questions about him will always remain, but the key for Khan, as it has been for Klitschko, is to make his opponents less able to ask them.
4. Both Victor Ortiz and Amir Khan fought replacement opponents who’d stepped in after a pair of rematches got canceled — Ortiz’s with Andre Berto, Khan’s with Lamont Peterson — due to their original foes testing positive for banned substances after insisting on more stringent drug testing.
Both Ortiz and Khan fought replacement opponents — Ortiz met Josesito Lopez, Khan met Danny Garcia — and proceeded to lose by stunning technical knockouts.
5. Evander Holyfield has lost his mansion — it sold at a foreclosure auction in March for $7.5 million, though the former heavyweight champion owed nearly twice that amount and is just now moving out of the Atlanta-area estate, according to TMZ and the New York Daily News.
The good news? Riddick Bowe’s old home is on the market and is located just three hours away near Augusta.
Bowe also lost his home to foreclosure. Holyfield could’ve gotten it cheaper in March, when it sold at auction for $50,600, according to public records. The property’s still a bargain, however, listed online at $159,900.
Having seen before and after pictures, whoever’s flipping the house clearly did a lot of work to spruce it up.
It would still be a bit of a downgrade for Holyfield. His old mansion was 54,000 square feet and sat on 234 acres of land. Bowe’s old home is smaller, but still a good bargain at 2,200 square feet and half an acre of land.
6. There’s a reality-show concept in there somewhere.
7. I never thought I’d be saying this in 2012, but how about Jose Luis Castillo vs. Erik Morales?
Castillo – who’d slipped into obscurity in recent years after no longer being able to make lightweight or junior welterweight, and after losses to lower-tier welterweights — showed he still had something left despite being 38 years old and having fought as a pro for 22 years, defeating Ivan Popoca last week on ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights.”
Morales, meanwhile, at 35 years old and 19 years into his pro career, is another overweight, over-the-hill former great. Like Castillo, he can no longer make junior welterweight. And it’d be better for Castillo to face a foe closer to his own size than to step into the ring outsized and slowed by a combination of age, wear and tear and the additional pounds on his body.
Morales was born and raised in Tijuana. Castillo lives a couple of hours away. How does this fight — a decade past their primes — not still bring in tens of thousands?
8. Boxers Behaving Badly: Retired two-division world titleholder Vinny Pazienza has pleaded not guilty to charges of simple assault and disorderly conduct after allegedly fighting with two women in Rhode Island, according to the Providence Journal and online court records.
The incident happened July 8 at a bar/restaurant, beginning after Pazienza allegedly grabbed one woman’s breast. The woman and Pazienza “started yelling at each other,” the newspaper said, citing a police report, and the woman’s friend said she then got involved. That second woman told police that Pazienza struck her in the throat, grabbed her hair and threw her to the floor.
Pazienza, meanwhile, told police that “he grabbed [the second woman’s wrists] until she released him, then she fell,” according to the newspaper.
The 49-year-old held world titles at lightweight and junior middleweight, and also challenged for belts at junior welterweight and super middleweight. He last fought in 2004, ending his two-decade career on a win that brought his record to 50-10 with 30 knockouts.
9. Updating a story I wrote last week, boxing trainer Sam Garcia has cashed out at the World Series of Poker, though he busted out early in the famed “Main Event.”
Garcia, 30, won $39,030 after finishing 56th and 25th in two tournaments. He faltered, however, in a third tournament ($1,500 buy-in), and then was knocked out of the Main Event ($10,000 buy-n) on the second day. He leaves, then, with more than $27,000 in his pocket.
That’s a substantial improvement from previous years, when he’d only pulled in a combined $8,102.
And it’s also better than former champion boxers Lennox Lewis and Antonio Tarver, each of whom competed in the tournament several years ago.
10. Bad joke alert. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Antonio Tarver as a poker player, by the way, isn’t anywhere near as entertaining as Antonio Tarver as a “Go Fish” player:
“You got any sixes tonight? You got any sixes tonight?”
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com.
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