With the upcoming fight between Haye and Harrison, fans could be forgiven for being nostalgic for the old days of boxing.
When somebody thinks about these modern day gladiators, the first thing they will usually do is associate them with the timeless iconic imagery of Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali, and the rumble in the jungle, the thriller in Manila, the rise and fall of ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson or even commentator Harry Carpenter screaming, “GO ON FRANK,” when Bruno took on Iron Mike back in 1989.
There are plenty more characters and stories like this which are now in danger of fading away. With the upcoming bout between David Haye and Audley Harrison, it appears that heavyweight boxing is devoid of the great personalities it once boasted.
The press have claimed that Harrison does not deserve this shot at taking Haye’s WBA heavyweight crown, coining the nickname “fraudley” for the pugilist, reasoning that he has said much but has done nothing to back his words up.
This is a view echoed by Lewisham based ‘Lucky’s Gym’ owner David Luck, “Harisson is boring, he’s all talk, he’s partly responsible for killing off fans interest in the UK,” he says.
“There are no more challengers in heavyweight boxing anymore, and since the BBC stopped showing fights the sport is losing money.”
South East London boxing promoter John Rooney also shares this opinion saying, “there are no decent calibre fighters at the moment.” Also stating that the heavyweight division has been overtaken by smaller divisions recently:
“Something like the welter and featherweights is more competitive, people used to like heavyweights because of the ferocity of it but the lighter lads are quicker and throw more punches.”
Not only is heavyweight boxing being overshadowed by the lighter divisions, it also now has to compete with mixed martial arts, or ‘cage fighting’ as most people know it.
David Luck, who also runs an MMA night alongside the gym has his own views on why it’s overtaking boxing; “I think there’s more street cred’ now to say you’re a cage fighter, it makes a guy sound tougher, boxing used to be the glamour sport but fans are gathering around a cage now instead of the ring.”
John Rooney also knows of the change in trend too; “MMA makes people take notice and it pulls in the spectators, we have an MMA group at the gym called Barn Lads, it started out as ten people but has grown to over 50 now,”
Although its popularity is soaring, Luck says there is no money in MMA, “there are so many fighters, unlike boxing where promoters like there to be one top fighter and go in unbeaten with a trail of challengers, the MMA crowd aren’t bothered with things like that, anyone who trains can fight and the promoters aren’t worried about their guys losing.”
The build of a heavyweight fighter also makes it difficult to get new fighters into the ring, “the big guys lack in certain areas compared to the smaller guys, they’re slower than the smaller fighters, take Haye for example, he has a glass jaw, the lighter guys are generally better all rounder’s” Rooney explains.
There is no doubt that an incredible amount of work goes into the training and promotion of heavyweight boxing, but with the fighters on offer in today’s game it is clear that the sport is lagging behind in terms of numbers and popularity. Luck believes that all heavyweight-boxing needs is; “more superstars,” where as others like Rooney, think it’s just a sign of the times.
Birmingham based amateur boxer Matt Toller also revealed his fears for the future of the division, “Haye’s quitting, Derek Chisora isn’t great, Harrison’s too old and the Klitschko brothers are tied up in all sorts of German sponsorship deals meaning it’s difficult for them to come over here and fight, boxing needs a new Mike Tyson to spring up from somewhere.”
Despite this, Rooney still believes that it is the biggest prize in sport but this is hard to believe. Since Lennox Lewis retired Great Britain hasn’t had a true heavyweight that the nation can rally behind, and with no real replacement for Haye in sight when he plans to retire before his 31st birthday, the heavyweight division will only suffer further.
Not only in the UK but the world, there seem to be no more Tyson’s, Holyfield’s, Sugar Ray’s or Ali’s to grab headlines, capture the imagination and sell out Madison Square Garden. So perhaps Rooney is right and it is just a sign of the times and the day of the heavyweight is coming to a close.
It was novelist and journalist Norman Mailer who said; “If ever a fighter had been able to demonstrate that boxing was a twentieth century art, it must be Ali.”
There are still a few who will hope that that statement isn’t true, the future is in their gloves.