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David Haye: Can He Save the Heavyweight Division?

By Geno McGahee

In the 1990s, boxing was good for the heavyweights and for the fans.  Lennox Lewis would come along and clean it out and when there were no other worthy challengers, he retired and left a gap.  The gap has been filled by the Klitschko Brothers, Wladimir and Vitali.

Vitali actually had the chance to square off against Lewis in 2003.  It was a good fight that Lewis was beginning to win when Vitali suffered a serious cut and fell victim to a TKO stoppage in the sixth round.  The courageous performance made Vitali the champ when Lewis retired.  The WBC quickly placed him into a title match with Corrie Sanders, a fight he won via TKO in 8.  He would vacate the title, retire, and then come back and reclaim it from an uninspired and fat Sam Peter.

Vitali has a record of 39-2, 37 KO’s, a 90% KO rate, and fights regularly, but he has not captured the imagination of the American public.  It’s a combination of things.  One, the opposition is weak.  Vitali benefits and is also hurt by the current crop of heavyweights.  Secondly, Vitali fights in a safety first style, controlling the fight and battering his opponents until they quit or collapse.  Americans were accustomed to Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield…guys like that, that would go in there and go to war, but Vitali presents something different.  It’s similar to the style that Lennox Lewis brought, but Lewis seemed to have more of a heart for ring wars.

The younger brother, Wladimir, has a record of 54-3, 48 KO’s, has an 84% KO rate, and fights regularly.  He has also not brought in the masses from the states.  His last title fight against the capable Eddie Chambers wasn’t even picked up by HBO, which is basically the home for the Klitschko brothers. 

A big part of the reason why the Klitschkos are not as popular as they would be in a competitive division is that nobody thinks that they can lose.  They don’t leave anything to chance.  They work from the distance, and eventually their power shots will land and end the fight.  Sultan Ibragimov, the former WBO Champ, that lost his title to Wlad via UD, wanted to fight but he was so much smaller and wasn’t allowed inside.  That is the storyline with many of the Klitschko opponents.

The contenders nowadays lack charisma and with the networks not broadcasting any fights, they enter the ring as unknowns and leave the ring as the same.  Tony Thompson, Calvin Brock, Eddie Chambers, Kevin Johnson, Sultan Ibragimov, and Chris Arreola have not inspired the fans and did not put up any effort in the ring to stimulate interest.  They didn’t have the charisma or the fighting heart to go after the champions, but there is one man that apparently does.

The WBA Heavyweight Champion, David “Hayemaker” Haye, 24-1, 22 KO’s, ruled the cruiserweight division and then made his way up to the heavyweights, taking out Monte Barrett and earning a crack at the gigantic champion at the time, Nikolay Valuev.   Although most were disappointed with the performance of Haye, he did come away with a win and put forth an effective game plan.  He moved and did enough to win the title.  Valuev is a tough opponent for anyone because of his size and courage and Haye was able to use skill and ring smarts to overcome that.

Recently, Haye took on former 2-Time Champion John Ruiz.  Ruiz was 3-3 in his last six fights going into the fight with Haye but could have easily been 6-0 and many contend that he was robbed clearly against Valuev and Ruslan Chagaev.  Whether he was or wasn’t, Ruiz was only stopped once in 1996 against David Tua.   He altered his style and became a puzzle that most could not solve.  Ruiz is a gritty brawler that was a very live dog in the Haye fight…but we found out a lot about the British Champion in his first defense.

Very early in the first round, a one-two put Ruiz on the floor and in serious trouble.  Over anxious, Haye fouled Ruiz, hitting him with a rabbit punch.  Haye’s excitement may cost him, especially if he gets Wlad into trouble.  The last thing that he would want would be to lose an opportunity to stop one of the Klitschkos because of a foul.    

Haye would stop Ruiz in nine rounds and that has sent a message.  Haye is charismatic, quick, and hits very hard.  He has gotten under the skin of both Wlad and Vitali with his antics, including presenting artwork with Haye holding both severed heads of the Klitschko brothers. 

Prior to his defense against Tony Thompson, Wladimir was confronted by Haye and told that he was fighting nobodies.  Wlad agreed to fight Haye but the Brit would pull out due to promotional problems. Haye would then come close to signing with Vitali but would pull out as well and take on Valuev as well.

The point of all of this is to psychological warfare and it worked.  Both brothers seem irritated with Haye, especially Vitali.  Another part of the reason why the fights fell apart in the first place was the rumored demands of the Klitschkos.  With the WBA belt around his waist, Haye has more bargaining power.  It is something that both brothers want in the family and now it’s just a question of which one will go for it.

The frontrunner now is Wladimir.  It makes more sense for Haye.  Wlad has some weaknesses that could be capitalized on and the public would see it as a risky fight.  Rumor has it that they will be fighting in the fall, should they be able to seal the deal.  Wlad may be forced to face Alexander Povetkin first, a good heavyweight under the guidance of Teddy Atlas, but he is expected to get through that outing.  If Haye becomes a reality, there is a chance of step aside money for Team Povetkin to make the fight possible with the winner being forced to face him in their next fight.

David Haye is what this division needs.  He’s charismatic, quick, and hits hard with both hands.  He has the style and power to possibly upset the Klitschko brothers and reshape the division.  The win against Ruiz reinforced what many thought when he moved up to heavyweight.  Haye may go on to rule the division.

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