As dominant as the Klitschko brothers have been, they have failed to generate excitement in the American audience. Even HBO, the home of the heavyweight champion from Larry Holmes to Mike Tyson gave up on them with the exception of what they deemed competitive fights. Mike Tyson could have fought anyone and sold it on HBO, but the Klitschko brothers may have been too good for their time and too dominant.
The heavyweight landscape had plenty of contenders, but very few stars. One of the stars that many looked to was former cruiserweight champion, David Haye, 26-2, 24 KO’s. He seemed to have everything that we look for in a heavyweight champion. He was very charismatic, quick, and punched with incredible force. He left most of his opposition in mangled heaps and got under the skin of both Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko with his antics, which included creating artwork with Haye holding both of their severed heads. It made for good TV and the American audiences turned their heads. We hadn’t seen anything like this in a long time, especially in the heavyweight division, and when he got the shot at Wlad, it was an exciting moment.
Many thought that Haye would knock Wlad out and there was reason to think so. Wlad doesn’t deal well with consistent pressure and can break under it. Even in one of his most recent fights against Alexander Povetkin, he was noticeably agitated at the continuance of forward movement by his opponent. Povetkin never pulled the trigger, but the blueprint is there. If you can keep attacking Wlad, you got a shot to beat him. If you allow him to set the pace and beat you up from the outside, you’re going to have issues.
Haye would blitz him. That was the thought, but it shouldn’t have been. When he took on the much slower and larger, Nikolay Valuev, for the WBA title, Haye was thought to be too quick for him. Valuev was slow of foot, slow of hand, and not incredibly difficult to hit, and for a big man, he didn’t hit incredibly hard. Haye should have went in there and chopped him down in a round or two, but that didn’t happen. Instead, we saw an even match with Haye eking by on the scorecards. Valuev have been given many gift decisions over the years, but this is a fight that he may have won. This fight should have been a window into what we would see when Haye fought Wlad and eventually as to why the Tyson Fury fight never materialized.
In 2011, after knockout title defenses against Audley Harrison (TKO-3) and John Ruiz (TKO-9), the grudge match would occur. Wladimir Klitschko would fight in a title unification against Haye and the American boxing fans were ready to see a fight. What they got was a 12 round dance with a “if you don’t hurt me, I won’t hurt you” approach by both men. Haye never tried to win. He just kept a safe distance and Wlad allowed him to. He didn’t risk anything either and just cruised to an easy win. After the fight, Haye would complain about an injured toe and the bandwagon would decrease immensely.
One year later, Haye would return to the ring. After a failed campaign for a shot at Vitali, Haye would elect to fight the other thorn in the Klitschko side, Dereck Chisora. Chisora had slapped Vitali across the face at a stare down and then spat water into the face of Wladimir. He and Haye had traded punches outside of the ring and this fight was a hot item for the fans. Haye would win with a left hook in round five. People were ready to believe in him again.
With Chisora out of the way, one other British big man stood alongside Haye as a major attraction. Tyson Fury, 22-0, 16 KO’s, wanted to fight Haye very badly and when the fight was signed, it was big news. Fury had recently stopped Steve Cunningham on NBC and got a lot of positive reviews for his charisma and bravado. When Haye began his typical pre-fight antics, Fury didn’t blink and gave back some of his own. This was a highly anticipated grudge match that would be postponed just days before the fight when Haye contended that he received a bad cut over his eye. They would reschedule the fight, and once again, Haye would pull out, citing injuries. Fury moved on, but the actual reason behind the pull outs were most likely not due to any injury at all.
The Valuev fight was the first indicator that Haye had a difficult time dealing with the giant heavyweight. He was intimidated and fought as such. Against Wlad, the fear got the better of him and with Fury, it was obvious that he thought he would probably lose. If you go by talent, Haye is a much better fighter than Fury, but size would matter, and the heart of Fury would be the decider. If Haye didn’t starch him early, Fury would have slowly wore him down and stopped him late.
David Haye had all the elements to be the next exciting heavyweight champion, but he didn’t have the heart to put his talents to the test against the bigger heavyweights. He has spoken of a comeback, again, and the general reaction from the boxing fans is a “who cares?” They’ve been disappointed too many times by a fighter that could have been special and meaningful to the heavyweight division.