David Haye, Respect, and the Soap Opera of Heavyweight Boxing

At the time of writing, David Haye is Heavyweight Boxing’s Champion of the World. Or, to be precise, one quarter of the Champion, as the Klitschko Brothers hold the other three major titles – four if you include Ring Magazine’s title that sometimes seems to have more lustre than the WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO. What Haye doesn’t seem to have much of though is respect, particularly when you look beyond the shores of the UK. Looking at for example Boxing News 24 – an admittedly not particularly highly-regarded source, given its crowd-sourced content that includes no real “names” – it’s not hard to find plenty of antipathy towards Haye.

Haye, it seems, is a mouthy blown-up Cruiserweight who has ducked fights with both of the Russian Brothers, and is likely to continue to do so or at least will get decisively beaten as and when he faces either – or for certain Vitali, who appears to be the nearest thing to a mobile statue in Heavyweight Boxing both in terms of chin and punch, and maybe also skill and movement. Wladimir’s slightly more suspect chin, it is argued, might give Haye a slight chance if he can avoid his jab but even then the British fighter would start a long-priced outsider.

Haye is criticised as not having fought anyone of note at heavyweight, of having fought a boring hit and run fight against the giant Valuev, and basically of talking the talk without walking the walk.

Is this fair? Well, it’s true that other than Valuev (who was something of a freakshow due to his size) Haye’s other heavyweight opponents have been modest – Monte Barrett had been a contender at one time but was already on a downward trend when Haye beat him, and Tomasz Bonin was no more than a fringe contender. On the other hand, it gives little credit to Haye for a highly successful career at Cruiserweight that saw him leave the division as holder of three of the main titles. The likes of Pacquiao move up in weight and get title shots straight away – why is the move from Cruiser to Heavy so big?

Well, big in a way is part of it. Heavyweight can include the likes of Mike Tyson (just under 6 foot) and the seven foot Valuev, and there is no upper limit; often the differences between divisions at the lighter weights can be seven pounds or less – which in turn tends to mean less variation in terms of height, body shape and so on. 

How does Haye gain respect? Obviously by fighting the best available – and at the moment that means the Klitschkos. There in itself is a tale though, as neither of them are particularly charismatic or entertaining to watch – to the extent that Wlad’s last fight wasn’t picked up by any of the major US Pay-per-view operators. Despite this, they hold the titles and no-one is particularly standing out as someone to beat them – Wladimir’s fight with Eddie Chambers saw the American operating defensively and showing little will to win.

Ironically Haye is what both brothers need: a fight with him will attract interest from both those who want to see the Klitschkos beaten, and those who want to see Haye’s mouth well and truly closed. Both should be hoping that Haye gets past John Ruiz without too much difficulty, as Haye will sell tickets and generate interest that is rapidly waning, particularly in the US where the smaller men are the ones generating all the headlines. Heavyweight Boxing – so long the Blue Ribband of the sport – has become dull, shot through with politics and fighters that simply don’t have the charisma to make the division sparkle.

Is Haye good enough to take either Klitschko out? The answer is we don’t know, and enough have tried (and almost totally failed) to get the better of them to argue that he has a lot to do. But what he does have is the ability to get people talking about the Heavyweights again, and for that at least he deserves more respect than he is getting.

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