Recent events in the world of boxing have reminded fans that boxing is a complicated soap opera of a sport. Injuries, postponements, changing opponents on short notice, differences between fighters, managers, and promoters--all of these elements are at play in the upcoming Vladimir Klitschko/Ruslan Chagaev heavyweight bout.
The epic saga began with a twist on a often-postponed rematch between the undefeated Chagaev (25-0-1) and the Russian giant Nikolai Valuev. Valuev had presumably been looking forward to a rematch with the man who handed him his lone professional defeat 2 years earlier in a majority decision, on May 30. Soon before the fight, Valuev's team announced that they would not fight Chagaev, who had tested positive (for the second time) with Hepatitis B in a pre-fight physical. Chagaev, who is rated the #3 heavyweight in the world, has been out of the boxing picture for extended periods of time due to various injuries, and currently holds the dubious WBA title "Champion in Recess."
Soon after, another announcement shook the heavyweight decision. David Haye, who had already baited Vladimir Klitschko into expressions of open animosity, pulled out of the fight which was supposed to happen this Saturday in Germany, blaming a back injury. Haye asked for a postponement of the fight, but Klitschko, wanting to give the 60,000 Germans with tickets a fight, closed that door and opened negotiations with Chagaev's people.
It seems that Vladimir was willing to take a Hepatitis vaccine, and so the health concern involved in fighting Chagaev is negated. In an ironic sidenote, according to Klitszcko's manager Bernd Boente (as reported on CBSSports.com) the other opponent they considered for this replacement slot was none other than the giant Valuev.
The final twist (at least so far!) occurred when HBO refused to air Klitschko's 56th fight to retain his heavyweight belts (in three of which he lost the belt and had to regain it). B/R's very own Carlos Acevedo, as well as other boxing analysts, agreed that HBO worried that the fight would be boring in the way that Klitschko fights can be, and pulled out because they thought the fight would not be a box office draw.
As it has done before, ESPN Classic has come forward to air the fight, tomorrow night as originally planned. Vladimir boasts that the 60,000 or so fans who are expected to fill the German arena on Saturday night will make this the single largest boxing event in Germany since the days of Schmeling. The question is--will the Chagaev/Vladimir live up to the drama surrounding the fight?
My guess is--well enough. As Emmanuel Steward noted in a press conference before the Haye fight was cancelled, the problematic opponent for Klitschko, as far as fight fans are concerned, is the one who is content not to get knocked out by the champion. Haye was going to go for the win, and my guess is, so will Chagaev.
In the fight with Valuev, the southpaw Chagaev was impressive in his craftiness, his use of boxing skills, and his persistence in chopping the obviously larger man down with body shots and very precisely placed left hands to Valuev's chin. That precision and boxing savvy will come in handy with Klitschko, who is good at controlling fights with his jab but whose achilles heel does seem to be his chin.
Rather than expecting fireworks in the ring, if we look for the smaller man (Chagaev weighed in at 225 to Klitschko's 240) to chop down the larger man through the very skills that define the art of boxing, we may be pleased with the outcome tomorrow night. And, if the fight fails to meet our expectations, at least we can look forward to another twist from the Klitschko brothers--Vitali Klitschko is expected to face none other than David Haye in September or October of this year.