By Terence Dooley
“It has been so long a build up that it is strange to see these two in ring.” British broadcasting legend Ian Darke’s astute observation when the first bell rang on Lennox Lewis versus Mike Tyson crystallised the thought that had been on most fight fans’ minds during the agonising wait for their 2002 world heavyweight title clash.
Wlad Klitschko and David Haye are not up there with Lewis and Tyson yet we will not believe the pair are going to finally clear up the heavyweight decision until they meet face-to-face on July 2nd.
Indeed, one or two fans are still sceptical, not wanting to jinx the seemingly ill-fated meeting by surrendering themselves completely to it. Adam Booth, Haye’s trainer, feared they had bid adieu to the contest on one or two occasions, telling me that Team Haye had been preparing for a finale that would not take in a Klitschko.
“Each time it didn’t come together, I believed the fight had disappeared for good but when we finally agreed terms the fight happened very quickly. I had thought as recently as last December that they didn’t want it,” confirmed Booth when speaking to me earlier today.
“We were planning different fights. There was Tomasz Adamek and Alexander Povetkin – guys who are not as commercial or as well known as a Klitschko. We weren’t going to retire prematurely just because there wasn’t the Klitschko fight.”
Haye had hoped to tempt Wlad over to the UK; the Bermondsey-based boxer believed that there was a huge market for the fight here in the Britain only for Wlad to nail down home advantage by insisting that his German physician featured in his corner.
“We wanted the fight in the UK. They demanded that they had their own German doctor in the corner and they knew full well that this eliminated the UK as a venue. They very carefully used that as a reason not to come to the UK. Once we knew this we knew the fight would be in Germany,” mused Booth.
“There have been a few shots in the arm for British boxing this year such as George [Groves] against [James] DeGale. But this is definitely one that boxing needed. We need ‘A’ fighters fighting ‘A’ fighters.”
Wlad has cut a jovial figure during the build up, welcoming his opponent to Germany during the Teutonic leg of the press tour. The Ukraine-born, Germany-based PhD holder even offered to translate the questions for Haye; he was determined to play the congenial host to the Londoner’s brash party crasher.
Klitschko’s warm welcome was summarised by a beaming smile and the offer of his hand only for Haye to offend Wlad by refusing to shake on it with the older man. Point made, Wlad repeated the move when they took to the Imtech Arena pitch for photos, ensuring the watching world knew that Haye, 25-1 (23), had refused the most basic sign of respect.
Subsequent TV slots have seen Wlad, 55-3 (49), make constant references to Haye’s slight. Claims that Haye should ‘Shake the magic hand’ followed by a slow, rhythmic hand gesture have given the 1996 Olympic gold medallist the appearance of some sinister magician, a mind bending trickster who uses deflection and self-depreciation to pile pressure on his opponent.
However, Wlad’s behaviour can be viewed in two ways. His declaration that he was willing to translate for the visitor, perhaps, a means of putting David in his place with a demonstration of the multi-lingual urbanity that both Klitschkos possess, the insistence on the handshake an attempt to force Haye to go back on himself by highlighting his stubbornness. Could Wlad’s approach be a sign of a passive-aggressive nature, a way of trying to humiliate Haye whilst courting public sympathy?
“I think he is passive-aggressive by nature,” stated Booth. “Wlad and the people who work for him are control freaks. I know David has got to him emotionally. That was always David’s plan.”
“What he didn’t want to do was spoil the UK press conference,” he answered to my question of why Haye failed to shine in the German leg of the press tour. “He knew there were two, one day after another, so rather than say what he wanted to say in Germany he said what he wanted to say in the UK one.
“David believes that he has done what he had to do. If David hadn’t pulled the stunts that he pulled, like the Men’s Health magazine that first ran the Klitschko decapitation photo, this fight wouldn’t be the fight it is now. They should thank David for that.”
Booth feels that the t-shirt featuring Haye holding aloft the decapitated heads set the torch paper on this feud. Critics believe that the WBA titlist went too far. This does not make sense. Ali called Joe Frazier a ‘gorilla’ on numerous occasions. Tyson threatened to eat Lennox’s unborn children in a bid to smoke Lewis out.
“If David hadn’t have done that then the interest wouldn’t have been intense. But sitting there in press conferences in Germany and the UK, David didn’t want to mix with Wlad. Or at the [Sky TV] Ringside show. David decided not to do the Ringside thing because he only wants to be next to him when they fight,” revealed Booth.
“I think it was a stroke of genius. That single image created this. I turned up at his flat about five o’clock in the morning to go to the pres conference for the fight that didn’t happen in 2009. David said to me that he had something to show me and took the t-shirt out the wardrobe. I was stunned by what I was seeing.
