Thursday, June 30, 2011

Wladimir Klitschko vs. David Haye Draws Near

Photo: AP

That familiar anticipatory rousing we get during the build up of a potentially exciting heavyweight championship fight has become not-so-familiar in recent years. 

Routine, however, has become the stream of mundane updates and recycled trash talk from heavyweight titlists Wladimir Klitschko and David Haye in recent weeks. 

Though for all the dismissals and cursing of the heavyweight division over the last umpteen years, fans seem relieved to feel as though blood just may yet flow through the veins of the sport's go-to division, even if only for one fight. Both Klitschko and Haye - but Haye in particular - have slung some memorable hyperbole and entertaining quotes about in the press recently, vigorously selling a fight that until last March, after tireless wrangling, appeared impossible to deliver. 

Skeptics will remain skeptical until that first bell rings in Hamburg this coming Saturday, and rightfully so after the inane drama of year-long-plus negotiations. But maybe the prospect of an exciting unification in boxing's glamour division has brightened the overall spirit of fight fans enough to let them drop their guard and attempt to enjoy. 


For over a decade, Wladimir Klitschko, 55-3 (49 KO), has competed or better on a world class level in the heavyweight division, for whatever that's worth. Over the last 5 years, Wladimir has beaten almost every major player in the division aside from his oft-injured and semi-retired big brother Vitali, all while holding at least one major belt. Despite clear dominance, the woeful state of the division coupled with a cautious style does the younger Klitschko's reign no favors. 

So ready has the sport apparently been for a non-Klitschko run at heavyweight, that David Haye, 25-1- (23 KO), was anointed "Next Heavyweight Champion" before he had even officially made the move up from cruiserweight over three years ago. 

The former undisputed cruiserweight champion Haye bumrushed his way into Wladimir's heart in 2008 by "confronting" the latter on an escalator before a charity event in the U.K., effectively establishing a volatile relationship between the two and goading Wlad into a series of mind games. 

From 2008 to now, Haye has, in no particular order, made t-shirts with the headless likenesses of both Klitschko brothers on them, assailed them through the press, released an iPhone video game with another beheaded Klitschko-looking fellow on the cover, backed out of fights with both Klitschko's, and, to be sure, talked some fairly epic trash to their faces anywhere he sees them. 

Through it all, Wladimir Klitschko remained patient and diplomatic - until recently. 

Both Haye and Klitschko appeared together on a new HBO series called "Face Off" two weeks ago, clearly meant to promote the unification match. The new show is essentially a two-way interview in which moderator Max Kellerman asks compelling questions, and the chosen personalities answer them as they sit face-to-face. 

The program saw Haye mostly play the role of antagonist, while the usually collected Wladimir appeared highly annoyed and even flustered at times. According to Kellerman, 

"There was so much tension. Plus, they're heavyweights, and we haven't had a big heavyweight fight in a while."

Their appearances on "Face Off" created an instant buzz within the boxing community, turning what began as a tentatively accepted formality, into an interesting and discussion-provoking bout.

Innate to the matchup is the possibility of a brutal knockout - one man has been stopped multiple times, the other stopped by a lesser foe in a lighter weight class. Hoping for a knockout didn't appear to be enough for most fans to care, though, and HBO's last minute push may have been the boost this bout needed. 

Alas, for boxing's glamour division, all that's glamour's not gold. At least not often, these days. The best that can be hoped for, in terms of action and notoriety at least, is a Haye victory leading to a "winner take all" showdown with big brother Vitali. 

Even if Haye hadn't promised to retire this coming fall, there wouldn't be much of a division for him to oversee. Additionally, barring a career-ending injury, it's difficult to imagine a scenario where Wlad wouldn't return from a loss, no matter how rattling. He's done it before. 

Perhaps for that very reason, Klitschko has steadily been the favorite for odds makers, as he probably should be. But there is no denying David Haye has at least talked his way into the perception that he is to be the biggest challenge Wladimir has ever faced. 

This Saturday, we may have no other choice but to agree. 


HBO Face Off: Wladimir Klitschko vs. David Haye

Catch the fight this Saturday, Juiy 2, 4:45pm ET - LIVE from Hamburg, Germany


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