Boxing: Wladimir Klitschko vs. David Haye, How to Become Heavyweight Champion

Jon ValeContributor IIIJune 29, 2011

Haye v Klitschko: whose tactics will be proved correct on Saturday?
Haye v Klitschko: whose tactics will be proved correct on Saturday?Scott Heavey/Getty Images

Even in a sport where the simple objective is to punch your opponent in the face, strategy, tactics and game plans are just as essential as having the God-given ability to hurt people.

From Sugar Ray Leonard’s hit-and-run approach against Marvin Hagler in 1987 to Muhammad Ali’s infamous rope-a-dope against George Foreman at the Rumble in the Jungle, the seemingly crude sport of boxing can be transformed into a scientific minefield of subtle hints, feints and shimmies that are all designed to create the crucial opening necessary for the fatal blow to be delivered.

It will be no different when David Haye and Wladimir Klitschko lock horns this Saturday to contest the world heavyweight championship.

There is particular intrigue surrounding the tactical approach of Haye, whose trainer Adam Booth is fast gaining a reputation in the game as a master strategist of boxing’s unique choreography.

He was the brains behind Haye’s elusive approach against the giant Nicolay Valuev, and it was Booth’s meticulous dissection of James DeGale’s fighting style that allowed his other fighter, George Groves, to triumph in the much-hyped grudge match between the long-time rivals nearly two months ago.   

While Booth is clearly from boxing’s "new school" of trainers, with a preference for scientific and calculated methods rather than all-out force, these two supposed tactical master plans only succeeded by the tightest of margins.

Haye’s away win in Germany over Valuev was only claimed via majority decision with one of the judges scoring the bout even, while Groves’ triumph over DeGale was an even closer fight as many observers at ringside gave DeGale the win by at least of couple of rounds; to label Booth a genius after two results that had more than an element of fortune about them is to fall into a very easy trap.

What is certain though is Haye’s default setting as a gunslinger.

The "Hayemaker" is at his best when he’s standing toe-to-toe with his opponent and trading punches, daring them to prove their mettle in a primal display of male machismo; after a childhood spent fighting on the streets as well as in ring, such an attitude is hardly surprising.

What this does mean though is that Haye can be somewhat crude. While people always talk about his speed, it refers to speed of hand and upper body movement, rather than elusive footwork.

Haye is certainly in no danger of imitating Muhammad Ali as an in-ring dancer, with his rather ponderous footwork more than made up for by his blistering hand-speed and eel-like agility.

However, his flat-footedness makes the tactics of hit-and-run against Klitschko virtually impossible.

Klitschko is not the cumbersome oak tree Valuev was. He is incredibly light on his feet for a man standing 6'7" and will probably have the foot-speed to catch Haye, should he attempt to nip into range, unload and dance back out again.

This means Haye will have to rely on his cat-like reflexes to get the better of any exchanges with Klitschko—although this strategy represents a massive risk for Haye, given his notorious delicacy around the whiskers.     

He has been put to the floor in the past by far less devastating punchers than the 17-stone Klitshcko, and should Haye’s swiftness fail to maneuver him away from one of Klitschko’s big bombs, it’s hard to see past a win for the current WBO, IBO and IBF world champion.

Haye though could be equally as vulnerable on the attack, given his wild and savage style of combination punching.

The "Hayemaker" really does throw his haymakers with devastating ferocity, often destabilising himself as he swings his arms viciously in search of the knockout.

This killer instinct can sometimes throw Haye off balance, and leaves him totally open to a counter, should the opponent have the defensive skills to survive the oncoming barrage from the raging Bermondsey brawler.

Klitschko, with a 21-year career in amateur and professional boxing, certainly has a degree of defensiveness within him, having been forced to learn the art given his fragile chin.

While Haye’s chin is bad, Klitschko’s is positively disastrous. Boxers such as Lamon Brewster, Corrie Sanders and Ross Purrity, who are not recognised for their heavy hands, have all reduced Klitschko to a desperate and pitiful mess, leaving the giant Ukrainian unable to rediscover the connection between brain and legs that can be so easily lost after a clean punch to the chin.

It is this fragility that has formed the foundation upon which Klitschko has built his boxing style.

All his shots are delivered long and from range, aimed at keeping his opponent out of punching distance and safely away from his hideously obvious weak spot.

The basic Klitschko arsenal consists of just two punches: the left jab and the straight right.

His jab is among the best in heavyweight boxing, and has the power and accuracy to suck the life from the most eager and busy of heavyweights if they aren’t quick enough to slip it.

The straight right, on the other hand, is the Klitschko power shot, designed to ward off any opponent who steps too close or whose concentration briefly slips after an incessant pounding from the Ukrainian’s left hand.

Beyond this though, Klitschko has very little in the way of weaponry. He throws the occasional left hook or uppercut, but has no clue how to handle a fighter who repeatedly manages to ruffle his feathers at close range.

This is where Klitschko will resort to type, clinching and leaning all over his opponent before the referee splits them up, and Klitschko can resume proceedings from a safe and more comfortable distance.

Therefore, the secret for Haye could be finding that elusive gap—which boxing insiders call "the pocket"—just inside Haye’s punching range, but sufficiently far away to prevent Klitschko from grabbing the Englishman and turning the boxing match into a spot of Greco-Roman wrestling.

But for all the talk of jabs, slipping punches and finding the pocket, as fight night approaches there is one fact that seems to shine increasingly vividly before both fighters' date with destiny.

David Haye is, at his very core, a fighter. He talks, sleeps and breathes fighting, and his repeated threats of uncensored violence are a stark reminder of the fighting cloth from which he is cut.

Klitschko, on the other hand, with his PhD in sports science and gentlemanly manner, is not made of the same stuff.

He is nice, polite and articulate. While he is certainly a skilled fighter who has immersed himself in the science of boxing, his diplomatic responses to Haye’s increasingly outlandish statements were more suited to a church minister than the heavyweight champion of the world.

Put simply, Haye is a warrior. He loves fighting, and this love for his craft will push him through the truly testing times that will undoubtedly arrive against such a skilled and accomplished in-ring technician as Wladimir Klitschko.

Yet the question remains as to whether Klitschko has these deep reserves of fighting spirit within him, whether beneath the charming and courteous exterior lay the merciless heart of a bona fide killing machine.

If this is where Klitschko is found to be wanting, it could be this and this alone that proves the deciding factor on Saturday night.