“At the time I genuinely didn’t know what to make of it. David had arranged it, got the artwork for the t-shirt done, without me knowing. That one thing helped create more interest than the Klitschkos have generated throughout their whole careers. I take my hat off to David and so should the Klitschkos.
“If David was dull, like nearly every single Premiership footballer, saying, ‘At the end of the day we put the ball in the back of the net and the gaffer was happy’, and all that bullshit then the sport becomes boring. David is a character, he says what he wants to say and what he believes – he plays by his own rules. If people don’t like that then it doesn’t matter because there are countless people who do.”
Both men have played their roles to perfection going into the contest. Haye in making it newsworthy; Wlad by charming people with his bemused reaction to David’s belligerence. The fight itself is viewed in absolute terms. Some of the more hardcore amongst Wlad’s supports supposing that he only need wave his magic left and pepper Haye en route to a clinical win. Haye’s believers feel that their man will hammer Wlad to the chin to bring the curtain down early.
Booth feels that piling everything onto a bingo shot to Wlad’s chin would be a gamble. Pointing out that the 35-year-old addressed his weaknesses after losing to Lamon Brewster in 2004 and has not tasted defeat since.
“I think people discredit Wlad’s chin too quickly because he’s been stopped three times and dropped eleven times but the fact of the matter is that he is very good at protecting his chin and is very effective,” he opined.
Wladimir’s style has a certain pragmatism, adopting the core tenants of human defensive mechanisms. Find some high ground, build yourself an impregnable citadel and then pour your armaments down upon those unlucky enough to be left in the kill box. He stands tall, operates behind the left and has the Larry Holmes method of ‘getting them drunk before you mug them’ down pat.
“Wladimir Klitschko has one of the most effective jabs in the history of the heavyweight division, without a doubt. He has had to become like that to have the success he has had. David is an explosive puncher and a very fast man so the fight itself will be a combination of their two best assets,” states Booth, who feels that Manny Steward, credited by many as instrumental in turning Wlad into a lite version of Lennox, has not turned water into wine.
“There is nothing particularly smart about taking a man who is much taller and stronger than his opposition and saying, ‘Right, let’s work on the jab and straight right hand’. He is just playing to what Wlad’s strengths are, which is an obvious thing to do,” said Booth.
“It would have been much smarter to teach Wlad to be able to fight inside and throw little hooks to the body at short range because, of course, this doesn’t play to their strengths. He did the same thing with Lennox as well. Except the difference between Lennox and Wlad is that Lennox was prepared to take more chances.
“Tommy Hearns was the same. His best attribute was the height and reach over his opponents so he fought at longer range than other fellas. The style was even more successful with Tommy because Tommy was an immense risk taker – people loved him for that. Wlad is not a risk taker, he just uses his attributes well.”
Not surprisingly given his height, Wlad’s defeats have all come against smaller men. Booth, though, rebuffed suggestions that the key to unlocking Wlad is to get below the jab and bounce shots up and down his ribs.
“I think the Brewster fight was down to Wlad punching himself out on Brewster’s head and then realising there was a man under these punches with this manic energy. After five round Wlad realised he had seven rounds to go – I think the truth to the Brewster fight is that Wladimir swallowed it.
“Corrie Sanders didn’t roll under Wlad’s punches. Brewster tried to but he didn’t succeed because Wlad hit him. Sanders was different because Wlad picked the fight in that one, he went after Corrie from the start but ended up getting chinned.
“Corrie was upright, he threw the [southpaw] left hand and knocked him out. I don’t think recent opponents like Sam Peter or Eddie Chambers managed to roll under Wlad’s jab successfully, either. All they got was their necks squashed by Wlad leaning on top of them. Rolling under that jab isn’t necessarily the key bearing in mind no one has done it to beat him before.
“It is not as black and white and simple as just coming under that jab because he probably gets that all the time in the gym and in his fights. I don’t think it will be effective against Wlad as it was against Lennox for guys like Ray Mercer, who gave Lewis a lot of problems.”
Haye goes to the ribs well, his left hook to the body played a big part in his cruiserweight title win over Jean Marc Mormeck in 2007. Again, Booth believes that history does not point to underpinning a win over the consensus kingpin by going to his body.
“I think any sustained attack on Wlad will reap success. David threw the right and left hook to the body with some success against Mormeck. But Wlad is a well conditioned big man and no body attack has made much of an impact on him so although a sustained attack to anybody can reap a reward we’re not thinking that going to the body would get any change out of him because we’ve never seen signs of that,” stressed Booth, who did agree that Haye’s best work comes against taller men, as evidenced by his stunning KO win over Oleksandr Hurov and the majority decision over Valuev.
