When David Haye stopped John Ruiz on April 3rd in Manchester it was both expected and an upset. Most observers expected Haye to win the fight, but quite a few also figured that the experienced and cagey Ruiz would make it a most competitive fight. That Haye won was expected. That Haye dominated Ruiz and became the first man in over a decade to earn a stoppage against him? That can accurately be characterized as somewhat of an upset.
Naturally, with the spectacular nature of Haye’s win there will be the all too predictable suggestion that Ruiz was old and shot or perhaps simply overrated as a top fighter. Ruiz has never been blessed with fantastic gifts in the ring. He is not extraordinarily fast nor does he have tremendous power. Yet, Ruiz is an intelligent fighter, an excellent tactician, and he knows how to use those qualities in the ring. If there is a legacy to the career of John Ruiz it is that he was possessed of a special ability to be competitive in fights; a level of competitiveness that belied his natural gifts. For one of the rarest and most glaring times in a long and distinguished career, John Ruiz was overmatched in a fight and David Haye deserves all the credit in the world for that.
Yet, now the conversation will turn to David Haye and the brothers Klitschko. Haye has already made no bones about the fact that he can’t wait to get either (and eventually both) of them in the ring. And, for their part, the Klitschkos seem pretty keen on the idea as well. While it may be wrong to dismiss Haye’s win over Ruiz as merely what should have taken place, it would also be wrong to overlook the fact that either Klitschko is anything less than a giant step up for Haye. And speaking of giants…
Images of Valuev
We certainly got a glimpse of how dangerous it can be to follow David Haye around in the ring. In fact, we got that glimpse about fifteen seconds into the fight when John Ruiz was caught flat footed by a lightning fast right hand from Haye and was promptly deposited on the canvas. It was a shocking display of just how talented Haye can be. From that point on, Haye demonstrated repeated flashes of brilliance as he methodically, yet inexorably dismantled Ruiz over nine one sided rounds. Ruiz gamely continued to take the fight to Haye and was not without some offensive success, but ultimately the speed mismatch was too much to overcome. However, one must wonder if the same active and utterly destructive Haye that decimated Ruiz would be the one that shows up for either Klitschko. The genesis of this question lay not in the conjecture of a potential matchup, but in the certitude of history. Haye often looked befuddled in his fight with former WBA Champion, Nikolay Valuev.
In the first six rounds of the Haye-Valuev fight, Haye threw only 84 punches. The fact of the matter is, Haye was clearly unsure of how to proceed against the taller and longer Valuev. Both Klitschko brothers are far more in line with Valuev than Ruiz in terms of a matchup of styles. It is undoubtedly true that Haye won against Valuev and even staggered him badly in the twelfth and final round. On the other hand, it is also true that both Klitschkos are better fighters than Valuev and present a much greater challenge both offensively and defensively as potential opponents for Haye.
So, David Haye will probably be considered a rightful underdog when he eventually squares off with Wlad or Vitali. The ring records and fighting styles will dictate that. However, this is still a hugely exciting and intriguing potential matchup. There is something in this potential bout that differs greatly from the previous fights involving either Kltischko. David Haye is not just good, he is live; he has something. He has speed, he has power, and he has a big mouth…
The Talking Game
The Klitschko’s are avid chess players; and it shows. They are both cerebral tacticians in and out of the ring. In the ring, both are remarkably disciplined as they patiently set up their opponent before often brutally taking them out sometime in the mid to later stages of a fight. Quite often, the end comes quite awhile after the competitive aspects of the fight have long since been decided. In other words, they don’t feel any urgency to finish a guy as soon as they sense their advantage. Why rush in and run into a checkmate? Or, in boxing parlance, run into a huge shot that can turn a fight. Recently, nobody has been able to avoid their inevitable doom in a match with the Klitschko’s as both of them seem to come out set up their shots and eventually destroy their often beleaguered opponent; the disciplined attack wreaking havoc on overmatched fighters.
But, David Haye is going about things in a different way. Haye has already angered both Klitschkos. The talking seems to be a ploy designed to enrage them and throw them off their deliberate yet devastating game. In a recent interview, Freddie Roach said that the feud between Pacquiao and Mayweather wasn’t simply hype and that Pacquiao really does hate Mayweather. However, Roach quickly cautioned that he needed to steer Manny away from that because fighting angry would severely undermine his chances for success in that fight. Pacquiao being angry would be exactly what Mayweather would want as it would greatly increase the chances that Pacquiao would make mistakes in the ring.
