David Haye has leased new life into heavyweight division.
Under the stewardship of trainer Adam Booth, the charismatic British fighter has given the division a much needed shot in the arm after year’s of mediocrity and a series of dull title match-ups.
After disposing of Welshman Enzo Maccarinelli in only two rounds at the Millennium Dome – unifying the cruiserweight division in the process – a move up to the heavyweight ranks seemed a logical step for the exciting Haye.
His heavyweight debut was a thrilling fifth round knockout victory over former title challenger, Monte Barrett. Fight fans were left exhilarated as Haye put Barrett on the canvas on four occasions; while only a foul from the American stopped the Briton facing a count of his own.
Haye’s dominant win over Barrett proved his heavyweight credentials – and the livewire Londoner showed immense versatility twelve months later in his next bout.
He landed a WBA Heavyweight title shot against formidable Russian Nikolay Valuev and – ditching his quick, hurting bomb approach – scored a hard-earned points win as a major heavyweight crown made its way to UK shores for the first time since Lennox Lewis quit the sport.
Haye utilized Evander Holyfield’s approach against Valuev as a blueprint. He gave away seven stone and ten inches to his Eastern European opponent, but showed immense speed and trickery to dodge the sizeable threat and leap up the heavyweight ladder.
Lumbering Valuev is over-rated – but Haye’s win was hugely impressive and created the sort of excitement not seen in the heavyweight division for years.
Talk immediately started of potential unification bouts with the Klitschko brothers but, first of all, Haye had a mandatory defense against 2-Time Champion John Ruiz to settle.
This marked another big challenge for Haye – and one very different to that posed by Valuev. He dealt with it superbly, flooring the vastly experienced Ruiz twice in the first round on his way to an impressive ninth round triumph. The bout saw Ruiz quit the sport and, following the change of approach against Valuev, saw Haye’s exciting, explosive and dramatic style return to PPV screens across the world.
Major question marks now hang over where Haye will turn next. A bout with Wladimir Klitschko was earmarked as favorite after the Ruiz contest and negotiations between the two camps have taken place; only for them to seemingly stall in recent weeks.
That has sparked speculation that Haye could instead meet the elder Ukrainian statesman Vitali. The 38-year-old is fresh off the back of an easy WBC Heavyweight title defense over Albert Sosnowski, and is thought to be eager to claim a crushing win over the magnetic Londoner Haye.
However, I am of the opinion that a fight against either Klitschko at this time would be badly-timed for Haye, troubling for British boxing and counter-productive for the future of the heavyweight division.
With negotiations with the Ukrainian brothers far from smooth, rumours have suggested Haye could also meet the likes of Tomasz Adamek, UFC brawler James Toney or fellow Brit Audley Harrison. Any of those bouts would be a more sensible move for Haye to make at this stage of his career.
The heavyweight division is not exactly littered with star turns and Haye will take a number of considerable risks if he fights either Klitschko in his next contest.
Firstly, he will be the under-dog. The bookmakers in the UK have already made it clear that Haye would be second favorite in a bout with either Ukrainian giant. Now, with only three heavyweight fights to his name, defeat for Haye in his next bout would be disastrous for his career and, after months of trash-talking, would leave the fighter looking rather foolish. The buffers would be firmly slammed on his rising stardom and that would damage the division.
Secondly, even if Haye were to beat both Klitschkos, there would be some major question marks over where he could possibly turn next. Fight fans will not get too excited about the Brit fighting the likes of Toney or Harrison if he has the scalps of the Ukrainian pair on his CV – which could leave the heavyweight division in a state of flux; and leave Haye lacking the inclination of motivation for future challenges.
At this time, it would make much more sense for Haye to fight a different, less formidable contender. Booth has hinted that a bout against European heavyweight champion Harrison could be in the pipeline – and that could be Haye’s most sensible next step.
Haye would be expected to outclass the 2000 Olympic Gold Medalist – but the bout would have tremendous marketability in the UK and would help build momentum around Haye’s career.
By delaying a bout against either Klitschko, Haye will help prolong the excitement and expectation which currently surrounds the heavyweight division. He would also bank himself more valuable experience at this level, while the Klitschkos would be that little bit older and perhaps lose that little bit of sharpness.