On a rain-soaked Saturday night in Hamburg, a fight billed as the biggest Heavyweight contest since Tyson vs. Lewis and as a career-defining fight for both Wladamir Klitschko and David Haye failed to ignite a failing Heavyweight division.
Many who bemoan the current quality of the Heavyweight division question the limited ability of the Klitschko brothers when compared to past champions. In truth, while Wladamir only has four punches in his armory, he only actually needs two to see off the current crop of Heavyweight contenders. His ram-rod jab kept Haye under control throughout and the threat of his thundering right cross seemed to render Haye too frightened to commit to his own attacks.
Ultimately it was Haye’s fear rather than Wladamir’s ability that handed the Ukranian another comfortable victory. I’m not suggesting cowardice on Haye’s part; he has been in plenty of scraps, courageously battled the giant Valuev and has been on the receiving end of his fair share of big shots in his career.
His fear was of embarrassment, not physical pain; the seed of that fear had been planted so cleverly by the Klitschko camp as they won the psychological war during the pre-fight build up.
It could be argued that the first real blow of the contest was dealt not by Wladamir, but by his older brother, Vitali. In amongst the torrent of verbal blows thrown by the Haye camp during the last six months, the Klitschko camp landed one perfect counter and turned Haye’s bravado and boasts to their advantage.
At the pre-fight press conference on the Monday of fight week, Vitali sat among reporters, rather than at his brother’s side. Vitali’s request for a promise from Haye that he would turn up to the post-fight press conference, whilst waved off dismissively and apparently confidently by Haye at the time, allowed a thought to creep into Haye’s head: what would it be like to face the Klitschko brothers at that press conference having been knocked out? After all that talk? After all those insults?
This idea undoubtedly lingered at the back of Haye’s consciousness during fight week and was cleverly reinforced by the choice of the Klitschko camp to send Vitali into the Haye dressing room to check the hand wrapping before the fight.
Haye stuck to the game plan of trying to force Wladamir to miss, to frustrate the Ukranian as he had with the more ponderous Valuev before him. However when the time came to get in range and throw the kind of bombs that shook and threatened to down Valuev, the fear of Klitschko's right cross and the embarrassment that it connecting cleanly might cause him was too great.
Haye’s cheap talk and deriding of opponents has always been as much about building up his own confidence as it has about unsettling his opponents. Having labelled Klitschko a “robot”, Haye must have known the chances of unsettling a man who shows so little emotion were slim.
Fighting a psychological war with a man who has a doctorate in Sports Science, who has studied Philosophy and plays chess avidly, Haye was as out of his depth out of the ring as he was on the night in Hamburg. Klitschko had won before they even stepped in the ring.
With his confidence shaken and his title gone, it is difficult to see where Haye can go from here. The lack of credible Heavyweights may yet see Vitali offer him a chance at redemption; if so, Haye will have to find the courage and confidence to trade blows. A brave knockout defeat would do his reputation and legacy more good than another impotent display.
As for the rest of the Heavyweight division, it is unlikely to excite the fans until the Klitschkos retire. They are better boxers than many give them credit for, and unwilling to fight each other, we will never see the best two boxers of the current crop battle it out. In the power vacuum that will follow their departure from the sport, they are unlikely to be replaced by more talented fighters, but we can hope for a more competitive and exciting division.