David Haye would no doubt love for the Klitschkos to be angry and make those same mistakes. Haye is the smaller man. He needs the Klitschkos to take chances. He needs them to want to fight not simply box. Haye can’t afford for them to be too disciplined. For all his talent, Haye struggled at times to get going against Valuev and that doesn’t bode well when a Klitschko is throwing punches at you. But, if that discipline slips; if the opponent reaches just a little; leans in and fights a little less tall; opens himself up too early, perhaps the explosive talent of Haye can produce the seismic upset.
The Valero Effect
Much is made of the loss David Haye suffered to Carl Thompson. While it is true that Haye was in fact knocked out in the fight, the loss nevertheless occurred nearly six years ago. Haye is a different fighter now; a decidedly better fighter. Similarly, much is made of perceived defensive lapses by Haye, specifically a tendency to have his hands down even while in the punching range of his opponents. Admittedly, the lack of discipline can get him in some trouble. Haye has been down in two of his last five fights. However, fighters are certainly aware of who they are fighting in the ring on a given night.
A rudimentary search on youtube will yield several rounds against different opponents in the career of Edwin Valero. In the video, Valero is often wild on his punches, his hands are often down, he is regularly squared up to his opponent, and he is routinely off balance. In short, based on those rounds, Valero’s vaunted record to that point looked like a strong case of padding; a case of a talented, but thoroughly undisciplined fighter feasting on inferior opposition. Then, Valero took on Antonio Demarco. Demarco, another rising star, presented a more formidable challenge. Somewhat surprisingly, Valero fought extraordinarily well demonstrating an as yet unseen level of fundamental discipline as he systematically took apart a solid young fighter in Demarco. Valero undoubtedly knew of Demarco’s acumen in the ring and he had an innate understanding of what he could not afford to do in the ring that night. Valero had it in him all along. He just brought it out when he needed it. Despite Haye’s bluster, it seems inconceivable that he would not recognize the abilities of the Klitschkos. Haye will be sharp; he can’t afford not to be. Unfortunately for either brother, they will almost certainly be getting the best version of David Haye they could possibly meet.
Beyond the Wins and Losses
In the end, it really doesn’t matter what happens in a fight between one of the Klitschkos and Haye. The result is secondary because the significance of this fight lay not in the result so much as in the perception of the fans. People are going to wonder just how Haye might fare. They will wonder if the movement will be problematic. There will be a curiosity about how the brothers will deal with the speed and power. And, curiosity will abound about just how much damage Haye can do with his awkward, darting style.
Much has been made of the lack of talent in the heavyweight division. Last year, most of the writers on this site for instance couldn’t even nominate a heavyweight fight of the year. Are the Klitschko’s overrated because they fight in such a weak division? Or, is it that the Klitschko’s are underrated in an all time sense as they have the misfortune of dominating what is only apparently a weak division? Those are hard questions to answer definitively, but, beyond the questions of talent and the dearth of quality fights, what is missing most of all in the heavyweight division in recent years, is wonder.
Haye’s scintillating performance may not prove to be the opening salvo in an ascent that will eventually take him passed the Kltischko’s and to the top of the division, but it doesn’t necessarily have to. The most exciting thing about Haye’s performance is that any boxing fan has to be just a little bit curious. Chris Arreola, Eddie Chambers, Ruslan Chagaev, Kevin Johnson, Ray Austin, Tony Thompson, Sam Peter, and really every Klitschko opponent in the past several years, they all have had a similar feel. They have all been good, solid fighters who earned their chance and deserve our respect. But, none of them made us wonder. The reality is, one way or another they were simply not capable of beating the Klitschko’s and we all knew it. But, Haye is a little bit different. Maybe it’s the speed, or maybe it’s just the brash talking, but the energy he brings is different. There remains ample reason to think he may be in over his head when he steps in against either Wlad or Vitali. But, with the speed and the style and the ego, he does bring one more thing that none of the others could, excitement. One can’t help but wonder and it’s been awhile since we could say that.