Saying, “Yes, David creates more punch power when he punches up than when he punches downwards. Look at his fight against Hurov and Valuev. David has always lost a bit of power when he punches down.
“David is 6’ 3’’ [Writer’s note: The same height as Ross Purity], even if the opponent was the same height he boxes a little lower, his legs are very wide in his stance so David probably loses about four or five inches because of the way he holds his legs. He did this against world-class amateurs. He has always done well against taller fighters.”
Haye knows what to expect from Wlad. Adam believes that Haye is harder for Klitschko to read both in and out of the ring. Bringing to mind Cassius Clay’s belief that playing the fool going in against Sonny Liston was the perfect mental strategy, as Liston feared what he could not understand. Booth believes that David’s refusal to be neatly compartmentalised will have Wlad spinning going into the final weeks of preparation.
“If you go back and look at David’s fights, you see that he never boxes the same way twice. Every fight is always different. That is just the way we do things. You always have to adjust what you do. The art of boxing is to make the other guy think about what you’re doing. If you can’t adjust every time then you’re predictable and the opponent can always prepare for you.
“With David, you have got a guy who has the confidence to go into a fight and use something he’s never used before. Look at the Mormeck fight. His first world title fight and David fought on the back foot in a way he’d never fought before. He fought the fight of his career up to that point. That ability to adapt makes David unpredictable. It is a big part of David Haye.
“The real skill of a fighter is to adapt what they do, make the other fella think about what you are going to do. That is half the battle in boxing, make the other man think about you. I have said it all along, David is wrong for Wlad in every sense, as a person and as a fighter, whether they stand there and have a verbal disagreement or a fistic disagreement.”
Vitali Klitschko has lined up a September 10 fight with Adamek; all but ending hopes of a Vitali-Haye heavyweight decider should Haye overcome Wlad. ‘Hayemaker’ recently revealed that this could be his last in-ring appearance should this be the case. Booth insists that this is not hot air.
“That is just David, I don’t know if he said that or not, it sounds like something he would have said because the plan is to retire in October. Let’s not look past July the 2nd. I don’t look past this date so can’t answer that question (of whether this will be Haye’s final fight). Wlad is a big enough challenge regardless of whether he may have a suspect chin or a predictable style.
“The fact of that matter is that the guy is 6’ 6½’’ and has got one of the best jabs in heavyweight boxing history. It is a monumental task. There is no doubt about it.”
“As I just said, I don’t know,” he reiterated when asked for his gut feeling about a potential fight between Haye and Vitali should Haye annex the WBA, WBO, IBF and IBO belts. “Vitali is fighting Adamek so as far as I’m concerned that is that.”
If Haye cannot roll the jab or out-jab Wlad he will get worn down and knocked out. Reason dictates that he will have to outdo Wlad with the left or time his right hooks to perfection in order to catch Wlad’s head and body as he puts the left out.
Out-jabbing the taller man is not out of the question, either. Many equate reach with a sound jab but there is much more to it than that. Timing, footwork and technique can help overcome a reach disadvantage – could Haye spring the ultimate surprise by attempting to out-do Wlad with the left?
Wlad, like Lewis, may struggle against a smaller foe who uses speed and agility to quickly close the gap and spring his own shots as Mercer and, briefly, Shannon Briggs did when facing Lewis. His jab will need to be razor sharp come the night; the shot is the key weapon when it comes to breaking Haye’s rhythm.
Shane Mosley had explosiveness and speed over Vernon Forrest only to be out-jabbed, floored and out-pointed in their first encounter. A nagging jab can buy you time, break the other man and presents a formidable barrier.
Marvin Hagler eschewed logic when beating Hearns in 1985. Hagler used his freakishly long arms and a bobbing style to surprise Tommy, coming around and inside Tommy’s jab to land the punches that brought their epic meeting to an end.
Hearns, however, ditched his left early in that one, getting dragged into Hagler’s type of fight due to the intensity whipped up by Hagler’s ‘Destruct And Destroy’ slogan and insistence that Tommy could not weather a war.
A lot depends on how each man reacts to the moves put into play by the other. With other intangibles – mental approach, fight night nerves and more – bleeding into the fight.
My own feeling is that Haye will thrive on the occasion. Pulling every aspect of his game, the movement of the Valuev fight, body punching of the Mormeck win and explosiveness of Hurov’s destruction, together and sparking everything off Wlad’s left hand. Turning your opponent’s key weapon on its head is a sure fire way to win a fight. Haye can do this to register a stoppage somewhere around the seventh or eighth round.
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