David Haye: Has the Post-Wladimir Klitschko Criticism Been Unfair?

Jon ValeContributor IIIJuly 13, 2011

HAMBURG, GERMANY - JULY 02:  David Haye of England during the press conference after his heavy weight unification match with Wladimir Klitschko of the Ukraine at the Imtech Arena on July 2, 2011 in Hamburg, Germany.  (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
Scott Heavey/Getty Images

Few sportsmen’s summers have been quite as turbulent as David Haye’s.

A matter of days ago, the former WBA heavyweight champion had the world in the palm of his devastating hands.

If he could beat Wladimir Klitschko and claim the crown of world’s best heavyweight boxer, the commercial avenues available for such a confident and marketable individual would have propelled him into the global superstar realm reserved for only the most precocious of sporting talents.

Yet after that dreary night in Hamburg, Germany, where the dullness of the boxing matched the atmospheric surroundings, Haye has nose-dived into nothing more than figure of ridicule, a loudmouth phony whose most significant action between the ropes that night was to reveal a broken toe, which he believed caused his shambolic non-performance.

It is, of course, sports fans' prerogative to shame those that underperform, particularly when they are promised the grandeur Haye ultimately failed to deliver despite his outlandish pre-fight boasts of violence.

Yet on this occasion, perhaps the mark has been overstepped. 

It is surely worth considering that Haye single-handedly revived interest in a formerly prestigious sporting title that has grown stagnant under the ownership of the Klitschko brothers.

Once upon a time, to be world heavyweight champion was the biggest honour in sport, and its lineage is full of legendary figures whose bravery and skill made them worthy wearers of the heavyweight championship belt.

Yet the title has descended into a seemingly terminal decline, with fractured governing bodies and robotic Eastern Europeans gradually killing the thrill that once thrived in boxing’s marquee division.

Haye, though, with his natural swagger and exciting style of fighting, changed this.

America renewed its interest in the heavyweight division, newspapers and television devoted exhaustive coverage to this truly intriguing match-up and we finally had genuine animosity between two heavyweight fighters who both went into battle believing they could win.

This fleeting renaissance for heavyweight boxing was entirely due to Haye.  Without him, this would have been another Klitschko sparring session masquerading as a world title fight. 

Haye’s presence, however, ensured an interest that transcended the sport of boxing and allowed the heavyweight division to rediscover its glamorous past, albeit temporarily before the relentless Klitschko slowly jabbed Haye into submission.  

So for some boxing writers to continually bemoan the lack of spark in the heavyweight division yet simultaneously criticise Haye for his outspoken manner is, to me, nothing less than sheer hypocrisy.

Of course, Haye’s performance was largely disappointing. There was not the reckless abandonment he had promised, and he soon found just why 55 other fighters before him had failed to navigate Klitschko’s monstrous jab.

But, and perhaps I’m being biased towards my fellow Brit, I didn’t think Haye’s display was that bad.

Certainly for the first half of the fight he looked to be in contention, with his constant feinting and posturing all designed to lure Klitschko in and allow Haye to punish the bigger man.

While Haye became undeniably crude as the fight progressed, he was still swinging well into the 12th round, and throughout the fight it seemed at least as if Haye never stopped trying, even if his work lacked the grace and thought to really trouble such a savvy boxer as Wladimir Klitschko.

It was certainly the most credible fight involving a Klitschko I’ve seen for years, and far eclipsed the ludicrously poor efforts of the other heavyweights who have recently stepped in with either of boxing’s biggest brothers.

At least Haye turned up trim and looking like a heavyweight champion, which is less than can be said for the likes of Chris Arreola and Eddie Chambers—"Fast" Eddie was so out of shape that Klitschko virtually blew him over in the 12th round to claim the victory by knockout.

And the most criminal assumption many have made in the fight’s aftermath is to neglect the importance of the huge size disadvantage Haye found himself up against.

In the unique sciences of all martial arts, not just western boxing, it is invariably the fighter with superior height, reach and strength who triumphs.

Critics of Haye have used the likes of Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield as examples of smaller men who have succeeded against the giants that heavyweight boxing has to offer, but this is just plain wrong.

Take this quote from Manny Steward, for example: “Mike is a small man and has always had problems with tall fighters, even one fighter that I was managing at the time, Tony Tucker. He had problems with Mitch Green, Bonecrusher Smith. Just think about that, all of those guys were problem fighters for him.”

Holyfield was exactly the same. A natural cruiserweight who chanced his arm in boxing’s most lucrative division, when he was faced with the physically massive challenges of 6’5” Riddick Bowe and Lennox Lewis, "The Real Deal" found out just how important size can be.

Lewis was by far the better man in both his showdowns with Holyfield, despite the American hanging on for a draw in their first fight, while Bowe obliterated Holyfield in the pair’s first and third clashes.

Of course, I’m not saying Haye is in the same league as the likes of Holyfield and Tyson. Then again, neither is Haye.

If you have followed Haye throughout his career and witnessed his more low-key interviews away from the media circus that engulfs every one of his big fights, you will know that he doesn’t continuously play the role of braggart.

He has previously admitted he isn’t a natural boxer, isn’t as tough as fighters from the era of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier and even that Klitschko’s imperious jab had the power to defeat him.

Of course, when the bright lights are on and the cameras are rolling, Haye will happily flick on the arrogance switch and spout off about public executions and widespread destruction—he’s a fighting man, it’s what he does.

But this isn’t the real David Haye. He is simply a fighting fanatic whose lifelong dream of becoming undisputed heavyweight champion has just been dashed by a superbly skilled boxer who was three inches taller and 30 pounds heavier.

For me, there is no disgrace in that.